Canto 2

NOW was the day departing, and the air,
Imbrown'd with shadows, from their toils releas'd
All animals on earth; and I alone
Prepar'd myself the conflict to sustain,
Both of sad pity, and that perilous road,
Which my unerring memory shall retrace.

O Muses! O high genius! now vouchsafe
Your aid! O mind! that all I saw hast kept
Safe in a written record, here thy worth
And eminent endowments come to proof.

I thus began: "Bard! thou who art my guide,
Consider well, if virtue be in me
Sufficient, ere to this high enterprise
Thou trust me.  Thou hast told that Silvius' sire,
Yet cloth'd in corruptible flesh, among
Th' immortal tribes had entrance, and was there
Sensible present.  Yet if heaven's great Lord,
Almighty foe to ill, such favour shew'd,
In contemplation of the high effect,
Both what and who from him should issue forth,
It seems in reason's judgment well deserv'd:
Sith he of Rome, and of Rome's empire wide,
In heaven's empyreal height was chosen sire:
Both which, if truth be spoken, were ordain'd
And 'stablish'd for the holy place, where sits
Who to great Peter's sacred chair succeeds.
He from this journey, in thy song renown'd,
Learn'd things, that to his victory gave rise
And to the papal robe.  In after-times
The chosen vessel also travel'd there,
To bring us back assurance in that faith,
Which is the entrance to salvation's way.
But I, why should I there presume?  or who
Permits it?  not, Aeneas I nor Paul.
Myself I deem not worthy, and none else
Will deem me.  I, if on this voyage then
I venture, fear it will in folly end.
Thou, who art wise, better my meaning know'st,
Than I can speak."  As one, who unresolves
What he hath late resolv'd, and with new thoughts
Changes his purpose, from his first intent
Remov'd; e'en such was I on that dun coast,
Wasting in thought my enterprise, at first
So eagerly embrac'd.  "If right thy words
I scan," replied that shade magnanimous,
"Thy soul is by vile fear assail'd, which oft
So overcasts a man, that he recoils
From noblest resolution, like a beast
At some false semblance in the twilight gloom.
That from this terror thou mayst free thyself,
I will instruct thee why I came, and what
I heard in that same instant, when for thee
Grief touch'd me first.  I was among the tribe,
Who rest suspended, when a dame, so blest
And lovely, I besought her to command,
Call'd me; her eyes were brighter than the star
Of day; and she with gentle voice and soft
Angelically tun'd her speech address'd:
"O courteous shade of Mantua! thou whose fame
Yet lives, and shall live long as nature lasts!
A friend, not of my fortune but myself,
On the wide desert in his road has met
Hindrance so great, that he through fear has turn'd.
Now much I dread lest he past help have stray'd,
And I be ris'n too late for his relief,
From what in heaven of him I heard.  Speed now,
And by thy eloquent persuasive tongue,
And by all means for his deliverance meet,
Assist him.  So to me will comfort spring.
I who now bid thee on this errand forth
Am Beatrice; from a place I come.

(Note: Beatrice.  I use this word, as it is
pronounced in the Italian, as consisting of four
syllables, of which the third is a long one.)

Revisited with joy.  Love brought me thence,
Who prompts my speech.  When in my Master's sight
I stand, thy praise to him I oft will tell."

She then was silent, and I thus began:
"O Lady! by whose influence alone,
Mankind excels whatever is contain'd
Within that heaven which hath the smallest orb,
So thy command delights me, that to obey,
If it were done already, would seem late.
No need hast thou farther to speak thy will;
Yet tell the reason, why thou art not loth
To leave that ample space, where to return
Thou burnest, for this centre here beneath."

She then: "Since thou so deeply wouldst inquire,
I will instruct thee briefly, why no dread
Hinders my entrance here.  Those things alone
Are to be fear'd, whence evil may proceed,
None else, for none are terrible beside.
I am so fram'd by God, thanks to his grace!
That any suff'rance of your misery
Touches me not, nor flame of that fierce fire
Assails me.  In high heaven a blessed dame
Besides, who mourns with such effectual grief
That hindrance, which I send thee to remove,
That God's stern judgment to her will inclines."
To Lucia calling, her she thus bespake:
"Now doth thy faithful servant need thy aid
And I commend him to thee."  At her word
Sped Lucia, of all cruelty the foe,
And coming to the place, where I abode
Seated with Rachel, her of ancient days,
She thus address'd me: "Thou true praise of God!
Beatrice! why is not thy succour lent
To him, who so much lov'd thee, as to leave
For thy sake all the multitude admires?
Dost thou not hear how pitiful his wail,
Nor mark the death, which in the torrent flood,
Swoln mightier than a sea, him struggling holds?"
Ne'er among men did any with such speed
Haste to their profit, flee from their annoy,
As when these words were spoken, I came here,
Down from my blessed seat, trusting the force
Of thy pure eloquence, which thee, and all
Who well have mark'd it, into honour brings."

"When she had ended, her bright beaming eyes
Tearful she turn'd aside; whereat I felt
Redoubled zeal to serve thee.  As she will'd,
Thus am I come: I sav'd thee from the beast,
Who thy near way across the goodly mount
Prevented.  What is this comes o'er thee then?
Why, why dost thou hang back?  why in thy breast
Harbour vile fear?  why hast not courage there
And noble daring?  Since three maids so blest
Thy safety plan, e'en in the court of heaven;
And so much certain good my words forebode."

As florets, by the frosty air of night
Bent down and clos'd, when day has blanch'd their leaves,
Rise all unfolded on their spiry stems;
So was my fainting vigour new restor'd,
And to my heart such kindly courage ran,
That I as one undaunted soon replied:
"O full of pity she, who undertook
My succour! and thou kind who didst perform
So soon her true behest! With such desire
Thou hast dispos'd me to renew my voyage,
That my first purpose fully is resum'd.
Lead on: one only will is in us both.
Thou art my guide, my master thou, and lord."

So spake I; and when he had onward mov'd,
I enter'd on the deep and woody way.


  1. The Roman poet Virgil has appeared to assist Dante on his spiritual quest. Virgil lives in Limbo, which is the first level of Hell reserved for those who either lived before hearing (or simply ignored) the message of God. Virgil, who awaits the chance to be granted entrance into Heaven, has been commanded by Beatrice (the love of Dante's life) to guide Dante along the journey back to salvation.

    — Sarah, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. The translator is telling the reader that Beatrice is pronounced, in the Italian, as Bee-ah-tree-cheh, with the accent on tree.

    — Stephen Holliday
  3. Beatrice refers to Virgil's birthplace, a town called Andes, near Mantua, in the region of Northern Italy the Romans referred to as Cisalpine Gaul.

    — Stephen Holliday
  4. Canto II takes place the evening after Dante enters the dark forest, and here he meets his guide, the Roman poet Virgil, and they begin their journey down into the underworld.

    — Stephen Holliday
  5. Beatrice stands in direct contrast to the dark wood and, later, the underworld, because she generates light in the darkness. Her light is both literal and metaphorical, representing her capacity to offer both inspiration and illumination.

    — Stephen Holliday
  6. This is one of the most important lines in the Inferno in part because Beatrice, Dante's idealized woman, is Dante's savior because she is trying to put him on the right path. In this moment, Beatrice asks Virgil to serve as Dante's guide through Inferno, establishing her role as a kind of guardian spirit.

    — Stephen Holliday
  7. In a metaphorical sense, Beatrice is afraid Dante has lost his soul, has "stray'd." Dante's progress through Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso represent an extended—often painful, often numinous—attempt to re-align himself with the proper path and to find his soul again.

    — Stephen Holliday
  8. This entrance into "the deep and woody way" is meant to contrast with the first lines of the poem, in which Dante expresses his fear while entering the dark wood. Now that he understands the protection being afforded him by Virgil and the three divine women, he has much more confidence in this journey.

    — Stephen Holliday
  9. The "three maids so blest" are Mary, the Virgin Mother; Saint Lucia of Syracuse; and Beatrice, Dante's ideal woman.

    — Stephen Holliday
  10. In a typical Dantean simile, the poet compares his own fear of the underworld to the fear of a wild beast who is afraid of shadows in the twilight.

    — Stephen Holliday
  11. Dante declares himself unworthy to visit the underworld as Aeneas and the disciple Paul did. Both men are deeply associated with Rome and therefore, in Dante's view, helped to pave the way for the development of Christianity.

    — Stephen Holliday
  12. Cosmologist Claudius Ptolemy (100–170 BCE) believed that the moon had the smallest orbit from the sun. Between the moon and heaven was the zone was the Earth, his perceived center of the universe.  

    — Jamie Wheeler
  13. The "blessed dame" is always the Virgin Mary. Like her son, Jesus Christ, her name is never spoken in Hell. 

    — Jamie Wheeler
  14. "Lucia" is Saint Lucy of Syracuse, who was a virgin martyr in the third century.  She is the patron saint of those who suffer from impaired vision. She is also the symbol of illuminating grace. 

    — Jamie Wheeler
  15. This is a reference to the biblical Rachel, wife of Jacob, in the book of Genesis. Traditionally, Rachel is symbolic of contemplation. Rachel is described as "her of ancient days" since she, as well as Jacob, lived to be unusually old.

    — Jamie Wheeler
  16. In the "Aeneid," Silvius is the son of Aeneas and his second wife, Lavinia (daughter of the King of Latinus of Lathum). In Book VI, Aeneas travels to the underworld, where the shade of his father shows him the future glories of Rome.  

    — Jamie Wheeler
  17. Saint Paul is the "chosen vessel." From the Bible, Acts 9:15: 

    But the Lord said unto him [Paul], Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel


    — Jamie Wheeler
  18. This is an invocation of the Muses, the traditional way to begin an epic poem. The first Canto is generally agreed to function as a sort of introduction, and the epic truly begins here in Canto 2, before progressing through a total of thirty-four cantos through Hell.  The other works in the trilogy, "Purgatorio" and "Paradiso," are each thirty-three Cantos in length, creating one hundred total Cantos across the three poems. 

    — Jamie Wheeler