Dante's Inferno, Canto IV, Part II

Degas' Dante and Virgil

Canto IV here.

Previously: Canto IV. I hadn't been asleep, exactly, but the sound of crashing brought me to myself. Let's say I was well-rested. Intelligently I scanned the scene, running back and forth in a controlled manner to get the lay of the land.

Degas' Dante and Virgil

We kept the pace, and things felt good – as good as passage through a wood of souls can get – til we passed a sunrise of sorts.

I say of sorts since, being in a cave, and also Hell, there strictly was no sun, nor strictly anywhere to rise. A non-distressing ball of fire – a little cough of daytime.

A big deal, then, this! Who lived here but the excellently damned? The trick was how to ask but not offend – I do not call my guide touchy, but he's hard to read and angry half the time –

"Oh you," I started, "whom books and paintings sir, the reason kids learn cursive – who lives so peaceful in the dirt?"


After this I heard a voice ring out, "Pizza for the best ghost! He left and then came back, which is a huge deal here!" It is a huge deal there.

Then four more ghosts streamed towards our feet. Their faces looked like nothing. A little jarring, to shout "Pizza for the best ghost!" with the neutrallest expression, but the atmosphere was more like "pizza party in the library" than "bouncing off the wall with all your mates," if that makes sense.

The one with the sword was Homer. Horace and Ovid were there. Lucan too. Basically everybody who was anybody short of heaven. Pizza for the best ghosts.

They talked in elevator voices, briefly, then welcomed me with welcome gestures. Even Virgil smiled. A tasteful cardigan of a smile, nothing flashy, given the circumstances. But it was nice.

We had the biggest party Hell allows; they offered me a hat. "I think of you as me," Lucan said. Six friends of equal import walking together.

At school, sophomores could go to senior prom if a senior asked them. It was like that. We wandered towards the light. I'd love to tell you what we talked about, but you kind of had to be there.

I can reveal we talked of wondrous things. You really should have been there. And they all lived in a big castle together, and invited me to visit!!

We floated over water. We drifted past seven gates. A meadow, get this, with fresh green grass. "You don't have to be damned to live here – but it helps!" No, I kid.

Not that they would. Class acts, to the last. Quiet, smelled great, soft eyes. We settled on a hill to read the room.

Who was there? More like who wasn't! Electra (Hall, or Billingham? Not the one you're thinking of), Aeneas, Camilla...everyone you've ever read...Brutus (not that Brutus), Saladin (Shut up, I like him).

Who else? Aristotle. Everybody. Pick a book, they're here. You really should try to visit, if God ever hits pause on the heavens to send you down. It's too too for words.

Then we had to hit the trails. They would have liked us to stay forever. But we had promises to keep, et cetera, and suffering to see.

They love me there. Can't get enough. If you ever get an invite down to Limbo, use my name. Plato will know who you mean.