The story thus far: Dante, a poet and town prior in Florence, finds himself on a dark road of the soul. Before his spirit can fall to its ruin, he encounters Virgil, the greatest poet of classical Rome. Virgil offers Dante a journey through the realms of the afterworld, through which Dante may find his soul's salvation. He shall travel through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, with Virgil as his guide through the first two. Dante accepts Virgil's offer, and they embark.
Beatrice and Virgil in Limbo
The day was departing, and the dark air
Was taking Earth’s creatures
From their fatigue. I alone
Prepared myself to endure the war
Of both the path and the pathos
That the unerring mind shall retrace.
O Muses, O high genius, help me now;
O memory that inscribed what I saw,
Here shall your nobility appear.
I began: “Oh, poet who guides me,
Examine my character, to the extent that I possess it,
Before entrusting me to the high road.
You tell of Silvius’ father—Aeneas—
While he was still alive and capable of sin: To the spirit
World he went, alert and reflective.
But if the Enemy of all evil,
In His considered motives and contemplation of the ultimate consequence
Of that which must come from Him, as well as what and whom,
Does not appear unworthy to the man of intellect,
It was due to Aeneas and the fostering of Rome and its empire,
By the Father’s choice, into the empire of Heaven.
I wish to speak the truth: Both city and empire
Were established as the place of holiness
Where the successor of the great Peter sits.
You sang of Aeneas on this journey,
Gaining knowledge of what precipitated
His triumph and then the papal mantle.
The Chosen Vessel—Paul—then came here
In order to revive comfort in the Faith,
Which is the beginning of the road to salvation.
But me, why have I come here? Who grants this?
I am not Aeneas; I am not Paul.
Neither I nor others believe me worthy of this.
Therefore, if I abandon myself to this venture,
I fear it would be folly.
You are wise; you better understand what I do not fathom.”
And, such as one who undoes his own will,
Reconsidering and changing his stance
Until his principles are stripped of substance,
So I became on that gloomy shore,
Because, in mulling it over, I wore out the impetus
That, in the beginning, I had quickly embraced.
“If I properly understand your words,”
That spirit, so noble of mind, replied,
“Your soul is sick with cowardice,
Which often confuses a man,
Turning him away from noble venture
Like a skittish animal deceived by its own eyes.
In order for you to raise yourself from this fear,
I’ll tell why I came and what I understood
When I first grieved for you.
I was among the Suspended Ones,
And my name was called by a lady so saintly and beautiful
That I asked to be of her command.
Her eyes shone brighter than the stars,
And she began to say to me, sweetly and softly,
With an angelic voice, in her own language:
“O genial Mantuan soul,
Whose fame in the world still endures
And will last into the world’s distant future,
A friend—he is not a friend of fortune—
Is hindered on the Barren Slope
Of the Journey, turned by fear.
And already I am frightened that he is so very lost,
That I am too late in rising to his aid,
Based on what I have heard of him in Heaven.
Go now, and with the richness of your words
And the knowledge which will enable him to manage,
Help him so that I shall be consoled.
I am Beatrice, I who compels you to go.
I come from the place to which I long to return.
Love moved me, and compels me to speak.
When I shall again be before my Lord,
I will praise you often to Him.”
Then she was silent, and I began:
“O Lady of virtue, the only one through whom
The human race transcends all contained
Within the Heaven of the lesser circles,
So welcome to me is your command
That were it already obeyed, I would be too late;
No more is needed to open me to your wishes.
But tell me why you so selflessly
Descend to this center
From the vast place to which you are burning to return?”
“Since you feel so compelled to know,”
She replied to me, “I shall briefly tell you
Why I am not afraid to enter here.
One should only be afraid of things
That have the power to do harm.
Other than that, no; nothing else is frightening.
In His mercy, God created me so
That, to me, your misery cannot be felt.
Nor do the flames of this fire assail me.
A kind Lady in Heaven so pities
The hardship being suffered where I send you
That, there, lasting judgment from above is set aside.
She asked this of Lucia in her plea
And said to her, “Your faithful one now has need
Of you. I suggest you go to him.”
Lucia, enemy of all cruelty,
Stirred in reply, and came to me, to the place where
I sat with the elder, Rachel.
She said, “Beatrice, truly the praise of God,
Why do you not aid him who loved you so much
That, for you, he rose above the common herd?
Do you not hear the pathos of his cries?
Do you not see the death he struggles with
Beside the river to which even the ocean cannot compare?”
No one on Earth was ever so fast
In improving their lot or fleeing their peril
As I was after these words were spoken.
I descended to this place from my blesséd seat,
Trusting your exemplary words
Which honors both you and those that have heard them.”
After presenting this to me,
She turned, her shining eyes in tears,
Which prompted me to come, and quickly.
And so I came to you as she directed.
I saved you in defiance of that beast
Who thwarted the short journey up that beautiful mountain.
As such, what is this? Why, why do you hang back?
Why is cowardice allotted so much room in your heart?
Where is your resolve, your forthrightness,
Given that three such blesséd Ladies
Care for you in the court of Heaven,
As well as my words, which promise so much good?”
As budding flowers in the nighttime frost
Bend and close up, followed by the illuminating sun
Opening them all and standing them up straight on their stems,
It was this I made of myself with my fatigued virtue:
Good and abundant courage flowing to me through my heart,
So that, as a person honest and direct, I began:
“Oh, compassionate lady, who came to my aid,
And you, so gracious that you quickly obeyed
The words of truth presented to you!
You have filled my heart with desire,
Through your words, for what is to come.
I am once again of the mind with which I began.
Now go, for we are both of one will.
You are my leader, you are my lord, you are my master.”
I said this to him like so. And then, when he had moved on,
I began upon that deep and savage road.
Continue to Song III