averroes avicenna caesar camilla Canto IV Catholicism electra Florence Gates of Hell hector Homer Inferno Limbo Limbo of the Children Limbo of the Fathers Ovid Paganism Romans Saint Lucia saladin trojans Virgil Virgin Mary

Lingering in Limbo: Dante’s Inferno

Limbo, it turns out, isn’t so dangerous, even if is discovered in the primary degree of Dante Alighieri’s hell. As Dante’s allegory of the journey of the soul continues, it should take him to a stupendous fort inhabited by the great and the good. Removed from suffering the tortures of hell, although they will by no means depart, they’re surrounded by meadows and hang out in erudite splendour. But before Dante will get there he has extra adventures.

Beatrice sends Virgil to the Rescue

The ghost of Virgil, an extended lifeless Roman poet, has proven up just in time to take on the job as Dante’s guide. But what’s in it for Virgil?

In accordance with the orthodoxy of Dante’s time and place, Virgil was endlessly consigned to hell. This was because, Virgil, having died before Christ was born, was a pagan and thus by no means baptised.

Beatrice, Dante’s beloved, who is in heaven, comes to know Dante is in want of assist. Saint Lucia (a logo of light) brings the information after the Virgin Mary herself makes the danger recognized to Lucia. Beatrice descends into hell to fee Virgil to rescue Dante. Beatrice promises to place in a great phrase for Virgil every time she is before the throne of heaven and Virgil takes up his activity.

As Dante’s braveness fails, Virgil lifts Dante’s spirits by sharing the words Virgil has himself heard from Beatrice:

I’ son Beatrice che ti faccio andare;
vegno del loco ove tornar disio;
amor mi mosse, che mi fa parlare.
Quando sarò dinanzi al segnor mio,
di te mi loderò sovente a lui”. …

E venni a te così com’ ella volse;
d’inanzi a quella fiera ti levai
che del bel monte il corto andar ti tolse.

For I’m Beatrice who send you on;
I come from where I most lengthy to return;
Love prompted me, that Love which makes me converse.
When as soon as once more I stand before my Lord,
then I shall typically let Him hear your praises.’ …

And, just as she had wished, I got here to you:
I snatched you from the path of the fierce beast
that barred the shortest means up the truthful mountain.

Inferno Canto II, Verses 71-74, 118-120 with Mandelbaum translation

Like the three beasts who barred Dante’s approach, and which could be regarded as representing three vices, the three maidens of heaven are stated to characterize heavenly virtues which help Dante’s path.

The Gates of Hell

In Canto III, Dante and Virgil strategy the gates of hell and darkish phrases engraved in the gateway tell them of what is forward.

‘Per me si va ne la città dolente,
per me si va ne l’etterno dolore,
per me si va tra la perduta gente.

Giustizia mosse il mio alto fattore;
fecemi la divina podestate,
la somma sapïenza e ’l primo amore.

Dinanzi a me non fuor cose create
se non etterne, e io etterno duro.
Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate’.




Inferno Canto III Verses 1-9, with Mandelbaum translation

Hopelessness is the condition of souls which are within. In graphic scenes in the decrease levels of hell, the travellers will discover that the “punishments” of hell are literally the misdeeds of life.

Nevertheless on this degree we study of two sorts of hopelessness. The hopelessness of those who won’t ever come to heaven (a destiny introduced to the approaching lifeless by the ferryman Charon); and a fair worse hopelessness of those that won’t even be allowed to cross the river and are rejected by each heaven and hell. These are those that lifeless in life, participating neither for good nor sick, will probably be deathless in demise. Such are the ideas that Dante presents to us.

Did Virgil Inspire Dante’s fashion as he claims?

Although Dante claims in this Canto of the Comedy to have taken his type from Virgil, there’s little in Dante’s poetry (before he writes the Comedy itself) to again up the claim. Dante’s love poetry has little to do with Virgil. Neither is Dante’s well-known “terza rima” (three line rhyme) impressed by Virgil, for rhythm not rhyme was the defining characteristic of Roman poetry.

The story of the Comedy nevertheless is in part based mostly on E-book VI of Virgil’s own Aeneid, which tells the story of Aeneas’ descent right into a pagan underworld. A minimum of Dante needs us to consider that Virgil is his main precedent.

Certainly we will see some familiar pictures from the Aeneid in Dante’s account. Like Dante’s Charon, the eyes of Virgil’s Charon also glow like burning coals. In both accounts Charon challenges the fitting of the dwelling travellers to proceed. In each versions the punishment is made to match the crime. Minos is the decide of the lifeless both for Virgil and Dante. Even the exclusion of pagans from heaven for the absence of the ritual of baptism in Dante’s world, has its parallel in the exclusion of the lifeless who have not acquired pagan burial rites in Virgil’s underworld. They are condemned to remain on the shore of the underworld for 100 years.

With Virgil’s assist, who convinces Charon to let the dwelling Dante move, Dante crosses the river Acheron and arrives in the primary degree of hell proper. This is Limbo. Right here Dante describes the souls of the unbaptised (primarily youngsters) who type an awesome static wood and we’ll soon come to the fort.

Within the Firm of Poets

As they proceed they see figures who hail Virgil from the space. They’re the good poets of history who welcome Virgil again like a conquering hero.

79 Intanto voce fu per me udita:
80 «Onorate l’altissimo poeta;
81 l’ombra sua torna, ch’period dipartita».

82 Poi che la voce fu restata e queta,
83 vidi quattro grand’ ombre a noi venire:
84 sembianz’ avevan né trista né lieta.

85 Lo buon maestro cominciò a dire:
86 «Mira colui con quella spada in mano,
87 che vien dinanzi ai tre sì come sire:

88 quelli è Omero poeta sovrano;
89 l’altro è Orazio satiro che vene;
90 Ovidio è ’l terzo, e l’ultimo Lucano.

Meanwhile there was a voice that I might hear:
“Pay honor to the estimable poet;
his shadow, which had left us, now returns.”

After that voice was carried out, when there was silence,
I noticed 4 big shades approaching us;
in facet, they have been neither unhappy nor joyous.

My kindly grasp then started by saying:
“Look properly at him who holds that sword in hand
who strikes earlier than the opposite three as lord.

That shade is Homer, the consummate poet;
the other one is Horace, satirist;
the third is Ovid, and the last is Lucan.

Inferno Canto IV, Verses 79-90, Mandelbaum Translation

In an act of poetic chutzpah, Dante has these nice poets enrol him as the sixth of their nice firm. Like his claim to have followed in Virgil’s steps, this can be a promise on which Dante now has to ship in the rest of the Comedy.

The Fort

They proceed on collectively and come to the Fort and inside is a who’s who of history’s non-Christians. The citadel is surrounded by seven partitions around which flows a good stream. He and Virgil cross over the stream as if walking on land. They discover within a place full of mild. Dante then begins to enumerate determine after figure. Figures from historic Trojan mythology like Electra and Hector; from Roman historical past like Brutus and Caesar. Saladin is there, set aside from others. Then the good philosophers Aristotle and Plato and the good scientists and docs of historic Greece and Rome. Among them the Muslim philosophers Avicenna and Averroes. The faces of this firm are marked with authority. They converse not often and their voices are mild.

All this is hardly “hellish”, and reads just like the sort of place that Dante himself won’t have minded spending eternity. Partially it adapts Virgil’s description of the pagan Elysian Fields in the Aeneid. Dante’s fort symbolises a number of the highest achievements of civilisation in the sciences and the arts. Even a determine like Caesar is in Dante’s world view symbolic of excellent authorities (as he believed a robust “Roman” Emperor was the solution to the political problems and conflict of his time). Like the places of retreat in the bodily world in which Dante lives, it posits an exalted existence in an “ivory tower” separated from the ghastly destiny which is the widespread lot of a larger mass of humanity submerged in vices of lack of self-control, violence and malice. The citadel, is in some senses, a wonderful phantasm, as Dante has discovered in the trajectory of his own life.

The vision is one that at the very least some of Dante’s contemporaries saw as heretical for its primarily pagan inspiration and was a supply of embarrassment to his defenders.

For Dante the traveller, this place full of light is just not the top of the journey. To succeed in his true objective he must first journey on by means of the dark locations of human existence: “where nothing shines”. If we’re to comply with the journey such locations have to be traversed, however what Dante wishes to inform us of, is the “good he found within” (Inferno Canto I, Verse 8).

La sesta compagnia in due si scema:
per altra by way of mi mena il savio duca,
fuor de la queta, ne l’ aura che trema.

E vegno in parte ove non è che luca.

The company of six divides in two;
my understanding guide leads me one other means,
beyond the quiet, into trembling air.

And I have reached an element where no thing gleams.

Inferno Canto IV Verses 148-151, with Mandelbaum translation


Spiriti magni, Priamo della Quercia (c.1403–1483)


Barbara Reynolds, Dante The Poet, the Political Thinker, the and the Man, I.B. Taurus London, 2006, pp 127-130

John A Scott, Understanding Dante, University of Notre Dame Press, 2005, p 209-210

Amilcare A Iannucci, Dante’s Limbo at the Margins of Orthodoxy, in James Miller (ed), Dante & the Unorthodox The Aesthetics of Transgression, Wilfrid Laurier College Press 2005, p 63-82

Dante Princeton Venture, Inferno Canto IV

Dante’s History Podcast Mallon Khan

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