Side by Side Translations of Dante's Inferno - Canto 3

Longfellow Translation

Inferno: Canto III

"Through me the way is to the city dolent;
  Through me the way is to eternal dole;
  Through me the way among the people lost.

Justice incited my sublime Creator;
  Created me divine Omnipotence,
  The highest Wisdom and the primal Love.

Before me there were no created things,
  Only eterne, and I eternal last.
  All hope abandon, ye who enter in!"

These words in sombre colour I beheld
  Written upon the summit of a gate;
  Whence I: "Their sense is, Master, hard to me!"

And he to me, as one experienced:
  "Here all suspicion needs must be abandoned,
  All cowardice must needs be here extinct.

We to the place have come, where I have told thee
  Thou shalt behold the people dolorous
  Who have foregone the good of intellect."

And after he had laid his hand on mine
  With joyful mien, whence I was comforted,
  He led me in among the secret things.

There sighs, complaints, and ululations loud
  Resounded through the air without a star,
  Whence I, at the beginning, wept thereat.

Languages diverse, horrible dialects,
  Accents of anger, words of agony,
  And voices high and hoarse, with sound of hands,

Made up a tumult that goes whirling on
  For ever in that air for ever black,
  Even as the sand doth, when the whirlwind breathes.

And I, who had my head with horror bound,
  Said: "Master, what is this which now I hear?
  What folk is this, which seems by pain so vanquished?"

And he to me: "This miserable mode
  Maintain the melancholy souls of those
  Who lived withouten infamy or praise.

Commingled are they with that caitiff choir
  Of Angels, who have not rebellious been,
  Nor faithful were to God, but were for self.

The heavens expelled them, not to be less fair;
  Nor them the nethermore abyss receives,
  For glory none the damned would have from them."

And I: "O Master, what so grievous is
  To these, that maketh them lament so sore?"
  He answered: "I will tell thee very briefly.

These have no longer any hope of death;
  And this blind life of theirs is so debased,
  They envious are of every other fate.

No fame of them the world permits to be;
  Misericord and Justice both disdain them.
  Let us not speak of them, but look, and pass."

And I, who looked again, beheld a banner,
  Which, whirling round, ran on so rapidly,
  That of all pause it seemed to me indignant;

And after it there came so long a train
  Of people, that I ne'er would have believed
  That ever Death so many had undone.

When some among them I had recognised,
  I looked, and I beheld the shade of him
  Who made through cowardice the great refusal.

Forthwith I comprehended, and was certain,
  That this the sect was of the caitiff wretches
  Hateful to God and to his enemies.

These miscreants, who never were alive,
  Were naked, and were stung exceedingly
  By gadflies and by hornets that were there.

These did their faces irrigate with blood,
  Which, with their tears commingled, at their feet
  By the disgusting worms was gathered up.

And when to gazing farther I betook me.
  People I saw on a great river's bank;
  Whence said I: "Master, now vouchsafe to me,

That I may know who these are, and what law
  Makes them appear so ready to pass over,
  As I discern athwart the dusky light."

And he to me: "These things shall all be known
  To thee, as soon as we our footsteps stay
  Upon the dismal shore of Acheron."

Then with mine eyes ashamed and downward cast,
  Fearing my words might irksome be to him,
  From speech refrained I till we reached the river.

And lo! towards us coming in a boat
  An old man, hoary with the hair of eld,
  Crying: "Woe unto you, ye souls depraved!

Hope nevermore to look upon the heavens;
  I come to lead you to the other shore,
  To the eternal shades in heat and frost.

And thou, that yonder standest, living soul,
  Withdraw thee from these people, who are dead!"
  But when he saw that I did not withdraw,

He said: "By other ways, by other ports
  Thou to the shore shalt come, not here, for passage;
  A lighter vessel needs must carry thee."

And unto him the Guide: "Vex thee not, Charon;
  It is so willed there where is power to do
  That which is willed; and farther question not."

Thereat were quieted the fleecy cheeks
  Of him the ferryman of the livid fen,
  Who round about his eyes had wheels of flame.

But all those souls who weary were and naked
  Their colour changed and gnashed their teeth together,
  As soon as they had heard those cruel words.

God they blasphemed and their progenitors,
  The human race, the place, the time, the seed
  Of their engendering and of their birth!

Thereafter all together they drew back,
  Bitterly weeping, to the accursed shore,
  Which waiteth every man who fears not God.

Charon the demon, with the eyes of glede,
  Beckoning to them, collects them all together,
  Beats with his oar whoever lags behind.

As in the autumn-time the leaves fall off,
  First one and then another, till the branch
  Unto the earth surrenders all its spoils;

In similar wise the evil seed of Adam
  Throw themselves from that margin one by one,
  At signals, as a bird unto its lure.

So they depart across the dusky wave,
  And ere upon the other side they land,
  Again on this side a new troop assembles.

"My son," the courteous Master said to me,
  "All those who perish in the wrath of God
  Here meet together out of every land;

And ready are they to pass o'er the river,
  Because celestial Justice spurs them on,
  So that their fear is turned into desire.

This way there never passes a good soul;
  And hence if Charon doth complain of thee,
  Well mayst thou know now what his speech imports."

This being finished, all the dusk champaign
  Trembled so violently, that of that terror
  The recollection bathes me still with sweat.

The land of tears gave forth a blast of wind,
  And fulminated a vermilion light,
  Which overmastered in me every sense,

And as a man whom sleep hath seized I fell.

Cary Translation


"THROUGH me you pass into the city of woe:
Through me you pass into eternal pain:
Through me among the people lost for aye.
Justice the founder of my fabric mov'd:
To rear me was the task of power divine,
Supremest wisdom, and primeval love.
Before me things create were none, save things
Eternal, and eternal I endure.

"All hope abandon ye who enter here."

Such characters in colour dim I mark'd
Over a portal's lofty arch inscrib'd:
Whereat I thus: "Master, these words import
Hard meaning." He as one prepar'd replied:
"Here thou must all distrust behind thee leave;
Here be vile fear extinguish'd. We are come
Where I have told thee we shall see the souls
To misery doom'd, who intellectual good
Have lost." And when his hand he had stretch'd forth
To mine, with pleasant looks, whence I was cheer'd,
Into that secret place he led me on.

Here sighs with lamentations and loud moans
Resounded through the air pierc'd by no star,
That e'en I wept at entering. Various tongues,
Horrible languages, outcries of woe,
Accents of anger, voices deep and hoarse,
With hands together smote that swell'd the sounds,
Made up a tumult, that for ever whirls
Round through that air with solid darkness stain'd,
Like to the sand that in the whirlwind flies.

I then, with error yet encompass'd, cried:
"O master! What is this I hear? What race
Are these, who seem so overcome with woe?"

He thus to me: "This miserable fate
Suffer the wretched souls of those, who liv'd
Without or praise or blame, with that ill band
Of angels mix'd, who nor rebellious prov'd
Nor yet were true to God, but for themselves
Were only. From his bounds Heaven drove them forth,
Not to impair his lustre, nor the depth
Of Hell receives them, lest th' accursed tribe
Should glory thence with exultation vain."

I then: "Master! what doth aggrieve them thus,
That they lament so loud?" He straight replied:
"That will I tell thee briefly. These of death
No hope may entertain: and their blind life
So meanly passes, that all other lots
They envy. Fame of them the world hath none,
Nor suffers; mercy and justice scorn them both.
Speak not of them, but look, and pass them by."

And I, who straightway look'd, beheld a flag,
Which whirling ran around so rapidly,
That it no pause obtain'd: and following came
Such a long train of spirits, I should ne'er
Have thought, that death so many had despoil'd.

When some of these I recogniz'd, I saw
And knew the shade of him, who to base fear
Yielding, abjur'd his high estate. Forthwith
I understood for certain this the tribe
Of those ill spirits both to God displeasing
And to his foes. These wretches, who ne'er lived,
Went on in nakedness, and sorely stung
By wasps and hornets, which bedew'd their cheeks
With blood, that mix'd with tears dropp'd to their feet,
And by disgustful worms was gather'd there.

Then looking farther onwards I beheld
A throng upon the shore of a great stream:
Whereat I thus: "Sir! grant me now to know
Whom here we view, and whence impell'd they seem
So eager to pass o'er, as I discern
Through the blear light?" He thus to me in few:
"This shalt thou know, soon as our steps arrive
Beside the woeful tide of Acheron."

Then with eyes downward cast and fill'd with shame,
Fearing my words offensive to his ear,
Till we had reach'd the river, I from speech
Abstain'd. And lo! toward us in a bark
Comes on an old man hoary white with eld,

Crying, "Woe to you wicked spirits! hope not
Ever to see the sky again. I come
To take you to the other shore across,
Into eternal darkness, there to dwell
In fierce heat and in ice. And thou, who there
Standest, live spirit! get thee hence, and leave
These who are dead." But soon as he beheld
I left them not, "By other way," said he,
"By other haven shalt thou come to shore,
Not by this passage; thee a nimbler boat
Must carry." Then to him thus spake my guide:
"Charon! thyself torment not: so 't is will'd,
Where will and power are one: ask thou no more."

Straightway in silence fell the shaggy cheeks
Of him the boatman o'er the livid lake,
Around whose eyes glar'd wheeling flames. Meanwhile
Those spirits, faint and naked, color chang'd,
And gnash'd their teeth, soon as the cruel words
They heard. God and their parents they blasphem'd,
The human kind, the place, the time, and seed
That did engender them and give them birth.

Then all together sorely wailing drew
To the curs'd strand, that every man must pass
Who fears not God. Charon, demoniac form,
With eyes of burning coal, collects them all,
Beck'ning, and each, that lingers, with his oar
Strikes. As fall off the light autumnal leaves,
One still another following, till the bough
Strews all its honours on the earth beneath;

E'en in like manner Adam's evil brood
Cast themselves one by one down from the shore,
Each at a beck, as falcon at his call.

Thus go they over through the umber'd wave,
And ever they on the opposing bank
Be landed, on this side another throng
Still gathers. "Son," thus spake the courteous guide,
"Those, who die subject to the wrath of God,
All here together come from every clime,
And to o'erpass the river are not loth:
For so heaven's justice goads them on, that fear
Is turn'd into desire. Hence ne'er hath past
Good spirit. If of thee Charon complain,
Now mayst thou know the import of his words."

This said, the gloomy region trembling shook
So terribly, that yet with clammy dews
Fear chills my brow. The sad earth gave a blast,
That, lightening, shot forth a vermilion flame,
Which all my senses conquer'd quite, and I
Down dropp'd, as one with sudden slumber seiz'd.

Norton Translation

CANTO III. The gate of Hell.--Virgil lends Dante in.--The
punishment of the neither good nor bad.--Aeheron, and the sinners
on its bank.--Charon.--Earthquake.--Dante swoons.

"Through me is the way into the woeful city; through me is the
way into eternal woe; through me is the way among the lost
people. Justice moved my lofty maker: the divine Power, the
supreme Wisdom and the primal Love made me. Before me were no
things created, unless eternal, and I eternal last. Leave every
hope, ye who enter!"

These words of color obscure I saw written at the top of a gate;
whereat I, "Master, their meaning is dire to me."

And he to me, like one who knew, "Here it behoves to leave every
fear; it behoves that all cowardice should here be dead. We have
come to the place where I have told thee that thou shalt see the
woeful people, who have lost the good of the understanding."

And when he had put his hand on mine, with a glad countenance,
wherefrom I took courage, he brought me within the secret things.
Here sighs, laments, and deep wailings were resounding though the
starless air; wherefore at first I wept thereat. Strange tongues,
horrible cries, words of woe, accents of anger, voices high and
hoarse, and sounds of hands with them, were making a tumult which
whirls forever in that air dark without change, like the sand
when the whirlwind breathes.

And I, who had my head girt with horror, said, "Master, what is
it that I hear? and what folk are they who seem in woe so

And he to me, "This miserable measure the wretched souls maintain
of those who lived without infamy and without praise. Mingled are
they with that caitiff choir of the angels, who were not rebels,
nor were faithful to God, but were for themselves. The heavens
chased them out in order to be not less beautiful, nor doth the
depth of Hell receive them, because the damned would have some
glory from them."

And I, "Master, what is so grievous to them, that makes them
lament so bitterly?"

He answered, "I will tell thee very briefly. These have no hope
of death; and their blind life is so debased, that they are
envious of every other lot. Fame of them the world permitteth not
to be; mercy and justice disdain them. Let us not speak of them,
but do thou look and pass on."

And I, who was gazing, saw a banner, that whirling ran so swiftly
that it seemed to me to scorn all repose, and behind it came so
long a train of folk, that I could never have believed death had
undone so many. After I had distinguished some among them, I saw
and knew the shade of him who made, through cowardice, the great
refusal. [1] At once I understood and was certain, that this was
the sect of the caitiffs displeasing unto God, and unto his
enemies. These wretches, who never were alive, were naked, and
much stung by gad-flies and by wasps that were there. These
streaked their faces with blood, which, mingled with tears, was
harvested at their feet by loathsome worms.

[1] Who is intended by these words is uncertain.

And when I gave myself to looking onward, I saw people on the
bank of a great river; wherefore I said, "Master, now grant to me
that I may know who these are, and what rule makes them appear so
ready to pass over, as I discern through the faint light." And he
to me, "The things will be clear to thee, when we shall set our
steps on the sad marge of Acheron." Then with eyes bashful and
cast down, fearing lest my speech had been irksome to him, far as
to the river I refrained from speaking.

And lo! coming toward us in a boat, an old man, white with
ancient hair, crying, "Woe to you, wicked souls! hope not ever to
see Heaven! I come to carry you to the other bank, into eternal
darkness, to heat and frost. And thou who art there, living soul,
depart from these that are dead." But when he saw that I did not
depart, he said, "By another way, by other ports thou shalt come
to the shore, not here, for passage; it behoves that a lighter
bark bear thee."[1]

[1] The boat that bears the souls to Purgatory. Charon recognizes
that Dante is not among the damned.

And my Leader to him, "Charon, vex not thyself, it is thus willed
there where is power to do that which is willed; and farther ask
not." Then the fleecy cheeks were quiet of the pilot of the livid
marsh, who round about his eyes had wheels of flame.

But those souls, who were weary and naked, changed color, and
gnashed their teeth soon as they heard his cruel words. They
blasphemed God and their parents, the human race, the place, the
time and the seed of their sowing and of their birth. Then,
bitterly weeping, they drew back all of them together to the evil
bank, that waits for every man who fears not God. Charon the
demon, with eyes of glowing coal, beckoning them, collects them
all; he beats with his oar whoever lingers.

As in autumn the leaves fall off one after the other, till the
bough sees all its spoils upon the earth, in like wise the evil
seed of Adam throw themselves from that shore one by one at
signals, as the bird at his call. Thus they go over the dusky
wave, and before they have landed on the farther side, already on
this a new throng is gathered.

"My son," said the courteous Master, "those who die in the wrath
of God, all meet together here from every land. And they are
eager to pass over the stream, for the divine justice spurs them,
so that fear is turned to desire. This way a good soul never
passes; and therefore if Charon snarleth at thee, thou now mayest
well know what his speech signifies." This ended, the dark plain
trembled so mightily, that the memory of the terror even now
bathes me with sweat. The tearful land gave forth a wind that
flashed a vermilion light which vanquished every sense of mine,
and I fell as a man whom slumber seizes.

Browse the cantos of the Inferno:

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