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.
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.””