Roberta Writes : Divine Comedy, Inferno, Canto 4

Dantes Divine Comedy (Hardcover): Dante Alighieri

My blogging friend Rebecca Budd is currently participating in a #KaramazovReadalong, you can read about it here: https://ontheroadbookclub.com/2021/07/27/karamazovreadalong-day-1-who-is-fyodor/.

The reading group are reading one chapter a day of this book and it inspired me to tackle Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri in the same manner.

For me, Canto 4 was a sad section of this book. Dante wakes to a loud noise that sounds like thunder. He is rested, after a deep sleep, and finds himself on the opposite bank of the River Acheron and at the top of a mountain that overlooks a cloudy valley. Terrible cries come from the valley and Dante is wary when a deathly pale Virgil asks him to follow him down the mountain. Virgil explains that he feels pity and not fear.

The two poets enter the first circle of Hell – Limbo. This is the part of Hell were pagans who were good and virtuous people reside. I found this sad because it seems unjust that good people should have to remain in Limbo for all eternity just because they were born before the coming of Jesus and were, therefore, Pagans. Limbo is also home to the shades [souls] of children who died without being baptised. This also seems unfair to me as both situations were out of the shades control. This section of Divine Comedy highlights the traditional Catholic belief that no matter how good or virtuous a person is, if they haven’t had faith in Christ, they cannot be saved or redeemed.

Dante asks Virgil if anyone has ever been granted access to Heaven from Limbo. Virgil explains that Christ descended into Hell after his crucifixion to save those unjustly condemned there. This is know as the Harrowing of Hell in accordance with Christian tradition.

As the pair pass through a wood in Limbo, Dante sees a fire ahead and notes that famous people from the past rest there. Virgil explains that their fame on Earth has earned these shades a separate place from the other spirits. Dante meets the shades of Homer, Horace, Ovid, and Lucan and they salute Dante and tell him they regard him as one of their group. I thought this was quite interesting and demonstrated Dante’s confidence in his poetry which he considers as good as these classical poets.

The group moves on until they come to a castle with seven walls surrounded by a small rivulet. Dante and Virgil continue across the stream and through the gates alone. In the green meadow, Dante recognises figures of authority including the philosophers, Socrates, Plato, Cicero, Seneca, and Aristotle.

Dante comes to understand that Limbo allows the shades to reside with human wisdom, but without the light of God.

File:Inferno Canto 4 unbaptised lines 38-39.jpg
Picture credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Inferno_Canto_4_unbaptised_lines_38-39.jpg
Circle 1 image
Picture credit: http://danteworlds.laits.utexas.edu/circle1.html

Extract from Canto 4

“To me then my good Teacher: “Dost not ask

what spirits these are whom thou seest here?

Now I would have thee know, ere thou go further,

that these sinned not; and though they merits have,

’t is not enough, for they did not have baptism,

the gateway of the creed believed by thee;

and if before Christianity they lived,

they did not with due worship honor God;

and one of such as these am I myself.

For such defects, and for no other guilt,

we ’re lost, and only hurt to this extent,

that, in desire, we live deprived of hope.””

27 thoughts on “Roberta Writes : Divine Comedy, Inferno, Canto 4

  1. I always found limbo a strange concept. And my estrangement fron the church comes from the realization that good people who aren’t Christian can’t enter heaven. That was shocking to me as an adolescent, although now when I look at the church it seems fitting for the inflexibility of most religious doctrine. (K)

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    1. Hi Kerfe, it does seem to go against the principle of salvation, but one must be washed in the blood of the Lamb to achieve salvation and pagan’s wouldn’t have been. Neither would unbaptised babies. I always found the concept as it relates to babies rather odd.

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  2. Interesting. I read that passage slightly differently. The innocent would be harrowed (pure souls, like unbaptized babies). But the philosophers and poets? I took their residence there as a commentary on their hubris. That their pride in their human knowledge was their downfall because it could never rival the divine.

    I can’t wait to read your next installment, Robbie.

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  3. Hell’s bells!
    I was raised Catholic, and I always found the whole Limbo thing just another abomination of the religion.
    Purgatory is another ridiculous concept. I have to say that because I always saw how the church used fear to corral people in, for money. Also, I observed unfavourable actions by the priests and nuns…. the very people who were teaching us. It’s taken centuries for the secrets of the church to come to light.
    There are many sinners using religions, the false prophets.

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    1. Hi Resa, what you say is true and Dante had strong feelings about his perceived corruption of the Church. These feelings and his thoughts come out frequently in his writing. I was also brought up a strict Catholic.

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