[Notes by LKG]
This story is part of the Dante's Inferno unit. Story source: Dante's Divine Comedy, translated by Tony Kline (2002).
Canto 3: The Gate of Hell
THROUGH ME THE WAY TO ETERNAL SADNESS:
THROUGH ME THE WAY TO THE LOST PEOPLE.
JUSTICE MOVED MY SUPREME MAKER:
I WAS SHAPED BY DIVINE POWER,
BY HIGHEST WISDOM, AND BY PRIMAL LOVE.
BEFORE ME, NOTHING WAS CREATED
THAT IS NOT ETERNAL: AND ETERNAL I ENDURE.
FORSAKE ALL HOPE, ALL YOU THAT ENTER HERE.
These were the words, with their dark colour, that I saw written above the gate, at which I said: 'Master, their meaning, to me, is hard.'
And he replied to me as one who knows: 'Here, all uncertainty must be left behind; all cowardice must be dead. We have come to the place where I told you that you would see the sad people who have lost the good of the intellect.'
And placing his hand on mine, with a calm expression that comforted me, he led me towards the hidden things.
(illustration by William Blake)
Here sighs, complaints, and deep groans, sounded through the starless air, so that it made me weep at first. Many tongues, a terrible crying, words of sadness, accents of anger, voices deep and hoarse, with sounds of hands amongst them, making a turbulence that turns forever, in that air, stained, eternally, like sand spiralling in a whirlwind.
And I, my head surrounded by the horror, said: 'Master, what is this I hear, and what race are these, that seem so overcome by suffering?'
And he to me: 'This is the miserable mode in which those exist who lived without praise, without blame. They are mixed in with the despised choir of angels, those not rebellious, not faithful to God, but for themselves. Heaven drove them out to maintain its beauty, and deep Hell does not accept them lest the evil have glory over them.'
And I: 'Master, what is so heavy on them that makes them moan so deeply?'
He replied: 'I will tell you, briefly. They have no hope of death, and their darkened life is so mean that they are envious of every other fate. Earth allows no mention of them to exist: mercy and justice reject them; let us not talk of them, but look and pass.'
And I, who looked back, saw a banner that, twirling round, moved so quickly that it seemed to me scornful of any pause, and behind it came so long a line of people, I never would have believed that death had undone so many.
When I had recognised some among them, I saw and knew the shade of him who from cowardice made 'the great refusal.' Immediately I understood that this was the despicable crew, hateful to God and his enemies. These wretches, who never truly lived, were naked and goaded viciously by hornets and wasps there, making their faces stream with blood that, mixed with tears, was collected at their feet by loathsome worms.
Charon, the ferryman of the Acheron
And then as I looked onwards, I saw people on the bank of a great river, at which I said: 'Master, now let me understand who these are, and what custom makes them so ready to cross over, as I can see by the dim light.'
(illustration by della Quercia)
And he to me: 'The thing will be told you when we halt our steps on the sad strand of Acheron.'
Then, fearing that my words might have offended him, I stopped myself from speaking, with eyes ashamed and downcast, till we had reached the flood. And see, an old man, with white hoary locks, came towards us in a boat, shouting: 'Woe to you, wicked spirits! Never hope to see heaven: I come to carry you to the other shore, into eternal darkness, into fire and ice. And you, who are there, a living spirit, depart from those who are dead.'
But when he saw that I did not depart, he said: 'By other ways, by other means of passage, you will cross to the shore: a quicker boat must carry you.'
And my guide said to him: 'Charon, do not vex yourself: it is willed there, where what is willed is done; ask no more.' Then the bearded mouth of the ferryman of the livid marsh, who had wheels of flame round his eyes, was stilled.