In this canto, Dante awakens to find that he is on the edge of Hell. Dante and Virgil descend into the bottomless pit. They enter the first circle of Hell, Limbo, where the souls that are sighing live. The souls include those all Unbaptized infants and those men and women who lived before the age of Christendom. I am going to talk more about those souls later. In the previous canto, Dante fainted at moments of great intensity of feeling when he is shocked by the strange sights he sees in Hell. Paralleled to his violent fainting, is he awakened by a great clasp of thunder.
This supernatural ‘weather’ mirrors Dante’s internal condition. The faint, however, acts as to move from one location, the ferry crossing over Acheron, to Limbo. Furthermore, it seems that Dante faints only when he is not strong enough to confront sin in that he no longer faints as he continues to face greater horrors and suffering, indicating his increasing strength. We see that the period of unconsciousness has done Dante good as he “stood up and turned [his] rested eyes… to see what kind of place it was where [he] awoke” (4-6). Eyes are the organ of sense related to light.
The eyes have the ability to absorb light and enable us to see. Therefore, they may signify reason and knowledge, which is intended to be strengthened through the Dante’s journey. Dante seems to be ready to face the next obstacle; however, when he looks down into the pit, he becomes reluctant, indicating that he is still far from being able to face Hell by himself. As they took the first downward movement within Inferno, Dante sees Virgil’s pallor of pity which he mistakes for fear as he himself had been at the end of previous canto.
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Virgil then answers him, “the anguish of the souls who dwell down here has painted in my face the pity you have taken to be fear” (19-21). Virgil describes the world of Limbo as the “blind world” without other punishment than its darkness and “thundering with the roar of endless woe. ” Traditional thinking, according to the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, there are two limbos, which are for the souls of unbaptized children and the other for the virtuous pagans. Virgil further explains that he himself being among the former, further commenting that the only pain they suffer is that the hope of seeing God doesn’t exist within them.
They are not punished, yet they eternally miss the supernatural joys of Heaven. Virgil continues on by saying that those souls “didn’t sin. If they had merits, these were not enough – baptism they didn’t’ have, the one gate to the faith which you believe” (34-6). When Dante heard Virgil’s saying “hopeless, we live forever in desire,” “great sorrow seized [his] heart. ” It shows that Dante is responding with pity and sorrow. Caught by this statement, Dante asks if anyone has escaped and achieved Heaven.
Dante continues on by saying “I want to confirm the faith that conquers every path that strays,” showing that he is seeking knowledge and wishing to be reassured of the Justice of God and be confirmed of what he heard about the harrowing of Hell. The real question he’s asking is that why should he seek confirmation of Christ’s ascent to heaven from a pagan? Virgil answers with “I had just entered in this state when I saw coming One of power and might crowned with the glorious sign of victory” (54-55). “One of power and might” indicates Christ, in the harrowing of hell.
The Harrowing of Hell indicates the event where Christ descended to Hell, and freed the souls of all those virtuous people who lived before the grace of baptism. The sign of victory can mean the cross. However, in Dante’s case, the virtuous souls remain in the limbo eternally. Dante’s question and Virgil’s answer doesn’t concern with the harrowing of hell, but rather with those who went up with Christ after the harrowing of hell. Virgil answers with list of the patriarchs and matriarchs, mentioning on Hebrews; Adam, Abel, Noah, Moses, Abraham, David, Jacob, Isaac, the sons of Jacob and Rachel.
He indicates that “many others” were included, some of whom will be concerned later. The reason for this is to emphasize the conflict toward the pity. Dante and Virgil “did not leave off walking while [Virgil] spoke,” which reminds us of the journey in motion. This information is provided to establish the ‘realism’ of the scene. As they walk through the “forest thicketed with souls,” Dante sees a fire which is supposed to symbolize the moral virtues, or knowledge in the light of which he describes certain honourable folk.
He further questions Virgil why these honourable folk are distinguished from the other spirits by being allowed to be the light, to which Virgil replies: “The honoured name that still resounds/their glory in our life above has won the grace from Heaven that now exalts them here” (76-79). In other words, the fame which these souls possess in the world above earned them a special location in Limbo. As Dante continues throughout his journey, the recurring motif of fame is one of the most important motifs of the Inferno.
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