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Noder's Note: This story begins on Good Friday of the year 1300, while Dante was 35 years old.

Inferno: Canto I

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Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.

So bitter is it, death is little more;
But of the good to treat, which there I found,
Speak will I of the other things I saw there.

I cannot well repeat how there I entered,
So full was I of slumber at the moment
In which I had abandoned the true way.

But after I had reached a mountain's foot,
At that point where the valley terminated,
Which had with consternation pierced my heart,

Upward I looked, and I beheld its shoulders,
Vested already with that planet's rays
Which leadeth others right by every road.

Then was the fear a little quieted
That in my heart's lake had endured throughout
The night, which I had passed so piteously.

And even as he, who, with Distressful breath,
Forth issued from the sea upon the shore,
Turns to the water perilous and gazes;

So did my Soul, that still was fleeing onward,
Turn itself back to re-behold the pass
Which never yet a living person left.

After my weary body I had rested,
The way resumed I on the desert slope,
So that the firm foot ever was the lower.

And lo! almost where the ascent began,
A panther light and swift exceedingly,
Which with a spotted skin was covered o'er!

And never moved she from before my face,
Nay, rather did impede so much my way,
That many times I to return had turned.

The time was the beginning of the morning,
And up the sun was mounting with those stars
That with him were, what time the Love Divine

At first in motion set those beauteous things;
So were to me occasion of good hope,
The variegated skin of that wild beast,

The hour of time, and the delicious season;
But not so much, that did not give me fear
A lion's aspect which appeared to me.

He seemed as if against me he were coming
With head uplifted, and with ravenous hunger,
So that it seemed the air was afraid of him;

And a she-wolf, that with all hungerings
Seemed to be laden in her meagreness,
And many folk has caused to live forlorn!

She brought upon me so much heaviness,
With the affright that from her aspect came,
That I the hope relinquished of the height.

And as he is who willingly acquires,
And the time comes that causes him to lose,
Who weeps in all his thoughts and is despondent,

E'en such made me that beast withouten peace,
Which, coming on against me by degrees
Thrust me back thither where the sun is silent.

While I was rushing downward to the lowland,
Before mine eyes did one present himself,
Who seemed from long-continued silence hoarse.

When I beheld him in the desert vast,
"Have pity on me," unto him I cried,
"Whiche'er thou art, or shade or real man!"

He answered me: "Not man; man once I was,
And both my parents were of Lombardy,
And Mantuans by country both of them.

'Sub Julio' was I born, though it was late,
And lived at Rome under the good Augustus
During the time of false and lying Gods.

A poet was I, and I sang that just
son of Anchises, who came forth from Troy,
After that Ilion the superb was burned.

But thou, why goest thou back to such annoyance?
Why climb'st thou not the Mount Delectable
Which is the source and cause of every joy?"

"Now, art thou that Virgilius and that fountain
Which spreads abroad so wide a river of speech?"
I made response to him with bashful forehead.

"O, of the other poets honour and light,
Avail me the long study and great love
That have impelled me to explore thy volume!

Thou art my Master, and my author thou,
Thou art alone the one from whom I took
The beautiful style that has done honour to me.

Behold the beast, for which I have turned back;
Do thou protect me from her, famous Sage
For she doth make my veins and pulses tremble."

"Thee it behoves to take another road,"
Responded he, when he beheld me weeping,
"If from this savage place thou wouldst escape;

Because this beast, at which thou criest out,
Suffers not any one to pass her way,
But so doth harass him, that she destroys him;

And has a nature so malign and ruthless,
That never doth she glut her greedy will,
And after food is hungrier than before.

Many the animals with whom she weds,
And more they shall be still, until the Greyhound
Comes, who shall make her perish in her pain.

He shall not feed on either earth or pelf,
But upon wisdom, and on love and Virtue;
'Twixt Feltro and Feltro shall his nation be;

Of that low Italy shall he be the saviour,
On whose account the maid Camilla died,
Euryalus, Turnus, Nisus, of their wounds;

Through every city shall he hunt her down,
Until he shall have driven her back to Hell,
There from whence envy first did let her loose.

Therefore I think and judge it for thy best
Thou follow me, and I will be thy Guide,
And lead thee hence through the eternal place,

Where thou shalt hear the desperate lamentations,
shalt see the ancient Spirits Disconsolate,
Who cry out each one for the second death;

And thou shalt see those who contented are
Within the fire, because they hope to come,
Whene'er it may be, to the blessed people;

To whom, then, if thou wishest to ascend,
A Soul shall be for that than I more worthy;
With her at my departure I will leave thee;

Because that Emperor, who reigns above,
In that I was rebellious to his law,
Wills that through me none come into his city.

He governs everywhere, and there he reigns;
There is his city and his lofty throne;
O happy he whom thereto he elects!"

And I to him: "Poet, I thee entreat,
By that same God whom thou didst never know,
So that I may escape this woe and worse,

Thou wouldst conduct me there where thou hast said,
That I may see the portal of Saint Peter,
And those thou makest so Disconsolate."

Then he moved on, and I behind him followed.

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There have been many translations of Dante's Inferno over the years - more translations than its companions Purgatorio and Paradiso. Robert Pinsky, the most recent translator and poet laureate, commented that the Inferno in the original Italian is closest the the Platonic Ideal of the story and that his English translation cannot compare to it in the long run.

Inferno: Canto I
Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
  mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
  che' la diritta via era smarrita.

Ahi quanto a dir qual era e` cosa dura
  esta selva selvaggia e aspra e forte
  che nel pensier rinova la paura!

Tant'e` amara che poco e` piu` morte;
  ma per trattar del ben ch'i' vi trovai,
  diro` de l'altre cose ch'i' v'ho scorte.

Io non so ben ridir com'i' v'intrai,
  tant'era pien di sonno a quel punto
  che la verace via abbandonai.

Ma poi ch'i' fui al pie` d'un colle giunto,
  la` dove terminava quella valle
  che m'avea di paura il cor compunto,

guardai in alto, e vidi le sue spalle
  vestite gia` de' raggi del pianeta
  che mena dritto altrui per ogne calle.

Allor fu la paura un poco queta
  che nel lago del cor m'era durata
  la notte ch'i' passai con tanta pieta.

E come quei che con lena affannata
  uscito fuor del pelago a la riva
  si volge a l'acqua perigliosa e guata,

cosi` l'animo mio, ch'ancor fuggiva,
  si volse a retro a rimirar lo passo
  che non lascio` gia` mai persona viva

Poi ch'ei posato un poco il corpo lasso,
  ripresi via per la piaggia diserta,
  si` che 'l pie` fermo sempre era 'l piu` basso.

Ed ecco, quasi al cominciar de l'erta,
  una lonza leggera e presta molto,
  che di pel macolato era coverta;

e non mi si partia dinanzi al volto,
  anzi 'mpediva tanto il mio cammino,
  ch'i' fui per ritornar piu` volte volto.

Temp'era dal principio del mattino,
  e 'l sol montava 'n su` con quelle stelle
  ch'eran con lui quando l'amor divino

mosse di prima quelle cose belle;
  si` ch'a bene sperar m'era cagione
  di quella fiera a la gaetta pelle

l'ora del tempo e la dolce stagione;
  ma non si` che paura non mi desse
  la vista che m'apparve d'un leone.

Questi parea che contra me venisse
  con la test'alta e con rabbiosa fame,
  si` che parea che l'aere ne tremesse.

Ed una lupa, che di tutte brame
  sembiava carca ne la sua magrezza,
  e molte genti fe' gia` viver grame,

questa mi porse tanto di gravezza
  con la paura ch'uscia di sua vista,
  ch'io perdei la speranza de l'altezza.

E qual e` quei che volontieri acquista,
  e giugne 'l tempo che perder lo face,
  che 'n tutt'i suoi pensier piange e s'attrista;

tal mi fece la bestia sanza pace,
  che, venendomi 'ncontro, a poco a poco
  mi ripigneva la` dove 'l sol tace.

Mentre ch'i' rovinava in basso loco,
  dinanzi a li occhi mi si fu offerto
  chi per lungo silenzio parea fioco.

Quando vidi costui nel gran diserto,
  "Miserere di me", gridai a lui,
  "qual che tu sii, od ombra od omo certo!"

Rispuosemi: "Non omo, omo gia` fui,
  e li parenti miei furon Lombardi,
  Mantoani per patria ambedui.

Nacqui sub Iulio, ancor che fosse tardi,
  e vissi a Roma sotto 'l buono Augusto
  nel tempo de li dei falsi e bugiardi.

Poeta fui, e cantai di quel giusto
  figliuol d'Anchise che venne di Troia,
  poi che 'l superbo Ilion fu combusto.

Ma tu perche' ritorni a tanta noia?
  perche' non sali il dilettoso monte
  ch'e` principio e cagion di tutta gioia?"

"Or se' tu quel Virgilio e quella fonte
  che spandi di parlar si` largo fiume?",
  rispuos'io lui con vergognosa fronte.

"O de li altri poeti onore e lume
  vagliami 'l lungo studio e 'l grande amore
  che m'ha fatto cercar lo tuo volume.

Tu se' lo mio maestro e 'l mio autore;
  tu se' solo colui da cu' io tolsi
  lo bello stilo che m'ha fatto onore.

Vedi la bestia per cu' io mi volsi:
  aiutami da lei, famoso saggio,
  ch'ella mi fa tremar le vene e i polsi.

"A te convien tenere altro viaggio,"
  rispuose poi che lagrimar mi vide,
  "se vuo' campar d'esto loco selvaggio:

che' questa bestia, per la qual tu gride,
  non lascia altrui passar per la sua via,
  ma tanto lo 'mpedisce che l'uccide;

e ha natura si` malvagia e ria,
  che mai non empie la bramosa voglia,
  e dopo 'l pasto ha piu` fame che pria.

Molti son li animali a cui s'ammoglia,
  e piu` saranno ancora, infin che 'l veltro
  verra`, che la fara` morir con doglia.

Questi non cibera` terra ne' peltro,
  ma sapienza, amore e virtute,
  e sua nazion sara` tra feltro e feltro

Di quella umile Italia fia salute
  per cui mori` la vergine Cammilla,
  Eurialo e Turno e Niso di ferute.

Questi la caccera` per ogne villa,
  fin che l'avra` rimessa ne lo 'nferno,
  la` onde 'nvidia prima dipartilla.

Ond'io per lo tuo me' penso e discerno
  che tu mi segui, e io saro` tua guida,
  e trarrotti di qui per loco etterno,

ove udirai le disperate strida,
  vedrai li antichi spiriti dolenti,
  ch'a la seconda morte ciascun grida;

e vederai color che son contenti
  nel foco, perche' speran di venire
  quando che sia a le beate genti.

A le quai poi se tu vorrai salire,
  anima fia a cio` piu` di me degna:
  con lei ti lascero` nel mio partire;

che' quello imperador che la` su` regna,
  perch'i' fu' ribellante a la sua legge,
  non vuol che 'n sua citta` per me si vegna.

In tutte parti impera e quivi regge;
  quivi e` la sua citta` e l'alto seggio:
  oh felice colui cu' ivi elegge!"

E io a lui: "Poeta, io ti richeggio
  per quello Dio che tu non conoscesti,
  accio` ch'io fugga questo male e peggio,

che tu mi meni la` dov'or dicesti,
  si` ch'io veggia la porta di san Pietro
  e color cui tu fai cotanto mesti."

Allor si mosse, e io li tenni dietro.

Thanks Project Gutenberg for not making me have to type all of this out from my own copy

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