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If we allow Virgil in this instance a similar merit with that which Dante incontestihly possesses ( a faithful transmission of the creed of his time), it is impossible not to be struck with the resemblance of their opinions. And, when we recollect that these opinions have survived the subversion of such a variety of others, and lasted so many ages, one is almost inclined to suspect, that although it appear to be one of the subjects most hopelessly involved in the labyrinth of vain speculation , yet some clue, of which wc are not aware, is afforded to it by a feeling of human nature. Why should the souls of babies be excluded from Paradise? or, what is stranger, be subjected to penalty? and that, not by an arbitrary sentence, but, as the Roman poet pointedly urges, by a regular, righteous judgment nee sine sorte, nee sine judice?
To mortal eyes they seemed perfectly innocent . Catholics urge the doctrine of Original siu; so there is no accusing them of inconsistency . 15ut had the Ancients some similar doctrine? Or did they consign Children to punishment lor errors supposed to have been perpetrated in some former state of existence? I, at least, am unp1epared to answer.
With reference to the mere merits of the writers, one may be inclined to put on a par the verses cited from the Aeneid and the two tiercets we are commenting; or rather to allow some superiority to Virgil on the score of melody. But, intrinsically
valued, the Italian passage is more pleasing; because it breathes a more benevolent theology, and is more easily reconcileable to vulgar notions of equity. The 'weeping' (flentes) and 'piercing cries' ( vagitus et ingens ) of the Latin become suftcned down by the modern into ' no tears, but a world of sighs .' Praise for this however is due not to the poet, but to his Church; and he might have been still kinder without being less orthodox (0. Entirely similar on this point is the belief of most Mahometans, for they hold that " he who dies an infant is neither rewarded nor punished (»)."Daute however, in order to distinguish clearly the two divisions of this first Circle, used to a certain degree the latitude which is allowed by his Church; and keeping a kind of middle course,between the mild tenets that are most favoured by it, and the stern ones of Paganism, he made his llell-of-Children display something of gentle sorrow without pain
duol senza martiri; and the Hell -of-holy
fathers he quite free from either pain or sorrow
ne trista, as we shall see a few tiercets farther
on. Here we are still in the Hell-of-Children; so this line D'infanti e di feminine e di viri is only an expletive mode of saying innumerahle crowds of infants of hoth sexes: and in this persuasion I translate it 'babies males and maids (').' To do otherwise would confuse the topography of which Dante is so curious an observer,and which the accompanying drawing gives .
K. — ,,• xxxn.
The Hell-ofChildren extends 'not far from the bank' or vestibule (dal sommo) which our travellers had descended: and, since they could have no interest to particularise any of those nameless innocents, it is evident they must be drawing very close to the second division , or at least in full sight of it, when they begin to think it worth while to « scan the shades':—Che spirit)|son questiPTo whom
(i) Mr. Gary by translating "mrn, women, and infants," and indeed by his whole version, confounds these two divisions wbicb are easily traced in the text. The first is this; the second begins to be seen at vidi un fuoco cc. T. 68. He seems to have been totally unaware of the existence of any such divisions, and therefore mixed them together past distinguishing. But in truth they form two rings or circlets into which this first Circle is divided all round — per tutta la estensione (all the parts of Dante's Hell being thus circular, as Lombard! justly observes ), and are separated rrgnlarly by a stream and seven walls. V. i07.
B rrd s eye view of the first Circle of Hell.
A . Its first division,or Hell -of- Children .
B . Its second, or Hell-of-holy-Fathers ,or Elysium .
Jl . lartaru-S .