Canto 1 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Dante: The writer, narrator, main character, and traveler in The Inferno

Leopard: The first character (Self-indulgence) whom Dante meets

Lion: The second character (Violence) whom Dante meets

She-Wolf: The third character (Malice) whom Dante meets

Virgil: Ancient Roman poet who appears to Dante and becomes his guide

Midway on his journey through life, Dante falls asleep and loses his way. He wakes during the night of Maundy Thursday to find himself in a dark wood; he does not know how he got there. Dante loses the right way; the narrow road he had wanted to travel has disappeared. Dante feels hope when he sees the morning rays of sun over the mountain, even though he is still alone in the valley.

As he scales the mountain, Dante encounters a leopard; the leopard impedes his progress but it is not very frightening. The second animal that Dante meets is a fierce, hungry lion, which comes toward him swiftly and savagely. The third—and worst—animal that Dante encounters is a vicious she-wolf; she terrifies Dante so much that he is unable to continue his travels.

The shade of the poet Virgil appears to Dante. Until the greyhound comes to secure the wolf in Hell, Virgil explains, the only way past the wolf is by another path. Virgil offers to show Dante the path to an eternal place where he can see long-parted souls; at that point, Virgil says, another guide will come and take Dante to a city which Virgil cannot enter. Dante accepts Virgil’s offer and follows the poet.


(The entire section is 689 words.)