Dante's Inferno Canto 1 Summary and Analysis
by Dante Alighieri

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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

Summary
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.

Discussion and Analysis
Dante has lost the narrow way to God; he finds himself in a dark forest in the valley of sin and separation from God. Dante is not sure how he lost the bright, right, narrow way; the darkness of sin and night (Maundy Thursday before the Passover) frightens him. When Good Friday (the morning of Jesus’s crucifixion) arrives, Dante feels hope as he sees the rays of light (goodness) shine over the mountain—a symbol of the ascent from evil that one must make to reach God.

The three animals—leopard, lion, and wolf—are images of sin. The first animal (the leopard) depicts the sins of self-indulgence or incontinence, which are often the sins of youth. The lion represents the sins of bestial violence which are often the sins of adulthood; the wolf symbolizes the malicious sins, the sins of age. The greyhound is a symbol of the political or religious leader who will come to help rid the world of greed; it could also symbolize Dante’s friend Can Grande (Italian for “great dog”) della Scala,...

(The entire section is 689 words.)