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Canto 3 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Uncommitted: Souls not rebellious against God and yet not committed

Charon: One who takes travelers across the Acheron River

Summary
Dante and Virgil pass through the wide gates of Hell. They read the inscription there (“Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”) and enter the Vestibule of Hell. They see those who were true only to themselves in their prior life; these people were not rebellious against God and yet they were not committed to Him in their life on earth. These people rush about but never make any decision; their faces bleed from the sting and bite of hornets and wasps and worms devour the blood which drips to the ground.

Virgil and Dante find a boat rowed by a white-haired man. This ferryman of the Acheron River reminds them that those who cross do not return; Virgil explains that one with will and power has deemed otherwise. When Dante hears the noise of the wind and sees the danger below, he swoons.

Discussion and Analysis
The gates of Hell are wide and easy to enter; this is in direct contrast to the straight, narrow way that Dante lost before he found himself in the wood on Maundy Thursday. The inscription reminds those who enter that they must give up all hope; they make the trip to Hell as a choice and cannot return. This inscription, Virgil reminds him, does not apply to Dante. Dante is not dead and he has been given special permission to visit beyond the gates. Dante, nevertheless, feels fear; Virgil must smile and again remind Dante that the inscription does not include them at this time.

The uncommitted are the first souls that they encounter in Hell. These cowards have no hope of death (Hell) or life (Heaven) because they never made a decision for evil or good. Because they never shed their blood willingly for a cause, they now must shed it unwillingly. The loss counts for nothing now; the lowly worms devour their blood.

The journey to Hell is a conscious choice on the part of those who make the trip. The trip is not made by accident or because of just one error in life; rather the damned fear but desire Hell much as a sinner may hate their sin and yet continue to commit it. Dante is amazed by the number of uncommitted; the sights and sounds of Hell frighten him and Canto III ends as Dante swoons.