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in general appear to have been contented with their subterranean Elysium. I say in general, because a few of them professed brighter hopes; and appear, because (I repeat it once more) we can only descry appearances, and not the truth; and a poet is licensed to decide on appearances. He may limit the Christian Paradise to those who seem to have participated a Christian's hopes; and place in Elysium those who seem to have expected it as their eternal recompense. He can vouch for nothing certainly : he cannot tell how any of those individuals died; nor whether the principle that is equitable here is so hereafter, but by placing the worthy followers of Jesus in Paradise, and the virtuous Heathens in that Elysian Limbo on which their own theologians dwelt with rapture (and to which Dante could not have consigned them without high veneration, since his own Church-men taught that it had been long hallowed by the presence of the Fathers of Christianity, and, at last, by that of Christ himself) is exemplified one great moral lesson, — that which teaches our heart and fancy to expand each other mutually, for that in some proportion with their expansion shall be their reward. But it is well known, some of the Pagans openly professed sublimer expectations than those that were then usual; it was therefore exemplary to represent some of them as participating the glories of Christianity, and judicious canto tw. not to select Cicero (); lest the reader should mistake that for exception, which was intended as illustration; and for a serious decision of what actually is a given mortal's lot in futurity, that which was meant as a fanciful supposition of what it possibly may be; in short lest he should receive as a particular sentence, that which was imagined as a general example, or allegory; — and those who find allegories every where throughout the Divine Comedy, ought not to have been silent as to this one. Ought not then the academical sentence to have rather run thus: —“Dante is not only equitable in proportioning punishments to crimes and rewards to merits, but is at the same time so scrupulously exact in conforming to the dogmas of his Church, that, were all the tomes of Catholicism lost, posterity would still have a correct idea of its tenets from this poem’’
Some say Dante is to be suppposed to have been borne over by an Angel during sleep; but certainly the words of Virgil to Charon rather imply that they came over in his boat (as Aeneas had done before); for if they were to be transported not by him, but by an Angel, to what purpose their altercation ? —
(1) . . . Sic habeto, certum esse in carlo ac definitum locum ubi beati aevo sempiterno fruantur. Somnum Scip. How many Christians have excelled this definition of a Christian Paradise 2
Boccaccio says very correctly—‘the first Circle borders the abyss ().’ It is then no part of that abyss, that pit, that blind domain, (cieco mondo) that glen, that mortal den. These are all Synonimes for Tartarus, or Hell-of-the-damned, with which this first Circle has nothing whatever in common.In the Aeneid Elysium is not more striking. ly separated from Tartarus, than in this poem. Virgil here turns pale with pity while looking down into it, as Aeneas while looking towards it (respicit Aeneas): but the latter, hurrying on, leaves it upon his left hand (sub rupe sinistra (*)); and the former descends into it in the next Canto.
This first division of this first Circle is the Hell or Limbo-of-Children (Infernus puerorum ) in the language of Dante's Church (3), and exactly corresponds to the first circle of the Virgilian hell: Continuo auditæ voces, vagitus et ingens, Infantumque animae slentes in linine primo, Quos dulcis vitae exsortes et ab ubere raptos Abstulit atra dies, et funere mersit acerbo: Nec vero hae sine sorte datae, sine judice, sedes (4).
(1) Il primo cerchio, o Limbo, attornia Tabisso, cioe il profondo Inferno. Comento, vol. 1. p. 173.
(2) Aeneid. Lih. vi. v. 548.
(3) Hell, Comment, Canto 11. p. 139.
(4) Aeneid. Lib. vi. v. 426.
ca. NTo tw. If we allow Virgil in this instance a similar merit with that which Dante incontestibly 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 we 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 2 and that, not by an arbitrary sentence, but, as the Roman poet pointedly urges, by a regular, righteous judgment — nec sine sorte, nec sine judice? To mortal eyes they seemed perfectly innocent. Catholics urge the doctrine of Original sin; so there is no accusing them of inconsistency. But had the Ancients some similar doctrine? Or did they consign Children to punishment for errors supposed to have been perpetrated in some former state of existence? I, at least, am unprepared 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 to a not to tw. 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 softened 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 (). 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 (*)." Dante 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 Hell-of-Children
(1) When the matter came to be revised by the Council of Trent, it was ascertained to have been always held by Catholics that the Limboof-children was a place free from pain; but, as to the quantity of enjoyment, the Dominicans and the Franciscans (as was usual with those friars) were at variance. The former described it as subterranean, like Aquinas and Dante: the latter as an airy, lightsome region above ground, with a variety of curious pastimes and often visited by consoling angels and saints. Only one Doctor (known by the ridiculous nickname of “babe-teazer') was discovered to have considered it a state of pain – a sentiment which narrowly escaped an anathema by the contrary being made an Article of faith. From propounding an actual decree however the Council refrained, in courtesy, upon the Bishops com. ing to an understanding, that the doctrine taught in all their churches without exception should be that the Limbo-of-children was exempt from pain. Sarpi. Storia del Con. Trid. l. 8, p. 165.
(a) Sale. Sect. viii. p. 219.