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Canto 4 Summary and Analysis

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The Blameless but Unbaptized and Those Who Lived Before the Age of Christendom: Souls in limbo from the First Circle

Summary
Dante awakens to find that he is on the brink of Hell. When Dante looks into the pit, he cannot see its bottom. Virgil tells him that they must travel into the pit. Dante says that Virgil’s pallor frightens him, but Virgil says it is the anguish within the pit and not the journey that causes his pallor.

From the First Circle come not the wails of anguish but the sounds of sighing. The souls which are sighing are those who are blameless but unbaptized and those who lived good lives before the time of Christendom. Dante asks if anyone had ever come from this circle and Virgil tells him that those who left were the first father (Adam), Abel (son of Adam), Noah (patriarch saved during the flood by heeding God’s command to build an ark) Moses (leader who received the Ten Commandments), King David (King of Israel) Abraham (the father of Isaac), Israel (Jacob) with his father and generation, Rachel (mother of Joseph), and others. The one with a crown of victory removed these from the First Circle.

Virgil and Dante see four shadows: Homer (ancient Greek poet and author of The Iliad and The Odyssey), Horace (ancient Latin poet who lived in Rome) Ovid (ancient Roman poet who wrote of creation until the time of Caesar), and Lucan (ancient Roman poet who wrote of Caesar).

The two pay honor to Virgil and ask Dante to join their ranks. Dante also sees Electra (daughter of Atlas and mother of Dardanus, the founder of Troy), Caesar (dictator of Rome 100–44 B.C.), Camilla (maiden-warrior dedicated to the service of Diana, the goddess of the hunt), Penthesilea (queen of the Amazons and killed by Achilles), Latinus (king of Latium where Aeneas lands), Lavinia (daughter of Latinus and wife of Aeneas), Brutus (aroused the Romans to overthrow Tarquinius Superbus, who had a son that had angered Lucretia), Marcia (Cato’s wife, who was given to a friend, and returned to Cato of Utica), Cornelia (wife of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and mother of two famous Tribunes; celebrated by people...

(The entire section is 712 words.)