« AnteriorContinuar »
WAM to w. sarily narrows at every step, whatever be the size of each particular tier.
Quaesitor Minos urnam movet: ille silentum Conciliumque vocat, vitasque et crimina discit (1). Having already vindicated this employment of classical allegories (2), I shall only remark the particulars in which Dante varies here what he imitates. He puts Minos within Tartarus, where all who come before him are really guilty of some transgression; Virgil, on the contrary, sets Gnossius and Rhadamanthus over Tartarus, and makes Minos preside near the entry of hell; whence it seems that all the souls who come into any part of hell, (even Elysium) are judged by him; which implies the error of reproaching them all with crimes -- crimina discit, and of saying nothing about their virtues. Dante preferred uniting the two tribunals of the Latin into one, as is manifest by his description of the self-confession — subigitque fateri (3). The Master gave Minos a human shape and invested him with the usual insignia of a Roman judge, an urn : the pupil, attending to the more horrible station assigned by him to Minos, clothed him in the form of a demon; and substituted for that antiquated urn (which would
(1) Aeneid. Lib. vi. v. 432.
canto w .
now suggest an idea quite remote from the unerring nature of true justice) the silent curling of an enormous tail, which the frightful inquisitor wreathes round his own loins in as many rings as is the number of the circle to which the culprit under examination is sentenced. With both poets, Minos is a personification of remorse of conscience, of Isaiah’s “undying worm', of the secret spy whom, as Juvenal tells us, we have clinging night and day within our bosoms, and who thus prevents the possibility of any malefactor's being acquitted in his own opinion — nemo se judice nocens absolvitur. To entitle this accusing voice Minos, is equally licit in every persuasion, Pagan or Christian : Dante selected that title because it had been sanctified by the muse; and Virgil, because it was the usual imagery of his day. Progeny of a Phenician mother and a Cretan Sovereign, (whom for his virtues whatever his name, whether Jupiter, or Asterius, men honoured after his death as a divine being) Minos became himself king of Crete; and ennobled the island with laws and cities (*). As Numa did afterwards, he used to retire to a grotto for celestial advice; and there be favoured by visitations, not of a Goddess, but (as he affirmed) of his own Sire, the Sire of Gods and men. There is perhaps less attraction in this fable, than in that of Egeria; but it is more in harmony with the
(1) Genealogia Deor. Lib. xi. Cap. a6.
lofty notion of universal jurisprudence: and in somewhat of a similar proportion was testified
the gratitude of their fellow-kind to the two. beneficent monarchs; for one was raised to the rank of a royal Saint by vulgar opinion, and the other to presidency in that future court, whose decisions are unerring in their justice, and in their operations irrevocable.
. From this tiercet is necessarily deduced what I affirmed a little above, that all the remainder of hell is Tartarus; and that every soul who passeth the tribunal at the entrance of this second circle is consigned to some degree of everlasting pain — son giu volte.
Facilis descensus Averni \ .
Noctes atque dies patet atri janua Ditis: Sed revocare gradum, superasque evadere ad auras, Hoc opus, hic labor est (). - The Italian is rather an allusion to this, than an imitation of it. Rapidity and condensation, better than the Sybil's metrical harmony, became the Judge of the abyss, and Dante here again displays his usual correct taste. He might too have had in mind ( particularly in the recommendation to
(1) Aeneid. Lib. vi. v. 125. o, -
canto w. beware of one by whom he might be “led astray,” . that is, of Virgil — guarda... di cui tu ti fide) the expressions of the Gospel, “wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction.... Beware of false prophets ()."
If the menace of Minos be sublime, far sublimer is the reply. For the first words of my translation of it I must crave excuse; they do not literally construe perché pur gride. But this simple check, when taken with the context, conveys such sense of mild command, that I, in three instances, found it forcibly recall to those perusing this Canto for the first time (in the original I mean) the repulse given by our Saviour to Satan — “Get thee behind me (2): " so that, despairing of suggesting that venerable association of ideas by any other means, I was at last emboldened to introduce our Saviour's own words; and, since I could not retain both the expressions and the spirit of my author, I surrendered the former, in the hope of being able to preserve the latter (3). The rest of the reply is an exact Homeric repetition of the one before made to Charon in the third Canto; and all the
(1) Mathew. vii. 13–15.
(2) Luke. Iv. 8.
(3) Mr. Cary’s “wherefore exclaimest?” preserves neither the one, nor the other: for it does not render pur(which has much signification here); and it is quite devoid of majesty.
- canto w. grandeur attributed to it on that occasion is increased by its being thus formally repeated (9.
Here then they actually step into the hell-of thedamned ; and up to this moment, all the scenes of penalty or pleasure we witnessed had nothing to do with the home of infinite woe, the tartarean abode, usually, but incorrectly, designated by the generic term, hell (*). This dreaded portion of the infernal regions, “we’re now within,' and shall continue to be so until the end of the present Canticle.
The muteness of the light is a repetition of the figure already used in the first Canto: ‘where the sun is mute' (*).
. The ruin of the text is, in my opinion, the Inouth. of the abyss, which (as I have so often repeated (4)) stands yawning in the centre of each circle; until we arrive at the very bottom of the infernal amphi. theatre. Whenever the cross-wind blows the shades into the vicinity of the brink of that horrific mouth,
(1) Hell, Comment, Canto til. p. 205.
(a) Id. Id Canto ii. p. 138. . (3) liq. Id. Canto 1. p. 37.
(4) Id. Id. Canto iv. p. 220.