Side by Side Translations of Dante's Inferno - Canto 4

Longfellow Translation

Inferno: Canto IV

Broke the deep lethargy within my head
  A heavy thunder, so that I upstarted,
  Like to a person who by force is wakened;

And round about I moved my rested eyes,
  Uprisen erect, and steadfastly I gazed,
  To recognise the place wherein I was.

True is it, that upon the verge I found me
  Of the abysmal valley dolorous,
  That gathers thunder of infinite ululations.

Obscure, profound it was, and nebulous,
  So that by fixing on its depths my sight
  Nothing whatever I discerned therein.

"Let us descend now into the blind world,"
  Began the Poet, pallid utterly;
  "I will be first, and thou shalt second be."

And I, who of his colour was aware,
  Said: "How shall I come, if thou art afraid,
  Who'rt wont to be a comfort to my fears?"

And he to me: "The anguish of the people
  Who are below here in my face depicts
  That pity which for terror thou hast taken.

Let us go on, for the long way impels us."
  Thus he went in, and thus he made me enter
  The foremost circle that surrounds the abyss.

There, as it seemed to me from listening,
  Were lamentations none, but only sighs,
  That tremble made the everlasting air.

And this arose from sorrow without torment,
  Which the crowds had, that many were and great,
  Of infants and of women and of men.

To me the Master good: "Thou dost not ask
  What spirits these, which thou beholdest, are?
  Now will I have thee know, ere thou go farther,

That they sinned not; and if they merit had,
  'Tis not enough, because they had not baptism
  Which is the portal of the Faith thou holdest;

And if they were before Christianity,
  In the right manner they adored not God;
  And among such as these am I myself.

For such defects, and not for other guilt,
  Lost are we and are only so far punished,
  That without hope we live on in desire."

Great grief seized on my heart when this I heard,
  Because some people of much worthiness
  I knew, who in that Limbo were suspended.

"Tell me, my Master, tell me, thou my Lord,"
  Began I, with desire of being certain
  Of that Faith which o'ercometh every error,

"Came any one by his own merit hence,
  Or by another's, who was blessed thereafter?"
  And he, who understood my covert speech,

Replied: "I was a novice in this state,
  When I saw hither come a Mighty One,
  With sign of victory incoronate.

Hence he drew forth the shade of the First Parent,
  And that of his son Abel, and of Noah,
  Of Moses the lawgiver, and the obedient

Abraham, patriarch, and David, king,
  Israel with his father and his children,
  And Rachel, for whose sake he did so much,

And others many, and he made them blessed;
  And thou must know, that earlier than these
  Never were any human spirits saved."

We ceased not to advance because he spake,
  But still were passing onward through the forest,
  The forest, say I, of thick-crowded ghosts.

Not very far as yet our way had gone
  This side the summit, when I saw a fire
  That overcame a hemisphere of darkness.

We were a little distant from it still,
  But not so far that I in part discerned not
  That honourable people held that place.

"O thou who honourest every art and science,
  Who may these be, which such great honour have,
  That from the fashion of the rest it parts them?"

And he to me: "The honourable name,
  That sounds of them above there in thy life,
  Wins grace in Heaven, that so advances them."

In the mean time a voice was heard by me:
  "All honour be to the pre-eminent Poet;
  His shade returns again, that was departed."

After the voice had ceased and quiet was,
  Four mighty shades I saw approaching us;
  Semblance had they nor sorrowful nor glad.

To say to me began my gracious Master:
  "Him with that falchion in his hand behold,
  Who comes before the three, even as their lord.

That one is Homer, Poet sovereign;
  He who comes next is Horace, the satirist;
  The third is Ovid, and the last is Lucan.

Because to each of these with me applies
  The name that solitary voice proclaimed,
  They do me honour, and in that do well."

Thus I beheld assemble the fair school
  Of that lord of the song pre-eminent,
  Who o'er the others like an eagle soars.

When they together had discoursed somewhat,
  They turned to me with signs of salutation,
  And on beholding this, my Master smiled;

And more of honour still, much more, they did me,
  In that they made me one of their own band;
  So that the sixth was I, 'mid so much wit.

Thus we went on as far as to the light,
  Things saying 'tis becoming to keep silent,
  As was the saying of them where I was.

We came unto a noble castle's foot,
  Seven times encompassed with lofty walls,
  Defended round by a fair rivulet;

This we passed over even as firm ground;
  Through portals seven I entered with these Sages;
  We came into a meadow of fresh verdure.

People were there with solemn eyes and slow,
  Of great authority in their countenance;
  They spake but seldom, and with gentle voices.

Thus we withdrew ourselves upon one side
  Into an opening luminous and lofty,
  So that they all of them were visible.

There opposite, upon the green enamel,
  Were pointed out to me the mighty spirits,
  Whom to have seen I feel myself exalted.

I saw Electra with companions many,
  'Mongst whom I knew both Hector and Aeneas,
  Caesar in armour with gerfalcon eyes;

I saw Camilla and Penthesilea
  On the other side, and saw the King Latinus,
  Who with Lavinia his daughter sat;

I saw that Brutus who drove Tarquin forth,
  Lucretia, Julia, Marcia, and Cornelia,
  And saw alone, apart, the Saladin.

When I had lifted up my brows a little,
  The Master I beheld of those who know,
  Sit with his philosophic family.

All gaze upon him, and all do him honour.
  There I beheld both Socrates and Plato,
  Who nearer him before the others stand;

Democritus, who puts the world on chance,
  Diogenes, Anaxagoras, and Thales,
  Zeno, Empedocles, and Heraclitus;

Of qualities I saw the good collector,
  Hight Dioscorides; and Orpheus saw I,
  Tully and Livy, and moral Seneca,

Euclid, geometrician, and Ptolemy,
  Galen, Hippocrates, and Avicenna,
  Averroes, who the great Comment made.

I cannot all of them pourtray in full,
  Because so drives me onward the long theme,
  That many times the word comes short of fact.

The sixfold company in two divides;
  Another way my sapient Guide conducts me
  Forth from the quiet to the air that trembles;

And to a place I come where nothing shines.

Cary Translation


BROKE the deep slumber in my brain a crash
Of heavy thunder, that I shook myself,
As one by main force rous'd. Risen upright,
My rested eyes I mov'd around, and search'd
With fixed ken to know what place it was,
Wherein I stood. For certain on the brink
I found me of the lamentable vale,
The dread abyss, that joins a thund'rous sound
Of plaints innumerable. Dark and deep,
And thick with clouds o'erspread, mine eye in vain
Explor'd its bottom, nor could aught discern.

"Now let us to the blind world there beneath
Descend;" the bard began all pale of look:
"I go the first, and thou shalt follow next."

Then I his alter'd hue perceiving, thus:
"How may I speed, if thou yieldest to dread,
Who still art wont to comfort me in doubt?"

He then: "The anguish of that race below
With pity stains my cheek, which thou for fear
Mistakest. Let us on. Our length of way
Urges to haste." Onward, this said, he mov'd;
And ent'ring led me with him on the bounds
Of the first circle, that surrounds th' abyss.
Here, as mine ear could note, no plaint was heard
Except of sighs, that made th' eternal air
Tremble, not caus'd by tortures, but from grief
Felt by those multitudes, many and vast,
Of men, women, and infants. Then to me
The gentle guide: "Inquir'st thou not what spirits
Are these, which thou beholdest? Ere thou pass
Farther, I would thou know, that these of sin
Were blameless; and if aught they merited,
It profits not, since baptism was not theirs,
The portal to thy faith. If they before
The Gospel liv'd, they serv'd not God aright;
And among such am I. For these defects,
And for no other evil, we are lost;"

"Only so far afflicted, that we live
Desiring without hope." So grief assail'd
My heart at hearing this, for well I knew
Suspended in that Limbo many a soul
Of mighty worth. "O tell me, sire rever'd!
Tell me, my master!" I began through wish
Of full assurance in that holy faith,
Which vanquishes all error; "say, did e'er
Any, or through his own or other's merit,
Come forth from thence, whom afterward was blest?"

Piercing the secret purport of my speech,
He answer'd: "I was new to that estate,
When I beheld a puissant one arrive
Amongst us, with victorious trophy crown'd.
He forth the shade of our first parent drew,
Abel his child, and Noah righteous man,
Of Moses lawgiver for faith approv'd,
Of patriarch Abraham, and David king,
Israel with his sire and with his sons,
Nor without Rachel whom so hard he won,
And others many more, whom he to bliss
Exalted. Before these, be thou assur'd,
No spirit of human kind was ever sav'd."

We, while he spake, ceas'd not our onward road,
Still passing through the wood; for so I name
Those spirits thick beset. We were not far
On this side from the summit, when I kenn'd
A flame, that o'er the darken'd hemisphere
Prevailing shin'd. Yet we a little space
Were distant, not so far but I in part
Discover'd, that a tribe in honour high
That place possess'd. "O thou, who every art
And science valu'st! who are these, that boast
Such honour, separate from all the rest?"

He answer'd: "The renown of their great names
That echoes through your world above, acquires
Favour in heaven, which holds them thus advanc'd."
Meantime a voice I heard: "Honour the bard
Sublime! his shade returns that left us late!"
No sooner ceas'd the sound, than I beheld
Four mighty spirits toward us bend their steps,
Of semblance neither sorrowful nor glad.

When thus my master kind began: "Mark him,
Who in his right hand bears that falchion keen,
The other three preceding, as their lord.
This is that Homer, of all bards supreme:
Flaccus the next in satire's vein excelling;
The third is Naso; Lucan is the last.
Because they all that appellation own,
With which the voice singly accosted me,
Honouring they greet me thus, and well they judge."

So I beheld united the bright school
Of him the monarch of sublimest song,
That o'er the others like an eagle soars.
When they together short discourse had held,
They turn'd to me, with salutation kind
Beck'ning me; at the which my master smil'd:
Nor was this all; but greater honour still
They gave me, for they made me of their tribe;
And I was sixth amid so learn'd a band.

Far as the luminous beacon on we pass'd
Speaking of matters, then befitting well
To speak, now fitter left untold. At foot
Of a magnificent castle we arriv'd,
Seven times with lofty walls begirt, and round
Defended by a pleasant stream. O'er this
As o'er dry land we pass'd. Next through seven gates
I with those sages enter'd, and we came
Into a mead with lively verdure fresh.

There dwelt a race, who slow their eyes around
Majestically mov'd, and in their port
Bore eminent authority; they spake
Seldom, but all their words were tuneful sweet.

We to one side retir'd, into a place
Open and bright and lofty, whence each one
Stood manifest to view. Incontinent
There on the green enamel of the plain
Were shown me the great spirits, by whose sight
I am exalted in my own esteem.

Electra there I saw accompanied
By many, among whom Hector I knew,
Anchises' pious son, and with hawk's eye
Caesar all arm'd, and by Camilla there
Penthesilea. On the other side
Old King Latinus, seated by his child
Lavinia, and that Brutus I beheld,
Who Tarquin chas'd, Lucretia, Cato's wife
Marcia, with Julia and Cornelia there;
And sole apart retir'd, the Soldan fierce.

Then when a little more I rais'd my brow,
I spied the master of the sapient throng,
Seated amid the philosophic train.
Him all admire, all pay him rev'rence due.
There Socrates and Plato both I mark'd,
Nearest to him in rank; Democritus,
Who sets the world at chance, Diogenes,
With Heraclitus, and Empedocles,
And Anaxagoras, and Thales sage,
Zeno, and Dioscorides well read
In nature's secret lore. Orpheus I mark'd
And Linus, Tully and moral Seneca,
Euclid and Ptolemy, Hippocrates,
Galenus, Avicen, and him who made
That commentary vast, Averroes.

Of all to speak at full were vain attempt;
For my wide theme so urges, that ofttimes
My words fall short of what bechanc'd. In two
The six associates part. Another way
My sage guide leads me, from that air serene,
Into a climate ever vex'd with storms:
And to a part I come where no light shines.

Norton Translation

CANTO IV. The further side of Acheron.--Virgil leads Dante into
Limbo, the First Circle of Hell, containing the spirits of those
who lived virtuously but without Christianity.--Greeting of
Virgil by his fellow poets.--They enter a castle, where are the
shades of ancient worthies.--Virgil and Dante depart.

A heavy thunder broke the deep sleep in my head, so that I
started up like a person who by force is wakened. And risen
erect, I moved my rested eye round about, and looked fixedly to
distinguish the place where I was. True it is, that I found
myself on the verge of the valley of the woeful abyss that
gathers in thunder of infinite wailings. Dark, profound it was,
and cloudy, so that though I fixed my sight on the bottom I did
not discern anything there.

"Now we descend down here into the blind world," began the Poet
all deadly pale, "I will be first, and thou shalt be second."

And I, who had observed his color, said, "How shall I come, if
thou fearest, who art wont to be a comfort to my doubting?" And
he to me, "The anguish of the folk who are down here depicts upon
my face that pity which thou takest for fear. Let us go on, for
the long way urges us."

So he set forth, and so he made me enter within the first circle
that girds the abyss. Here, so far as could be heard, there was
no plaint but that of sighs which made the eternal air to
tremble: this came of the woe without torments felt by the
crowds, which were many and great, of infants and of women and of

The good Master to me, "Thou dost not ask what spirits are these
that thou seest. Now I would have thee know, before thou goest
farther, that they sinned not; and if they have merits it
sufficeth not, because they had not baptism, which is part of the
faith that thou believest; and if they were before Christianity,
they did not duly worship God: and of such as these am I myself.
Through such defects, and not through other guilt, are we lost,
and only so far harmed that without hope we live in desire."

Great woe seized me at my heart when I heard him, because I knew
that people of much worth were suspended in that limbo. "Tell me,
my Master, tell me, Lord," began I, with wish to be assured of
that faith which vanquishes every error,[1] "did ever any one who
afterwards was blessed go out from here, either by his own or by
another's merit?" And he, who understood my covert speech,
answered, "I was new in this state when I saw a Mighty One come
hither crowned with sign of victory. He drew out hence the shade
of the first parent, of Abel his son, and that of Noah, of Moses
the law-giver and obedient, Abraham the patriarch, and David the
King, Israel with his father, and with his offspring, and with
Rachel, for whom he did so much, and others many; and He made
them blessed: and I would have thee know that before these, human
spirits were not saved."

[1] Wishing especially to be assured in regard to the descent of
Christ into Hell.

We ceased not going on because he spoke, but all the while were
passing through the wood, the wood I mean of crowded spirits. Nor
yet had our way been long from where I slept, when I saw a fire,
that conquered a hemisphere of darkness. We were still a little
distant from it, yet not so far that I could not partially
discern that honorable folk possessed that place. "O thou that
honorest both science and art, these, who are they, that have
such honor that from the condition of the others it sets them
apart?" And he to me, "The honorable fame of them which resounds
above in thy life wins grace in heaven that so advances them." At
this a voice was heard by me, "Honor the loftiest Poet! his shade
returns that was departed." When the voice had ceased and was
quiet, I saw four great shades coming to us: they had a semblance
neither sad nor glad. The good Master began to say, "Look at him
with that sword in hand who cometh before the three, even as
lord. He is Homer, the sovereign poet; the next who comes is
Horace, the satirist; Ovid is the third, and the last is Lucan.
Since each shares with me the name that the single voice sounded,
they do me honor, and in that do well"

Thus I saw assembled the fair school of that Lord of the loftiest
song which above the others as an eagle flies. After they had
discoursed somewhat together, they turned to me with sign of
salutation; and my Master smiled thereat. And far more of honor
yet they did me, for they made me of their band, so that I was
the sixth amid so much wit. Thus we went on as far as the light,
speaking things concerning which silence is becoming, even as was
speech there where I was.

We came to the foot of a noble castle, seven times circled by
high walls, defended round about by a fair streamlet. This we
passed as if hard ground; through seven gates I entered with
these sages; we came to a meadow of fresh verdure. People were
there with eyes slow and grave, of great authority in their
looks; they spake seldom, and with soft voices. Thus we drew
apart, on one side, into a place open, luminous, and high, so
that they all could be seen. There opposite upon the green enamel
were shown to me the great spirits, whom to have seen I inwardly
exalt myself.

I saw Electra with many companions, among whom I knew both Hector
and Aeneas, Caesar in armor, with his gerfalcon eyes; I saw
Camilla and Penthesilea on the other side, and I saw the King
Latinus, who was seated with Lavinia his daughter. I saw that
Brutus who drove out Tarquin; Lucretia, Julia, Marcia, and
Cornelia; and alone, apart, I saw the Saladin. When I raised my
brow a little more, I saw the Master of those who know, seated
amid the philosophic family; all regard him, all do him honor.
Here I saw both Socrates and Plato, who before the others stand
nearest to him; Democritus, who ascribes the world to chance;
Diogenes, Anaxagoras, and Thales, Empedocles, Heraclitus, and
Zeno; and I saw the good collector of the qualities, Dioscorides,
I mean; and I saw Orpheus, Tully, and Linus, and moral Seneca,
Euclid the geometer, and Ptolemy, Hippocrates, Avicenna, Galen,
and Averrhoes, who made the great comment. I cannot report of all
in full, because the long theme so drives me that many times
speech comes short of fact.

The company of six is reduced to two. By another way the wise
guide leads me, out from the quiet, into the air that trembles,
and I come into a region where is nothing that can give light.

Browse the cantos of the Inferno:

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