Week 8: Dante's Inferno

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Canto 23-24: An Ascent

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 700 words.

Dante and Virgil find themselves stuck in the sixth chasm because the demon Malacoda gave them bad directions, so they have to climb upwards. When Dante grows tired, Virgil rebukes him and encourages him to be strong.

The Poets leave the Sixth Chasm

He addressed these words to the Friars, afterwards: 'If it is lawful for you, may it not displease you, to tell us if there is any gap on the right, by which we might leave here, without forcing any of the black angels to come and extricate us from this deep.'

He replied: 'There is a causeway that runs from the great circular wall and crosses all the cruel valleys, nearer at hand than you think, except that it is broken here and does not cover this one: you will be able to climb up among its ruins, that slope down the side, and form a mound at the base.'

Virgil stood, for a while, with bowed head, then said: 'Malacoda, who grapples sinners over there, told us the way wrongly.'

And the Friar said: 'I once heard the Devil's vices related at Bologna, amongst which I heard that he is a liar, and the father of lies.'

Then my guide went striding on, his face somewhat disturbed by anger, at which I parted from the burdened souls, following the prints of his beloved feet.

The Poets climb up: Virgil exhorts Dante

In that part of the new year, when the sun cools his rays under Aquarius, and the nights already shorten towards the equinox; when the hoar-frost copies its white sister the snow's, image on the ground, but the hardness of its tracery lasts only a little time; the peasant, whose fodder is exhausted, rises and looks out, and sees the fields all white, at which he strikes his thigh, goes back into the house, and wanders to and fro, lamenting, like a wretch who does not know what to do; then comes out again, and regains hope, seeing how the world has changed its aspect, in a moment; and takes his crook, and chases his lambs out to feed; so the Master made me disheartened, when I saw his forehead so troubled: but the plaster arrived quickly for the wound.

For, when we reached the shattered arch, my guide turned to me with that sweet aspect, that I first saw at the base of the mountain. He opened his arms, after having made some plan in his mind, first looking carefully at the ruin, and took hold of me. And like one who prepares and calculates, always seeming to provide in advance, so he, lifting me up towards the summit of one big block, searched for another fragment, saying: 'Now clamber over that, but check first if it will carry you.'

It was no route for one clothed in a cloak of lead, since we could hardly climb from rock to rock, he weighing little, and I pushed from behind. And if the ascent were not shorter on that side than on the other, I would truly have been defeated, I do not know about him. But as Malebolge all drops towards the entrance to the lowest well, the position of every valley implies that the one side rises, and the other falls: at last, we came, however, to the point at which the last boulder ends.

The breath was so driven from my lungs, when I was up, that I could go no further: in fact, I sat down when I arrived. The Master said: 'Now, you must free yourself from sloth: men do not achieve fame, sitting on down, or under coverlets; fame, without which whoever consumes his life leaves only such trace of himself, on earth, as smoke does in the air, or foam on water: so rise, and overcome weariness with spirit, that wins every battle, if it does not lie down with the gross body. A longer ladder must be climbed: to have left these behind is not enough: if you understand me, act now so it may profit you.'

I rose then, showing myself to be better filled with breath than I thought, and said: 'Go on, I am strong again and ardent.'

[... Dante and Virgil then pass through the seventh chasm, where the thieves are punished. They then reach the eighth chasm. ...]

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • why is it not surprising that the demon Malacoda deceived them about the directions?
  • who decides how they will make their way out of this chasm?
  • how does Virgil encourage Dante to keep on going?

Source: Dante's Inferno, translated by A.S. Kline (2000). Website: Dante and Others.

Modern Languages MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:48 PM