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Dante's Divine Comedy


Canto XVII (76-139) - XIX (1-69)

English Edition, translated by Allen Mandelbaum

from the ELF Presents Website

See this website for other translations.  These translations are not

necessarily the best in English but they are in the public domain.


Canto  XVII (76-139)

Canto  XVIII

Canto XIX (1-69)



CANTO XVII (76-139)

Ascent to Fourth Circle:

Rule of the Mountain: Sins of the First Three Cornices




We'd reached a point at which the upward stairs
no longer climbed, and we were halted there
just like a ship when it has touched the shore.




I listened for a while, hoping to hear
whatever there might be in this new circle;
then I turned toward my master, asking him:





"Tell me, my gentle father: what offense
is purged within the circle we have reached?
Although our feet must stop, your words need not."




And he to me: "Precisely here, the love
of good that is too tepidly pursued
is mended; here the lazy oar plies harder.




But so that you may understand more clearly,
now turn your mind to me, and you will gather
some useful fruit from our delaying here.




My son, there's no Creator and no creature
who ever was without love-natural
or mental; and you know that," he began.




"The natural is always without error,
but mental love may choose an evil object
or err through too much or too little vigor.




As long as it's directed toward the First Good
and tends toward secondary goods with measure,
it cannot be the cause of evil pleasure;




but when it twists toward evil, or attends
to good with more or less care than it should,
those whom He made have worked against their Maker.




From this you see that-of necessity-
love is the seed in you of every virtue
and of all acts deserving punishment.




Now, since love never turns aside its eyes
from the well-being of its subject, things
are surely free from hatred of themselves;




and since no being can be seen as self-
existing and divorced from the First Being,
each creature is cut off from hating Him.




Thus, if I have distinguished properly,
ill love must mean to wish one's neighbor ill;
and this love's born in three ways in your clay.




There's he who, through abasement of another,
hopes for supremacy; he only longs
to see his neighbor's excellence cast down.




Then there is one who, when he is outdone,
fears his own loss of fame, power, honor, favor;
his sadness loves misfortune for his neighbor.




And there is he who, over injury
received, resentful, for revenge grows greedy
and, angrily, seeks out another's harm.




This threefold love is expiated here
below; now I would have you understand
the love that seeks the good distortedly.




Each apprehends confusedly a Good
in which the mind may rest, and longs for It;
and, thus, all strive to reach that Good; but if




the love that urges you to know It or
to reach that Good is lax, this terrace, after
a just repentance, punishes for that.




There is a different good, which does not make
men glad; it is not happiness, is not
true essence, fruit and root of every good.




The love that-profligately-yields to that
is wept on in three terraces above us;
but I'll not say what three shapes that loves takes-



may you seek those distinctions for yourself."





The Fourth Circle: The Slothful Virgil further discourses of Love and Free Will. The Abbot of San Zeno.


1   The subtle teacher had completed his
2   discourse to me; attentively he watched
3   my eyes to see if I seemed satisfied.
4   And I, still goaded by new thirst, was silent
5   without, although within I said: Perhaps
6   I have displeased him with too many questions.
7   But that true father, who had recognized
8   the timid want I would not tell aloud,
9   by speaking, gave me courage to speak out.
10   At which I said: Master, my sight is so
11   illumined by your light I recognize
12   all that your words declare or analyze.
13   Therefore, I pray you, gentle father dear,
14   to teach me what love is: you have reduced
15   to love both each good and its opposite.
16   He said: Direct your intellect's sharp eyes
17   toward me, and let the error of the blind
18   who'd serve as guides be evident to you.
19   The soul, which is created quick to love,
20   responds to everything that pleases, just
21   as soon as beauty wakens it to act.
22   Your apprehension draws an image from
23   a real object and expands upon
24   that object until soul has turned toward it;
25   and if, so turned, the soul tends steadfastly,
26   then that propensity is love it's nature
27   that joins the soul in you, anew, through beauty.
28   Then, just as flames ascend because the form
29   of fire was fashioned to fly upward, toward
30   the stuff of its own sphere, where it lasts longest,
31   so does the soul, when seized, move into longing,
32   a motion of the spirit, never resting
33   till the beloved thing has made it joyous.
34   Now you can plainly see how deeply hidden
35   truth is from scrutinists who would insist
36   that every love is, in itself, praiseworthy;
37   and they are led to error by the matter
38   of love, because it may seem always good;
39   but not each seal is fine, although the wax is.
40   Your speech and my own wit that followed it,
41   I answered him, have shown me what love is;
42   but that has filled me with still greater doubt;
43   for if love's offered to us from without
44   and is the only foot with which soul walks,
45   soul going straight or crooked has no merit.
46   And he to me: What reason can see here,
47   I can impart; past that, for truth of faith,
48   it's Beatrice alone you must await.
49   Every substantial form, at once distinct
50   from matter and conjoined to it, ingathers
51   the force that is distinctively its own,
52   a force unknown to us until it acts
53   it's never shown except in its effects,
54   just as green boughs display the life in plants.
55   And thus man does not know the source of his
56   intelligence of primal notions and
57   his tending toward desire's primal objects:
58   both are in you just as in bees there is
59   the honey-making urge; such primal will
60   deserves no praise, and it deserves no blame.
61   Now, that all other longings may conform
62   to this first will, there is in you, inborn,
63   the power that counsels, keeper of the threshold
64   of your assent: this is the principle
65   on which your merit may be judged, for it
66   garners and winnows good and evil longings.
67   Those reasoners who reached the roots of things
68   learned of this inborn freedom; the bequest
69   that, thus, they left unto the world is ethics.
70   Even if we allow necessity
71   as source for every love that flames in you,
72   the power to curb that love is still your own.
73   This noble power is what Beatrice
74   means by free will; therefore, remember it,
75   if she should ever speak of it to you.
76   The moon, with midnight now behind us, made
77   the stars seem scarcer to us; it was shaped
78   just like a copper basin, gleaming, new;
79   and countercourse, it crossed those paths the sun
80   ignites when those in Rome can see it set
81   between the Corsicans and the Sardinians.
82   That gracious shade for whom Pietola
83   won more renown than any Mantuan town,
84   had freed me from the weight of doubt I bore;
85   so that I, having harvested his clear
86   and open answers to my questions, stood
87   like one who, nearing sleep, has random visions.
88   But readiness for sleep was suddenly
89   taken from me by people who, behind
90   our backs, already turned in our direction.
91   Just as of old Ismenus and Asopus,
92   at night, along their banks, saw crowds and clamor
93   whenever Thebans had to summon Bacchus,
94   such was the arching crowd that curved around
95   that circle, driven on, as I made out,
96   by righteous will as well as by just love.
97   Soon all that mighty throng drew near us, for
98   they ran and ran; and two, in front of them,
99   who wept, were crying: In her journey, Mary
100   made haste to reach the mountain, and, in order
101   to conquer Lerida, first Caesar thrust
102   against Marseilles, and then to Spain he rushed.
103   Following them, the others cried: Quick, quick,
104   lest time be lost through insufficient love;
105   where urge for good is keen, grace finds new green.
106   O people in whom eager fervor now
107   may compensate for sloth and negligence
108   you showed in doing good half-heartedly,
109   he who's alive, and surely I don't lie
110   to you would climb above as soon as he
111   has seen the sun shed light on us again;
112   then, tell us where the passage lies at hand.
113   My guide said this. One of the souls replied:
114   Come, follow us and you will find the gap.
115   We are so fully anxious to advance
116   we cannot halt; and do forgive us, should
117   you take our penance for discourtesy.
118   I was St. Zeno's abbot in Verona
119   under the rule of valiant Barbarossa,
120   of whom Milan still speaks with so much sorrow.
121   And there is one with one foot in the grave,
122   who soon will weep over that monastery,
123   lamenting that he once had power there,
124   because, in place of its true shepherd, he
125   put one who was unsound of body and,
126   still more, of mind, and born in sin-his son.
127   I don't know if he said more or was silent
128   he had already raced so far beyond us;
129   but I heard this much and was pleased to hear it.
130   And he who was my help in every need
131   said: Turn around: see those two coming they
132   whose words mock sloth. And I heard those two say
133   behind all of the rest: The ones for whom
134   the sea parted were dead before the Jordan
135   saw those who had inherited its lands;
136   and those who did not suffer trials until
137   the end together with Anchises' son
138   gave themselves up to life without renown.
139   Then, when those shades were so far off from us
140   that seeing them became impossible,
141   a new thought rose inside of me and, from
142   that thought, still others many and diverse
143   were born: I was so drawn from random thought
144   to thought that, wandering in mind, I shut
145   my eyes, transforming thought on thought to dream.



CANTO XIX (1-69)

The Fourth Circle: Dante's Dream of the Siren. Pope Adrian V.
1   In that hour when the heat of day, defeated
2   by Earth and, sometimes, Saturn, can no longer
3   warm up the moon-sent cold, when geomancers
4   can, in the east, see their Fortuna major
5   rising before the dawn along a path
6   that will be darkened for it only briefly
7   a stammering woman came to me in dream:
8   her eyes askew, and crooked on her feet, her
9   hands were crippled, her complexion sallow.
10   I looked at her; and just as sun revives
11   cold limbs that night made numb, so did my gaze
12   loosen her tongue and then, in little time,
13   set her contorted limbs in perfect order;
14   and, with the coloring that love prefers,
15   my eyes transformed the wanness of her features.
16   And when her speech had been set free, then she
17   began to sing so, that it would have been
18   most difficult for me to turn aside.
19   I am, she sang, I am the pleasing siren,
20   who in midsea leads mariners astray
21   there is so much delight in hearing me.
22   I turned aside Ulysses, although he
23   had longed to journey; who grows used to me
24   seldom departs I satisfy him so.
25   Her lips were not yet done when, there beside me,
26   a woman showed herself, alert and saintly,
27   to cast the siren into much confusion.
28   O Virgil, Virgil, tell me: who is this?
29   she asked most scornfully; and he came forward,
30   his eyes intent upon that honest one.
31   He seized the other, baring her in front,
32   tearing her clothes, and showing me her belly;
33   the stench that came from there awakened me.
34   I moved my eyes, and my good master cried:
35   At least three times I've called you. Rise and come:
36   let's find the opening where you may enter.
37   I rose; the daylight had already filled
38   the circles of the sacred mountain we
39   were journeying with new sun at our back.
40   I followed him, bearing my brow like one
41   whose thoughts have weighed him down, who bends as if
42   he were the semiarch that forms a bridge,
43   and then I heard: Draw near; the pass is here,
44   said in a manner so benign and gentle
45   as, in our mortal land, one cannot hear.
46   He who addressed us so had open wings,
47   white as a swan's; and he directed us
48   upward, between two walls of the hard rock.
49   And then he moved his plumes and, fanning us,
50   affirmed that those Qui lugent would be blessed
51   their souls would be possessed of consolation.
52   What makes you keep your eyes upon the ground?
53   my guide began to say to me when both
54   of us had climbed a little, past the angel.
55   And I: What makes me move with such misgiving
56   is a new vision: it has so beguiled me
57   that I cannot relinquish thoughts of it.
58   The one you saw, he said, that ancient witch
59   for her alone one must atone above;
60   you saw how man can free himself from her.
61   Let that suffice, and hurry on your way;
62   fasten your eyes upon the lure that's spun
63   by the eternal King with His great spheres.
64   Just like a falcon, who at first looks down,
65   then, when the falconer has called, bends forward,
66   craving the food that's ready for him there,
67   so I became and so remained until,
68   through the cleft rock that lets one climb above,
69   I reached the point at which the circle starts.



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