Inferno

Midway this way of life we're bound upon,
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
Where the right road was wholly lost and gone.
Canto 1 lines 1-3


Dante wakes to find himself lost in a dark forest. He tries to escape to a mountain in the distance, but is chased by a leopard, a lion, and a wolf. He is greeted by Virgil, who has been sent to lead Dante out of the wood through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven.


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While I was with the spirits who dwell suspense,
A Lady summond me - so blest, so rare,
I begged her to command my diligence.
Canto 2 lines 52-54


Dante is afraid to make the journey through Hell. Virgil encourages him by telling him that he was sent by Beatrice to rescue him from the dark wood.


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So I beheld, and lo! an ensign borne
Whirling, that span and ran, as in disdain
Of any rest; and there the folk forlorn
Rushed after it, in such an endless train.
Canto 3 lines 52-55


Entering in through the gate of Hell, the poets see the futile, who eternally chase after a standard that is always just out of their reach. After crossing the vestibule they come to the river Acheron, where Charon ferries the damned souls across into the depths of Hell.


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Plain in my sight on the enamelled green
All those grand spirits were shown me one by one -
It thrills my heart to think what I have seen!
Canto 4 lines 118-120


In the first circle of Hell Dante meets the unbaptized and the virtuous pagans.


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Into this torment carnal sinners are thrust,
So I was told - the sinners who make their reason
Bond thrall under the yoke of their lust.
Like as the starlings wheel in the wintry season
In wide and clustering flocks wing-borne, wind-borne
Even so they go, the souls who did this treason
Canto 5 lines 37-42


After passing Minos, the judge who assigns each soul to their proper circle, Dante and Virgil descend to the second circle, where the lustful are eternally blown on a howling wind.


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Cerebrus, the cruel, misshapen monster, there
Bays in his triple gullet and doglike growls
Over the wallowing shades; his eyeballs glare
Canto 6 lines 13-15


In the third circle, the gluttonous lie in the mud, trampled by Cerebrus.


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More than elsewhere, I saw them thronged and pressed
This side and that, yelling with all their might,
And shoving each a great weight with his chest.
Canto 7 lines 25-27


In the fourth circle, the hoarders and spendthrifts roll huge boulders against each other in the 'dismal joust'.


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And as we ran the channel of the dead slime
There started up at me a mud-soaked head,
Crying: "Who art thou, come here before thy time?"
Canto 8 lines 31-33


In the fifth circle, the wrathful are submerged in the marsh Styx. The poets are ferried across by Phlegyas, when one of them, Filippo Argenti, recognizes Dante and attacks the boat.


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"Turn thee about, and shut thine eyelids tight;
If Gorgon show her face and thou thereon
Look once, there's no returning to the light."
Canto 9 lines 55-57


The poets find the Gates of Dis are barred by the Furies and Medusa. A messenger from Heaven comes and forces the gates open, allowing Virgil and Dante to enter the sixth circle and the lower depth of Hell.


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"O Tuscan, walking thus with words discreet
Alive through the city of fire, be it good to thee
To turn thee hither awhile, and stay thy feet."
Canto 10 lines 22-25


As Dante and Virgil pass the burning tombs that hold the heretics, Farinata calls for them to turn and speak with him. He prophesies Dante's exile from Florence.


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Where a great cliff fell sheer, its beetling brow
Ringed with huge jagged rocks, we reached the brink
O'erhanging the still ghastlier dens below;
Canto 11 lines 1-3


At the edge of the cliffs leading down to the lower levels, Virgil explains the geography of Hell to Dante.


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But now look to the vale, for we draw near
The river of blood, where all those wretches boil
Whose violence filled the earth with pain and fear.
Canto 12 lines 46-48


Evading the Minotaur, the poets climb down a rough part of the cliffs. Below, the violent against their neighbors are submerged in Phlegethon, a river of boiling blood, and guarded by the centaurs.


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So I put forth my hand a little way,
And broke a branchlet from a thorn-tree tall;
And the trunk cried out: "Why tear my limbs away?"
Canto 13 lines 31-33


After crossing the Phlegethon, the poets enter a forest where the trees are formed of the transformed souls of the suicides (the violent against themselves).


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And slowly, slowly dropping over all
The sand, there drifted down huge flakes of fire,
As Alpine snows in windless weather fall.
Canto 14 lines 28-30


Beyond the forest of the suicides, the blasphemous (the violent against God) lie in a burning desert where fire rains down on them. The violent against nature eternally roam the desert sands.


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When he put out his hand to me, I stared
At his scorched face, searching him through and through
So that the shrivelled skin and features scarred
Might not mislead my memory: then I knew
And, stooping down to bring my face near his,
I said: "What, you here, Ser Brunetto? you!"
Canto 15 lines 25-30


A stream from the Phlegethon leads across the fiery desert, cooling a narrow path where the poets can cross on the banks along its sides. They see the violent against nature, who roam the desert eternally. Dante recognizes a dear friend.


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"Surely some strange and novel thing will rise,"
Said I to myself, "to answer this strange sign
Which thus my master's following with his eyes."
Canto 16 lines 115-117


Sheer cliffs drop between the sixth and seventh circles. Virgil throws Dante's belt over the edge as a signal to those below.


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"Behold the beast with stinging tail unfurled,
That passes mountains and breaks weapon and wall;
Behold him that pollutes the whole wide world."
Canto 17 lines 1-3


In answer to Virgil's signal, the monster Geryon rises out of the depths to carry them down to the circle of fraud.


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I saw horned fiends with heavy whips and strong
Posted each side along the dismal rock,
Who scourged their backs, and drove them on headlong.
Canto 18 lines 34-36


The eighth circle is divided into ten bowges, or trenches. In the first the poets see the panderers and seducers whipped by demons as they run. In the second, the flatterers are submerged in filth.


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From each hole's mouth wstuck out a sinner's feet
And legs up to the calf; but all the main
Part of the body was hid within the pit.
Canto 19 lines 22-24


In the third bowge, those who corrupted religious positions for personal gain are buried head down in flaming pits.


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I saw them strangely wried
'Twixt collar-bone and chin, so that the face
Of each was turned towards his own backside,
And backwards must they needs creep with their feet,
All power of looking forward being denied.
Canto 20 lines 11-15


The fourth bowge holds the sorcerers and fortune tellers, whose bodies are twisted so that their heads face backwards.


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At this the fiend, crestfallen utterly,
Let fall his grappling-iron at his feet,
Crying to the rest: "Strike not! he must go by."
Canto 21 lines 85-87


In the fifth trench, those who have corrupted public offices are submerged in boiling tar tended by demons. The bridge over the trench has been broken and they are threatened by demons, but Virgil uses the authority given him by Heaven to convince the demons to guide them to an intact bridge.


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"Claws, claws there, Rubicant! We've got him now!
Worry him, worry him, flay him high and low!"
Yelled all the demon-guardians of that slough.
Canto 22 lines 40-42


The demons pull up one of the damned souls to talk with Dante. An argument breaks out among the demons.


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"Friars," I began, "the miseries that you - "
But broke off short, seeing one lie crucified
There on the ground, with three stakes stricken through
Canto 23 lines 109-111


Virgil and Dante escape from the arguing demons into the sixth bowge. There they meet the hypocrites, who are beautifully dressed but weighed down by lead. Caiaphas is staked to the ground where the hypocrites must walk.


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And the most lothsome welter filled the sink of it -
A mass of serpents, so divers and daunting,
My blood still turns to water when I think of it.
Canto 24 lines x-y


The seventh bowge is filled with writhing serpents and the souls of thieves.


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Whishst Ovid! though he metamorphosed thus
Cadmus and Arethusa to a snake
And fountain, I need not be envious;
He never undertook in verse to make
Two natures interchanging, eye to eye,
Substance and form by mutual give-and-take
Canto 25 lines 97-102


The thieves can no longer depend on the possession of even their own bodies. One of them exchanges forms with a serpent.


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Seeing me thus intently lean and hover,
My guide said: "In those flames the spirits go
Shrouded, with their own torment for their cover."
Canto 26 lines 46-48


The counsellors of fraud are found in the eighth trench, each surrounded by flames.


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Erect and quiet now, its utterance done,
The tall flame stood; and presently, dismissed
By the sweet poet's licence, it passed on;
Canto 27 lines 1-3


The poets meet the spirits of Ulysses and Diomede, who go forever together in a double flame. Ulysses tells of his final voyage, where he saw the island of Purgatory.


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All these whom thou beholdest in the pit
Were sowers of scandal, sowers of schism abroad
While they yet lived; therefore they now go split.
Canto 28 lines 34-36


The schismatics and other sowers of discord circle the ninth bowge. Each time they complete the circuit, they are cloven by a demon with a sword. Some have lost limbs or even their head, others have their entrails hanging out.


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Their horrors all together in one trench -
Like that, so this: suffering, and running sore
Of gangrened limbs, and putrefying stench
Canto 29 lines 49-51


In the tenth trench, falsifiers lie beset with leprosy and other diseases.


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Then, vexed belike to hear his name thus used
Slighteningly, one of those shadows seemed to come
To life and fetched him a walloping blow, fist closed
Canto 30 lines 100-102


Two of the falsifiers, Adam of Brescia and Sinon of Troy, fight.


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I'll tell the, lest the strange reality
Surprise thee out of measure; therefore know,
These are not towers, but giants, set in a ring,
And hid from the navel down in the well below.
Canto 31 lines x-y


Giants stand inside the edge of the well containing the bottom circle of Hell. Antaeus, one of the giants, lowers the poets down to the bottom of the cliffs.


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So, wedged in ice to the point at which appear
The hues of shame, livid, and with their teeth
Chattering like storks, the dismal shades stood here.
Canto 32 lines 34-35


In the ninth circle of hell, traitors are frozen in a lake of ice.


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We passed; and found, as further on we went,
A people fettered in the frost's rough grip,
Flat on their backs, instead of forward bent.
Canto 33 lines 91-93


As the poets proceed towards the center of the lake of ice, they find that the traitors are buried deeper and deeper in accordance with their treachery.


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"Hold fast to me, for by so steep a stair," My master said, panting like one forspent, "Needs must we quit this realm of all despair."
Canto 34 lines 82-84


At the very bottom of Hell, at the center of the earth, Satan is half buried in ice, forever torturing Judas, Brutus and Cassius. Dante follows Virgil to a tunnel that leads down past Satan's legs and the center of gravity, and then leads upwards to the island of Purgatory on the opposite side of the earth.


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On to the Purgatorio

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