[Notes by LKG]
This story is part of the Dante's Inferno unit. Story source: Dante's Divine Comedy, translated by Tony Kline (2002).
(illustration by Stradanus)
Cantos 8 and 9: The Fallen Angels
And I: 'Master, I can already see its towers, clearly there in the valley, glowing red, as if they issued from the fire.'
And he to me: 'The eternal fire that burns them from within makes them appear reddened, as you see, in this deep Hell.'
We now arrived in the steep ditch that forms the moat to the joyless city: the walls seemed to me as if they were made of iron. Not until we had made a wide circuit did we reach a place where the ferryman said to us: 'Disembark: here is the entrance.'
The fallen Angels obstruct them
I saw more than a thousand of those angels that fell from Heaven like rain above the gates, who cried angrily: 'Who is this, that, without death goes through the kingdom of the dead?'
And my wise Master made a sign to them of wishing to speak in private.
Then they furled their great disdain and said: 'Come on, alone, and let him go who enters this kingdom with such audacity. Let him return, alone, on his foolish road: see if he can — and you, remain, who have escorted him, through so dark a land.'
Think, Reader, whether I was not disheartened at the sound of those accursed words, not believing I could ever return here. I said: 'O my dear guide, who has ensured my safety more than the seven times and snatched me from certain danger that faced me, do not leave me, so helpless: and if we are prevented from going on, let us quickly retrace our steps.'
And that lord, who had led me there, said to me: 'Have no fear, since no one can deny us passage: it was given us by so great an authority. But you, wait for me, and comfort and nourish your spirit with fresh hope, for I will not abandon you in the lower world.'
So the gentle father goes and leaves me there, and I am left in doubt: since 'yes' and 'no' war inside my head. I could not hear what terms he offered them, but he had not been standing there long with them, when, each vying with the other, they rushed back. Our adversaries closed the gate in my lord's face, leaving him outside, and he turned to me again with slow steps.
His eyes were on the ground, and his expression devoid of all daring, and he said, sighing: 'Who are these who deny me entrance to the house of pain?
And to me he said: 'Though I am angered, do not you be dismayed: I will win the trial, whatever obstacle those inside contrive. This insolence of theirs is nothing new, for they displayed it once before, at that less secret gate we passed that has remained unbarred. Over it you saw the fatal writing, and already on this side of its entrance, one is coming, down the steep, passing the circles unescorted, one for whom the city shall open to us.'
Dante asks about precedents
The colour that cowardice had printed on my face, seeing my guide turn back, made him repress his own heightened colour more swiftly. He stopped, attentive, like one who listens, since his eyes could not penetrate far through the black air and the thick fog. 'Nevertheless we must win this struggle,' he began, 'if not... then help such as this was offered to us. Oh, how long it seems to me, that other's coming!'
I saw clearly, how he hid the meaning of his opening words with their sequel, words differing from his initial thought. Nonetheless, his speech made me afraid, perhaps because I took his broken phrases to hold a worse meaning than they did. 'Do any of those whose only punishment is deprivation of hope, ever descend, into the depths of this sad chasm, from the first circle?' I asked this question.
And he answered me: 'It rarely happens, that any of us make the journey that I go on. It is true that I was down here once before, conjured to do so by that fierce sorceress Erichtho, who recalled spirits to their corpses. My flesh had only been stripped from me a while when she forced me to enter inside that wall to bring a spirit out of the circle of Judas. That is the deepest place, and the darkest, and the furthest from that Heaven that surrounds all things: I know the way well, so be reassured. This marsh, that breathes its foul stench, circles the woeful city round about, where we also cannot enter now without anger.'