Canto 4 Summary
Last Updated on February 28, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 297
As Dante hazily returns to consciousness, he discovers that the boat has landed, and he is standing on the edge of Hell. Peering into the pit, he realizes that its depths are indiscernible. Fearful of what awaits ahead, he falters; Virgil encourages him, telling him that although they must venture forward into the pit, the journey is worthwhile. When Dante looks back at his friend, he notes his pale complexion, which Virgil explains is caused by his knowledge of the suffering that awaits them within the pit.
In the First Circle, there is no wailing, only the sounds of soft sighs. Those occupying this circle are innocent but unbaptized; these souls all lived good lives before the advent of Christianity. Dante inquires if anyone has ever departed from this circle, and Virgil responds by listing notable figures who were removed from it, such as Adam, Abel, Noah, Moses, King David, Abraham, Jacob, Rachel, and others.
Dante and Virgil observe four silhouettes, which he soon realizes belong to notable ancient poets: Homer, an ancient Greek poet and the author of The Odyssey and the Iliad; Horace, an ancient Roman poet; Ovid, an ancient Roman poet who wrote about creation during the early days of the Roman Empire; and Lucan, an ancient Roman poet who wrote about Caesar.
Dante and Virgil encounter a group of illustrious souls who pay respect to Virgil and invite Dante to join them. Among the souls that Dante encounters are heroes of ancient Greek and Roman myth and history, including characters and historical figures like Electra, Caesar, Camilla, Penthesilea, Latinus, Lavinia, Brutus, Marcia, Cornelia, Julia, Lucrece, Saladin, Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, and many more.
As time passes, the four poets who briefly accompanied Virgil and Dante fall back, and the pair descend into Hell alone.