[these OBSERVATIONS are all unedited notes to self—caveat lector


actually, that’s not quite true.

these are notes to me and to Stuart Hoffmann and Steve Powell, to give them the information they might need to give

me the counsel I need.  Not that they actually plowed through them all.

Nor were they asked to.

So if sometimes the notes seem to be explaining, that’s why.

Stuart and Steve—my own Dante Club—have questioned the unclear,

and pointed out the unintelligible.  They have repeatedly saved me from myself.

I liked “fear-turbulent.”  Steve and Stuart’s insights have been marvels of acuity,

despite their lifelong remoteness from the world where words like acuity appear.

What they marvel at, actually, is how well I take having a perfect polished version

dented and tarnished before my eyes.  Steve and Stuart are one hundred percent nonacademic.

I’m not, of course.  So things that sound clear and simple to me can make Stuart and

Steve go hunh? Of such not making sense, you, reader, are the fortunate beneficiary.


They are wonderful friends, very very smart, enormously sophisticated in many ways,

and have had a long exposure to the full range of my own poetry,

which can detour into opacity like a highway arrow made it the only place you could go.

They’re musicians.  With Mark Morse, now of Subterranean Music in Amsterdam,

we four were the Durians, a band that for about seven years improvised to my voice reading my poems,

which were themselves as far from improvised as Steve and Stuart from the world of “marvels of acuity.”

Without them, this translation would not even be close to what I have always known it could be.

My debt to these two great friends is as unpayable as the past is redoable.


Parole is one of the stages of getting ready to meet a new canto.

The osservazioni are another, but many of these still tend to spill into the parole,

which come first.


the English of the side-by-side translated lines is the translation of the Hollanders

(I quite agree with Slate’s Adam Kirsch that theirs is the gold standard)

for which go to the magnificent ocean that is the Princeton Dante site:



(Sign up for free and explore to your great profit)


the Courier-font notes are from the vast Dartmouth Dante commentary treasury:



Know that Robert Hollander is one of the Hollanders of the Hollanders’ gleaming translation

[the other being the poet Jean Hollander, and the making power behind both the

Princeton and Dartmouth Dante website wealth oceans.  Know and thank.


a lot of the definitions are from Encarta’s Italian-English dictionary self-described tool,

but most are from the extraordinary Devoto-Oli Dizionario della Linga Italiana CD,

knowledge of which I owe to the introduction to the Durling-Martinez Inferno.]

                                 Terrill Shepard Soules, February 7, 2004, Atlanta


Inferno Canto 3

Inferno, Canto 3


this canto is one big cart on cobblestones rumble, with all the “random” repetitions:

dolore from the gate, parole (and remember the starring role parole had in Canto 2—no canto in the C matches the five appearances of a form of parola in Canto 2) from D’s mention of the gate inscription:

<V 26  INF3>          parole di dolore, accenti d'ira,

finally, the parole in their final appearance in 3 are harsh and hopeless, in the mouth of Charon:

<V 102  INF3>   ratto che 'nteser le parole crude.

in 1 and 2 there was no real effort to contrast D with the damned.  in 3 it is one of the main objectives




[1] INF3.1

"Per me si va ne la città dolente, 1 THROUGH ME THE WAY TO THE CITY OF WOE,

surely the three etternes of the inscription reflect the trinity

3.1   like 1.1, there are no elisions.  D seems to show respect to some lines’ special importance by giving every syllable its full oral due.


this seems cool:  the first caesura of the opening is after the final through me:



Actually, Pertile puts a fairly strong caesura after the first va, almost none after the second, and the strongest after the third.  Three strikes and you’re in.


rhyme: e / e / e



[1] INF3.2

 per me si va ne l'etterno dolore, 2 THROUGH ME THE WAY TO ETERNAL PAIN,

[1] INF3.3

 per me si va tra la perduta gente. 3 THROUGH ME THE WAY AMONG THE LOST.

D can be saved—he is only smarrito

the damned cannot—their straying off course is permanent—they are perduta

both words are journey-travel-road words


[2] INF3.4

     Giustizia mosse il mio alto fattore; 4 JUSTICE MOVED MY MAKER ON HIGH.

rhyme: e / e / e

[2] INF3.5

 fecemi la divina podestate, 5 DIVINE POWER MADE ME,

[2] INF3.6

 la somma sapïenza e 'l primo amore. 6 WISDOM SUPREME, AND PRIMAL LOVE.

[3] INF3.7

     Dinanzi a me non fuor cose create 7 BEFORE ME NOTHING WAS BUT THINGS ETERNAL,

rhyme:  e / [o] / e

[3] INF3.8

 se non etterne, e io etterno duro. 8 AND I ENDURE ETERNALLY.


[3] INF3.9

 Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate." 9 ABANDON ALL HOPE, YOU WHO ENTER HERE.

3. 9  ch’intrate:  interesting to see right after the last line of 2intrai

3.8 duro  Hell Gate endures, just as, as B told V, V’s words will endure, forever, or in V’s case, as long as the world is here

<V 58  INF2>   "O anima cortese mantoana,                            [20]

<V 59  INF2>          di cui la fama ancor nel mondo dura,

<V 60  INF2>   e durerà quanto 'l mondo lontana,


[4] INF3.10

     Queste parole di colore oscuro 10 These words, dark in hue, I saw inscribed

3.10 and 3.11   this is undoubtedly nothing, but in 10 we have fem then masc, in 11 we have masc then fem

<V 10  INF3>   Queste(C) parole(C) di(C) colore(C) oscuro(C)                                        [4]

<V 11  INF3>          vid(C)' ïo scritte(C) al sommo d'una porta(archaic F);


[4] INF3.11

 vid' ïo scritte al sommo d'una porta; 11 over an archway. And then I said:

3.11 what’s this?  sommo again? so soon?  vid' ïo scritte al sommo d'una porta(archaic F);

three questions:

[11]  V answers immediately

question 1:  same progression as sospiri/lingue:  what do I hear and who makes these sounds?


15. V says he will answer briefly

question 2: why?


26. V says he’ll tell D later


just one more way D keeps ratcheting up the narrative,

keeping it taut, keeping it interesting



[4] INF3.12

 per ch'io: "Maestro, il senso lor m'è duro." 12 'Master, for me their meaning is hard.'

<V 12  INF3>   per ch'io: «Maestro(C), il senso lor m'è duro».

the same hard/last play on words (here + the I endure  of

<V 8  INF3>          SE NON ETTERNE, E IO ETTERNO DURO) we first met in HELL 1/2:

(in HELL 1 as here rhyming with oscuro/a):

<V 4  INF1>   Ahi quanto a dir qual era è cosa dura  hard        

<V 59  INF2> di cui la fama ancor nel mondo dura,  endures


why?  Maybe to contrast the difficulties of the individual existence with the implacable ongoingness of time


[5] INF3.13

     Ed elli a me, come persona accorta: 13 And he, as one who understood:

[5] INF3.14

 "Qui si convien lasciare ogne sospetto; 14 'Here you must banish all distrust,

qui si convien

the same construction as the gate’s per me si vas

seems like V’s repetitions are kind of a counterpoint chant to D, tailored for his very special circumstances

<V 14  INF3>          «Qui si convien lasciare ogne sospetto;

<V 15  INF3>   ogne viltà convien che qui sia morta. 


they who are dead must leave behind hope

D who is not must leave behind, as dead, fear


[5] INF3.15

 ogne viltà convien che qui sia morta. 15 here must all cowardice be slain.

[6] INF3.16

     Noi siam venuti al loco ov' i' t'ho detto 16 'We have come to where I said

6 and 7

am I right in thinking detto/intelletto and puose/cose are both instances of a closed vowel rhyming with an open?

think how much will happen before B says to D:

<V 37  PAR30>          con atto e voce di spedito duce

<V 38  PAR30>   ricominciò: «Noi siamo usciti fore

<V 39  PAR30>   del maggior corpo al ciel ch'è pura luce:            [39]

<V 40  PAR30>          luce intellettüal, piena d'amore;

<V 41  PAR30>   amor di vero ben, pien di letizia;

<V 42  PAR30>   letizia che trascende ogne dolzore.     


!!! of course!  This really clarifies V’s “they have lost the good of their intellect/ mental health of their soul:

<V 18  INF3>   c'hanno perduto il ben de l'intelletto».


the luce intellettüal is spiritual, not physical light,

which of course would be light in its purest form 


so perduto . . . l’intelletto would mean something like their spirit has spoiled, gone rotten like a fruit, it’s lost its freshness, its ben


the light comes on


[6] INF3.17

 che tu vedrai le genti dolorose 17 you would see the miserable sinners

<V 17  INF3>          che tu vedrai le genti dolorose

another cool instance of D and company seeming to accidentally quote each other—because they are so in synch

e.g., D calls the wood selvaggia and later so does V

here V quotes the Gate (but then in this case he’s just read what he’s echoing)

and then there’s B telling V that D is smarrito


[6] INF3.18

 c'hanno perduto il ben de l'intelletto." 18 who have lost the good of the intellect.'

[7] INF3.19

     E poi che la sua mano a la mia puose 19 And after he had put his hand on mine

7 a pause hiatus tercet—i.e, a between-episode marker


[7] INF3.20

 con lieto volto, ond' io mi confortai, 20 with a reassuring look that gave me comfort,

lieto happy—how everyone feels in Paradise.

compare V’s comforting hand on D’s with the suon di man


note stark contrast of rhyming of confortai and lagrimai:

D is ever the rollercoaster


[7] INF3.21

 mi mise dentro a le segrete cose. 21 he led me toward things unknown to man.

[8] INF3.22

     Quivi sospiri, pianti e alti guai 22 Now sighs, loud wailing, lamentation

intro to hell sensations:

1. quivi sospiri

sighs, cries, wailing

2. diverse lingue

now the cries become intelligible

and they also help establish the idea that the people here are from everywhere on earth


this idea must be firmly in place before D begins to single out Florentines


[8] INF3.23

 risonavan per l'aere sanza stelle, 23 resounded through the starless air,

this is the third time we’ve encountered air so far

1. the air of the hill in daylight:

<V 48  INF1>   sì che parea che l'aere ne tremesse.

2.  the air of the hill at twilight:

<V 1  INF2>   Lo giorno se n'andava, e l'aere bruno        

3.  the starless air of Hell:

<V 23  INF3>          risonavan per l'aere sanza stelle,


[8] INF3.24

 per ch'io al cominciar ne lagrimai. 24 so that I too began to weep.

8  as soon as D hears the cries, he starts doing it too

terzina begins with the cries of the damned and ends with the crying of D


[9] INF3.25

     Diverse lingue, orribili favelle, 25 Unfamiliar tongues, horrendous accents,

heaven hell contrast:

B, with the voice of an angel, spoke in her very own favella

Here, the favelle are horrifying:

<V 25  INF3>   Diverse(C) lingue(C), orribili(C) favelle(U),   [9]

[9] INF3.26

 parole di dolore, accenti d'ira, 26 words of suffering, cries of rage, voices


dolore: [1] twice

[6] once

[9] once

[9] INF3.27

 voci alte e fioche, e suon di man con elle 27 loud and faint, the sound of slapping hands—

9 contrast the suon di man with a la mia puose


[10] INF3.28

     facevano un tumulto, il qual s'aggira 28 all these made a tumult, always whirling


cf girando in [18]--  D wants to establish circularity


[10] INF3.29

 sempre in quell' aura sanza tempo tinta, 29 in that black and timeless air,

[10] INF3.30

 come la rena quando turbo spira. 30 as sand is swirled in a whirlwind.

rena quando turbo spira

in contrast with earth’s random occasional dust devils,

hell’s are continual


[11] INF3.31

     E io ch'avea d'error la testa cinta, 31 And I, my head encircled by error, said:

[11] INF3.32

 dissi: "Maestro, che è quel ch'i' odo? 32 'Master, what is this I hear, and what people

the sounds of [8], [9], and [10] ---  three successive tercets in the C is very serious emphasis

[11] INF3.33

 e che gent' è che par nel duol sì vinta?" 33 are these so overcome by pain?'

[12] INF3.34

     Ed elli a me: "Questo misero modo 34 And he to me: 'This miserable state is borne

misero modo

I believe that when D in his question later uses costume, he is doing what all students do in placing questions to teachers—they try to talk the way the teacher talks


rhymes: o / o / o


questo misero modo:  trochaic inevitability


[12] INF3.35

 tegnon l'anime triste di coloro 35 by the wretched souls of those who lived

[12] INF3.36

 che visser sanza 'nfamia e sanza lodo. 36 without disgrace yet without praise.

compare lodo di Dio

and the praises one hears in Heaven

[13] INF3.37

     Mischiate sono a quel cattivo coro 37 'They intermingle with that wicked band

exquisitely grim echo of the unlodo ending [12]


does fuero play on fuoro?  I think so.



cattivo coro

the neutral angels and the neutral humans

the humans, once D recognizes the Refuser, are clearly a sect of cattivi, which helps unite the two groups


[13] INF3.38

 de li angeli che non furon ribelli 38 of angels, not rebellious and not faithful


but V was rebellious—no we can see some virtue in what seemed only self-deprecation:

[42] INF1.125              perch' i' fu' ribellante a la sua legge, 125 wills not, because I was a rebel to His law,

and D is fidele!

[33] INF2.98                e disse: "Or ha bisogno il tuo fedele 98 «Your faithful one is now in need of you

so V is clearly no fencesitter and D once again enjoys a heavenly contrast with the damned

[13] INF3.39

 né fur fedeli a Dio, ma per sé fuoro. 39 to God, who held themselves apart.

heaven hell contrast:

Mary refers to D as Lucy’s faithful one:

<V 39  INF3>   né fur fedeli a Dio(C), ma per sé fuoro.

but these souls are here because they were not faithful


13.  do the three furs reflect the Trinity?  furon fur fuoro   (note that sono refers to the fencesitters, not the angels)

[14] INF3.40

     Caccianli i ciel per non esser men belli, 40 'Loath to impair its beauty, Heaven casts them out,

[14] INF3.41

 né lo profondo inferno li riceve, 41 and depth of Hell does not receive them


first appearance of inferno in the C—and almost not a place name at all: “the deepest part of the underplace”

[14] INF3.42

 ch'alcuna gloria i rei avrebber d'elli." 42 lest on their account the evil angels gloat.'


look at this genius: these angels who were for themselves only rhyme on themselves:

coro, fuoro, elli, ribelli

[15] INF3.43

     E io: "Maestro, che è tanto greve 43 And I: 'Master, what is so grievous to them,

[15] INF3.44

 a lor che lamentar li fa sì forte?" 44 that they lament so bitterly?'

[15] INF3.45

 Rispuose: "Dicerolti molto breve. 45 He replied: 'I can tell you in few words.

[16] INF3.46

     Questi non hanno speranza di morte, 46 'They have no hope of death,

[16] INF3.47

 e la lor cieca vita è tanto bassa, 47 and their blind life is so abject

[16] INF3.48

 che 'nvidïosi son d'ogne altra sorte. 48 that they are envious of every other lot.


how many times have we heard these words already?  and giustizia is coming up again, not for the final time.

and how many times do we see gente?  Five. 

this is a fugue of damnation

almost chasing itself, perhaps, like the damned behind the flag


[17] INF3.49

     Fama di loro il mondo esser non lassa; 49 'The world does not permit report of them.

the Gate’s lasciate is echoed by V’s

<V 49  INF3>   Fama di loro il mondo esser non lassa(archaic F);    [17]

another reverberation

[17] INF3.50

 misericordia e giustizia li sdegna: 50 Mercy and justice hold them in contempt.

[17] INF3.51

 non ragioniam di lor, ma guarda e passa." 51 Let us not speak of them— look and pass by.'

[18] INF3.52

     E io, che riguardai, vidi una 'nsegna 52 And I, all eyes, saw a whirling banner

[18] INF3.53

 che girando correva tanto ratta, 53 that ran so fast it seemed as though

ah, B was so ratta to come to D’s aid

and the damned will be ratta again, when Charon’s Hell Gate reprise sinks in


[18] INF3.54

 che d'ogne posa mi parea indegna; 54 it never could find rest.

[19] INF3.55

     e dietro le venìa sì lunga tratta 55 Behind it came so long a file of people

try and emulate the enambment—tratta of what?

[19] INF3.56

 di gente, ch'i' non averei creduto 56 that I could not believe

[19] INF3.57

 che morte tanta n'avesse disfatta. 57 death had undone so many.

an undoing will be very specific when we meet Pia in Purgatory 5:

     "ricorditi di me, che son la Pia; 133 'please remember me. I am La Pia.

 Siena mi fé, disfecemi Maremma: 134 Siena made me, in Maremma I was undone.

tanta disfatta  continuing to plant the idea that multitudes are here, giving us a picture, a very vivid one, so that we can see the many many undone by death



1. so many undone

2. I recognized a few

3. I recognized the great refuser


the progression of a master storyteller—the complete credibility of recognizing the refuser depends on our first accepting that the crowd is huge, that D is able to a) see faces well enough to identify them and b) identify, in fact, some


---then I understood—satori—summarizes the idea of the neutrals

and only now gives us sickening detail.

[20] INF3.58

     Poscia ch'io v'ebbi alcun riconosciuto, 58 After I recognized a few of these,

[20] INF3.59

 vidi e conobbi l'ombra di colui 59 I saw and knew the shade of him

notice how D manages to fill the entire line exclusively with his sighting

notice too what a nice blur (appropriate for such an ill-defined bunch) the sounds make:

it’s like one long rumble

<V 59  INF3>          vidi e conobbi l'ombra di colui

and listen to the wonderful rumble of

<V 87  INF3>   ne le tenebre etterne in [caldo e ’n gelo] first vowel swallowed

\\ nay lay tay nay brate TARE neen \\     (TARE as in tear a hole)


remember that viltade was D’s great failing at the end of INF 2.

<V 60  INF3>   che fece per viltade(archaic F) il gran rifiuto.


[20] INF3.60

 che fece per viltade il gran rifiuto. 60 who, through cowardice, made the great refusal.

[21] INF3.61

     Incontanente intesi e certo fui 61 At once with certainty I understood

[21] INF3.62

 che questa era la setta d'i cattivi, 62 this was that worthless crew

[21] INF3.63

 a Dio spiacenti e a' nemici sui. 63 hateful alike to God and to His foes.

21  very very cool:  the [English] ch sound for a) D b) God and c) God’s enemies

as though to say, any way you slice it, you get the same results—they’re bad eggs

I think so, God thinks so, God’s enemies think so

certo, spiacenti, nemici

No, I don’t think so—I’m sure.

still other correspondences:  In--, in--; setta, cattivi




[22] INF3.64

     Questi sciaurati, che mai non fur vivi, 64 These wretches, who never were alive,

[22] INF3.65

 erano ignudi e stimolati molto 65 were naked and beset

[22] INF3.66

 da mosconi e da vespe ch'eran ivi. 66 by stinging flies and wasps

[23] INF3.67

     Elle rigavan lor di sangue il volto, 67 that made their faces stream with blood,

[23] INF3.68

 che, mischiato di lagrime, a' lor piedi 68 which, mingled with their tears,

[23] INF3.69

 da fastidiosi vermi era ricolto. 69 was gathered at their feet by loathsome worms.

23 the bloody action nicely bookended by two three-syllable words beginning with r:

the first appropriately active and the second passive


so the segment’s bookends are groans at the beginning and flies, wasps, and worms feeding on the groaners (whom we have now clearly identified) at the end

--and the segment is OVER   



[24] INF3.70

     E poi ch'a riguardar oltre mi diedi, 70 And then, fixing my gaze farther on,

AND THEN--------------I see a crowd by a riverbank


who are they?

--tell you later

--shame at having asked


which has the effect of not subjecting the reader to just some formulaic catalog—every group description has a believable narrative reason for being delivered at the time it is


the shamed silence also serves to establish a certain distance—we walked without speaking and then coming towards in a boat …


[24] INF3.71

 vidi genti a la riva d'un gran fiume; 71 I saw souls standing on the shore of a wide river,

[24] INF3.72

 per ch'io dissi: "Maestro, or mi concedi 72 and so I said: 'Master, permit me first

24 tempting as it is to use Master as a rhyme word,

the only time D does this is when V’s status as master is being emphasized.  Never simply for the sake of the rhyme.  so don’t

NOTE: I now, long after this note was written, see the core sense of maestro as teacher


[25] INF3.73

     ch'i' sappia quali sono, e qual costume 73 'to know who they are and then what inner law

[25] INF3.74

 le fa di trapassar parer sì pronte, 74 makes them so eager for the crossing,

[25] INF3.75

 com' i' discerno per lo fioco lume." 75 or so it seems in this dim light.'

another reverberation:

and fioche of the voices and the fioco light

look for sanzas and mortas—reverberations in this canto

and ogne seems to come up a lot too


[26] INF3.76

     Ed elli a me: "Le cose ti fier conte 76 And he to me: 'You shall know these things,

is there any way V could have been more curt?  this is really abrupt and dismissive, right down to the passive—which nicely suggests that V himself is hereby removed from the information-communicating process 


and what a nice contrast with what D has said V did 19 tercets earlier: he put him inside the segrete cose 

Now, it’s Le cose will come clear—later.


this is how real people behave

now eager, now distracted, now negative, now hesitant


but I must also temerariously note:  D seems to have really wanted to end INF 3 [26] with the flourish of the just-unveiled Acheron.

(just as he does with Rubaconte PUR 12.102)                                                                                     


still, he had lots of options

he uses ponte as an endword 4 times, fronte 22 times (!), pronte 8 times, fonte 6 times, and monte 16 times



so conte is hardly rhyme fodder.



[26] INF3.77

 quando noi fermerem li nostri passi 77 but not before we stay our steps

[26] INF3.78

 su la trista riviera d'Acheronte." 78 on the mournful shore of Acheron.'

[27] INF3.79

     Allor con li occhi vergognosi e bassi, 79 Then, my eyes cast down with shame,

whoa—in [11]: why are they so sad?  answer: their life is blind and bassa


now in [27] the eyes (! the two attributes of these worst lives are: blind and low) of D himself are bassi



[27]3 seems a rare instance of a line divided into three parts, i.e., there seem to be two caesuras


compare the whippin along rhythm of charon’s boat with the abashed lagbehind of [27]3


[27] INF3.80

 temendo no 'l mio dir li fosse grave, 80 fearing my words displeased him,

[27] INF3.81

 infino al fiume del parlar mi trassi. 81 I did not speak until we reached that stream.

[28] INF3.82

     Ed ecco verso noi venir per nave 82 And now, coming toward us in a boat,


those V’s help you see the ship scud scud scudding towards you


verso noi

venire per na

ve un



and then the k sounds begin immediately!


chio bi

anc o per ant

ico pelo


and finally the g’s




with a reprise of thev’s :

voi anime pra



(actually the v sounds continue on into [29])

and when the boat departs, in [40], the slap slap slap of the boat recommences with a  hard-driving iambic pentameter + the hendecasyllabic finale


[28]  i see the same parallel as in i ciel / i rei   in line 1’s noi and line 3’s voi


and once again the contrast is stark:  we, D and V, are NOT the anime prave


Dean Martin strikes again


then line 3 is a kind of reprise/reminder of the groans of [8], including guai



Commentary: Boccaccio
     Language: Italian
    Publ.Date: 1373-75
      Attrib.: litterale copyright
    Reference: 10-Inferno           3. 82-83
     Ed ecco verso noi: Questa è la quinta parte
     della subdivisione del presente canto, nella quale l'autore
     mostra un dimonio venire verso loro in una nave e passar gli
     altri e lui non aver voluto passare.  Ed è questa parte presa da
     Virgilio, dove nel VI dell'Eneida scrive:
          Portitor has horrendus aquas et flumina servat
          terribilis squalore Charon etc.
     per ben ventuno verso.  Dice adunque: Ed ecco verso noi venir
     per nave Un vecchio bianco per antico pelo, il quale per altro
     sarebbe paruto nero, se gli anni non l'avessero fatto divenir
     canuto, per ciò che la gente volgare stimano che il diavolo sia
     nero, per ciò che i dipintori dipingono Domenedio bianco: ma
     questa è scioccheza a credere, per ciò che lo spirito, essendo
     cosa incorporea, non può d'alcun colore esser colorato.



[28] INF3.83

 un vecchio, bianco per antico pelo, 83 an old man, his hair white with age, cried out:

[28] INF3.84

 gridando: "Guai a voi, anime prave! 84 'Woe unto you, you wicked souls,

[29] INF3.85

     Non isperate mai veder lo cielo: 85 'give up all hope of ever seeing heaven.

another injunction to forget hoping, with a play on sky and heaven

<V 85  INF3>   Non isperate mai veder lo cielo:           


[29] INF3.86

 i' vegno per menarvi a l'altra riva 86 I come to take you to the other shore,

[29] INF3.87

 ne le tenebre etterne, in caldo e 'n gelo. 87 into eternal darkness, into heat and chill.

heaven hell contrast:

And D in INF 2 after V explains how much support he’s got, is like flowers after the oppressive gelo is melted away by the sun.

Here in INF 3 Charon tells the damned that gelo (and caldo) are what they can expect eternally.


[30] INF3.88

     E tu che se' costì, anima viva, 88 'And you there, you living soul,

30 so stacatto


[30] INF3.89

 pàrtiti da cotesti che son morti." 89 move aside from these now dead.'

[30] INF3.90

 Ma poi che vide ch'io non mi partiva, 90 But when he saw I did not move,

[31] INF3.91

     disse: "Per altra via, per altri porti 91 he said: 'By another way, another port,

add to the repetition list: porti porti

perhaps the point

is that everything in Hell

is always the same



[31] INF3.92

 verrai a piaggia, non qui, per passare: 92 not here, you'll come to shore and cross.

[31] INF3.93

 più lieve legno convien che ti porti." 93 A lighter ship must carry you.'

31 now can’t you see D’s boat just flying across the water?

più lieve legno   (what a skipping-stones sound)


[32] INF3.94

     E 'l duca lui: "Caron, non ti crucciare: 94 And my leader: 'Charon, do not torment yourself.

[32] INF3.95

 vuolsi così colà dove si puote 95 It is so willed where will and power are one,

[32] INF3.96

 ciò che si vuole, e più non dimandare." 96 and ask no more.'

[33] INF3.97

     Quinci fuor quete le lanose gote 97 That stilled the shaggy jowls

33  once again D gives us the outline—here’s Charon—then the detail

gote seems driven by narrative, and then it’s nicely paired up with the closeup horrifying detail—wheels of fire around the eyes


this is just what D did with the neutrals:  banner à crowd following banner à some recognition à important recognition à now it gets gruesome naked and gnawed at à big finish: bleeding and crying, feeding the worms


both the fire eyes and the blood-eating worms conclude the same kind of the escalation

which we also see in the final lines:

first the dark terrain shakes

then we learn it shook so violently the memory bathes me in sweat

then the tearsoaked earth (nice parallel with the writer’s sweat-bathed body)

gives off a wind

that flashes

a crimson light          [it’s all there.  terra=earth, lagrimosa=water, vento=air, luce vermiglia= fire: the complete package.  Why?  To emphasize the through-the-looking-glassness of Hell?  That’s what I think.]  and to make sure we know just how sensibilmente D goes to Hell


[33] INF3.98

 al nocchier de la livida palude, 98 of the pilot of the livid marsh,

[33] INF3.99

 che 'ntorno a li occhi avea di fiamme rote. 99 about whose eyes burned wheels of flame.

[34] INF3.100

     Ma quell' anime, ch'eran lasse e nude, 100 But those souls, naked and desolate,

[34] INF3.101

 cangiar colore e dibattero i denti, 101 lost their color. With chattering teeth

[34] INF3.102

 ratto che 'nteser le parole crude. 102 they heard his brutal words.

[34]  check out that dead-stop caesura after ratto [as soon as]:

I mean the second they realized they were goners, they began to hyperventilate


and how nicely ratto keeps the teeth chattering/gnashing/clattering


he is astonishing without letup

note ratto:  No one on earth every moved more ratto than B in heaven, in Canto 2, and here in hell, in 3, the damned are  ratto to go pale and chatter their teeth the moment they understand that Charon has given them a physical variant of the Hell Gate inscription:


the cobblestones keep rumbling, things keep getting repeated, but differences emerge


Hell Gate speaks of internal emotional things: grief, pain, suffering, hopelessness.

Charon (appropriately enough, a being, not an object) speaks of what can be physically perceived:  light and dark, heat and cold, not to mention a river bank.  Although the first thing he mentions, lo cielo, is a hybrid: half concept (heaven) and half perceptible thing (sky).  And just as the sky and darkness are contrasts, and heat and cold, the terzina ends with gelo (the ice at the very center of the universe, locking in Lucifer himself) rhyming with cielo, the happy open place at the universe’s opposite pole.  All done just as offhandedly as “Jack fell down / and broke his crown.”  And speaking of contrasts, Charon’s i’ vegno (they have come to him, but he comes to them on his return trip from the other side) contains many echoes of Christ: I am come a light into the world, to fulfill the law, to send peace on earth, When I come again . . .      There are also the times when Jesus goes by boat to the other side of a lake.


And note the four echoes of HELL GATE’s voi, hope, come (va, vegno), and etterne.  (Not to mention that his Guai repeats D’s  <V 22  INF3>   Quivi(LIT) sospiri, pianti e alti guai(archaic M)           .)


<V 84  INF3>   gridando: «Guai a voi, anime prave(LIT)!

<V 85  INF3>   Non isperate mai veder lo cielo:     [29]

<V 86  INF3>          i' vegno per menarvi a l'altra riva

<V 87  INF3>   ne le tenebre etterne, in caldo e 'n gelo.



 14.  D is the Dean Martin of hands-in-your-pockets poetry, making it all look so accidental, so happening on the spot


look at i ciel in line 1 and i rei in line 3, almost in the same position, too.  the heavens   /   the


meanwhile, of course, i rei are completely lacking in alcuna gloria, which is heavenly.  In fact, the Paradiso begins with La Gloria.



[35] INF3.103

     Bestemmiavano Dio e lor parenti, 103 They blasphemed God, their parents,

in the previous canto, B’s virtu was the virtu that lifts the human race above all other creatures on earth



<V103  INF3>   Bestemmiavano Dio e lor parenti,         [35]

<V 104  INF3>          l'umana spezie e 'l loco e 'l tempo e 'l seme

<V 105  INF3>   di lor semenza e di lor nascimenti.


the human race, unuplifted, curses the human race


Bestemmiavano  at 13 letters, one of the longest words in the C

the last time we saw a word this long was in INF 2, where D m’apparechiava


in both cases, the length helps convey activity protracted over considerable time


in both cases, the long word comes at the very beginning of the scene that it is the key to



[35] INF3.104

 l'umana spezie e 'l loco e 'l tempo e 'l seme 104 the human race, the place, the time, the seed

[35] INF3.105

 di lor semenza e di lor nascimenti. 105 of their begetting and their birth.

[36] INF3.106

     Poi si ritrasser tutte quante insieme, 106 Then, weeping bitterly, they drew together

[36] INF3.107

 forte piangendo, a la riva malvagia 107 to the accursèd shore that waits



check out how constantly random the crying in this canto is


[36] INF3.108

 ch'attende ciascun uom che Dio non teme. 108 for every man who fears not God.

[37] INF3.109

     Caron dimonio, con occhi di bragia 109 Charon the demon, with eyes of glowing coals,

[37] INF3.110

 loro accennando, tutte le raccoglie; 110 beckons to them, herds them all aboard,

[37] INF3.111

 batte col remo qualunque s'adagia. 111 striking anyone who slackens with his oar.

[38] INF3.112

     Come d'autunno si levan le foglie 112 Just as in autumn the leaves fall away,

[38] INF3.113

 l'una appresso de l'altra, fin che 'l ramo 113 one, and then another, until the bough

[38] INF3.114

 vede a la terra tutte le sue spoglie, 114 sees all its spoil upon the ground,

[39] INF3.115

     similemente il mal seme d'Adamo 115 so the wicked seed of Adam fling themselves

similemente il mal seme d'Adamo

he does so much with sound—you see and hear the tumbling seeds outspilling
even that m in Adamo – plays its important sonic part



[39] INF3.116

 gittansi di quel lito ad una ad una, 116 one by one from shore, at his signal,

[39] INF3.117

 per cenni come augel per suo richiamo. 117 as does a falcon at its summons.


so after the leaves simile, we have learned:

what hell sounds like and that light is weak at best

who are in the first group

              (with a nice echo of canto 1’s seconda morte in “they were never alive, so they can’t die”)

that souls not in the first group cross the acheron

that there are scads and scads of sinners

that these sinnners come from all over the world—there is no Hell for Ethiopians, Hell for the French . . . this is the one and only

that D is distinguished not only for being alive  (and what a cool touch to have Charon be the first to notice he’s alive) but for being assured of a destiny that means he will not return to Hell for eternity after death

that D can recognize individuals

that Hell seems to be organized into groups according to the sins committed by those in them

that there is a contrapasso system of punishment  [Barolini’s observation. the undivine 35]


[40] INF3.118

     Così sen vanno su per l'onda bruna, 118 Thus they depart over dark water,

[40] INF3.119

 e avanti che sien di là discese, 119 and before they have landed on the other side

[40] INF3.120

 anche di qua nuova schiera s'auna. 120 another crowd has gathered on this shore.

more contrasts:  a schiera is what D left, according to Lucy, for the sake of B

<V 120  INF3>   anche di qua nuova schiera s'auna.


[41] INF3.121

     "Figliuol mio," disse 'l maestro cortese, 121 'My son,' said the courteous master,

[41] INF3.122

 "quelli che muoion ne l'ira di Dio 122 'all those who die in the wrath of God

[41] INF3.123

 tutti convegnon qui d'ogne paese; 123 assemble here from every land.

in the wrapup at the end of the canto, V generalizes for the first time: these people are from every country


[42] INF3.124

     e pronti sono a trapassar lo rio, 124 'And they are eager to cross the river,

[42] INF3.125

 ché la divina giustizia li sprona, 125 for the justice of God so spurs them on

more Hell Gate reinforcement

<V 125  INF3>          ché la divina giustizia li sprona,


[42] INF3.126

 sì che la tema si volve in disio. 126 their very fear is turned to longing.

[43] INF3.127

     Quinci non passa mai anima buona; 127 'No good soul ever crosses at this place.

[43] INF3.128

 e però, se Caron di te si lagna, 128 Thus, if Charon complains on your account,

Commentary: Tozer
     Language: English
    Publ.Date: 1901
    Reference: 10-Inferno           3. 128-129
     This has the same argument-stopped-in-its-tracks 180-degree force—“But—“— as D’s però in
<V 16  INF2>   Però, se l'avversario d'ogne male                    [6]
E però, &c.: `and therefore, if Charon is
     distressed on thy account, thou canst clearly understand now what
     his words imply.'  The cause of Charon's vexation is that the
     laws of Hell are being broken by an uncondemned soul being
     admitted (ll. 88, 89).  This implies that he recognizes Dante as
     `anima buona,' and therefore destined to be saved.  Virgil gives
     a pleasant interpretation to Charon's threats.
lagna is present tense, if it were past there might be some reason to believe Charon was no longer around.  but the present tense means that he might actually be listening as he rows the two across, and it is from the skiff that D sees the convulsions that knock him out


[43] INF3.129

 ben puoi sapere omai che 'l suo dir suona." 129 now you can grasp the meaning of his words.'

[44] INF3.130

     Finito questo, la buia campagna 130 When he had ended, the gloomy plain shook

[44] INF3.131

 tremò sì forte, che de lo spavento 131 with such force, the memory of my terror

[44] INF3.132

 la mente di sudore ancor mi bagna. 132 makes me again break out in sweat.

[45] INF3.133

     La terra lagrimosa diede vento, 133 From the weeping ground there sprang a wind,

[45] INF3.134

 che balenò una luce vermiglia 134 flaming with vermilion light,

[45] INF3.135

 la qual mi vinse ciascun sentimento; 135 which overmastered all my senses,

in case we questioned whether D descends as sensibilmente as the son of Silvius, that red flash at the end overcomes all of his senses.


in fact, if sudor accounts for smell and taste, as well it might,

D has included all five senses in his sensation overload


[45] INF3.136

 e caddi come l'uom cui sonno piglia. 136 and I dropped like a man pulled down by sleep.

and I faint


so red light, in fact, concludes both Charon’s and the son et lumière escalations


D is overcome by his environment at the outset and the conclusion:

1. when D first hears the sounds of Hell, the lamentation, he cries too

2. when D experiences the ground shaking and flashing, he passes out from sensory overload


the red lightning 3.135 overcomes Dante

the damned in 3.33 are overcome by anguish

So the canto ends with a powerful one two three punch, all of the above having been learned and bought into by the reader/listener.


1. V summarizes: Who, in general, are here

(with a nice reprise of giustizia mosse il mio alto fattore, not to mention divina podestate, in divina giustizia li sprona)  This generalization is more specific than what we’ve had before  (those who weep, those who rant at their second death)

all of these are essential things for the reader to believe, if what follows is to be utterly credible

               (the angels nicely tie in the continuity Hell Gate boasts of—they are from the time when every created thing was eternal)

---ending with: and be glad Charon fussed at you.

So 1. ends with how D is different from these souls


2. two entire terzine devoted to hellish special effects far more spectacular than anything we’ve seen so far.  the red lightning and the earthquake are a far cry from the sighs that were the first thing we encountered after the gate. 

and 2. ends with a reminder that D is writing this after it happened, and just as remembering was painful in INF 1 [2] recalling this son et lumière is terrifying now—and right now seconds after I have written these words you’ve just read/heard, I’m sweating profusely at the memory necessary to recall the event  

(storytelling panache:  he’s bathed in sweat before he reveals the really wild part)

So part 2 of the conclusion re-establishes that these are recalled occurrences

and that they were physical events and that just like old Aeneas in Hades, D fu sensibilmente.


3. one line: D faints, overcome the way you can suddenly be by extreme fatigue

               so part 3 of the conclusion ends with

                               a) a final reminder that the operative contrast is: I, blessed by salvation + they, the damned by their sins   the reminder lying in the contrast of sleep (temporary like terrestial dust devils) and its eternal counterpart death

                               and b) D is a regular guy with regular reactions and Hell would utterly overwhelm anyone

                               and c) this really happened, with all the physical side effects you might expect


so in this masterstroke of a last line, we get yet again completely convincing evidence that this is a hugely overwhelming staggering avalanche of an experience

               and we really see now that D and the damned are poles apart

               and if we weren’t convinced already, we are now: this really happened to the guy telling us the story 





so in INF 3  D has set the scene so that we are completely ready to believe absolutely anything he’ll tell us, including—which is absolutely key to credibility—recognizing specific souls.  and D has convinced us this was no dream—he fu sensibilmente.


it might be useful here to look at how each of the first three cantos begin and end


1. begins: D is halfway through his life’s journey, in an agony of being off the right road

               ends: D follows V, who knows the right way, with a BIG journey in the works

2. begins: the day is through its daily journey as D prepares for his BIG journey, with all its traumas

               ends: D, his hesitation overcome, again following the again nonresponsive V, officially begins the BIG journey

3. begins:  at the gate of Hell, whose inscription speaks of the end of sinners’ journeys

               ends:  at a complete standstill, fade to black, motionless, no sensory input, we have no idea what’s coming next, D has simply fainted.  so the journey of D so far in a way is at an end, like the sinners’, only his ending is temporary and theirs is permanent.

but the loss of consciousness has a timelessness to it that is exactly like this place sanza tempo.  

furthermore, D falls over asleep.  He falls, and will get up.  The damned, as the Gate and Charon say, are perduta  and without esperanza.  Their situation is permanent.


meanwhile, looking way ahead, look how Paradiso 4 ends:

Beatrice, almost, overwhelms D:


     Beatrice mi guardò con li occhi pieni 139 Beatrice looked at me with eyes so full

 di faville d'amor così divini, 140 of the sparkling of love and so divine

 che, vinta, mia virtute diè le reni, 141 that my power, overcome, took flight and,

 e quasi mi perdei con li occhi chini. 142 with eyes cast down, I was almost lost.