Analyze the character of Dante the Pilgrim at the beginning of Inferno.

Quick answer:

As the Inferno begins, the pilgrim Dante is confused and terrified by the unfamiliar terrain and savage beasts he encounters. Once he meets the poet Virgil, his idol, he recovers some hope of successfully traveling through hell and not remaining there.

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The character of Dante initially appears in the Inferno as its protagonist, the Pilgrim, but also as the narrator who reflects on his earlier passage through Hell. When he awakens in an unfamiliar place, he feels that his heart has been “ dread.” His sudden encounters with a leopard, lion, and she-wolf cement this fear, as his “spirit...[struggles] with terror.” Weeping in fear of the she-wolf, Dante becomes a bit less anxious when he meets the Roman poet Virgil, who agrees to serve as his guide. Virgil explains how he must proceed:

He, soon as he saw

That I was weeping, answer'd, "Thou must needs

Another way pursue, if thou wouldst 'scape

From out that savage wilderness.

The literal situation of the dark wood in which Dante is lost metaphorically represents the state of perdition, or damnation, that may envelop him.

Despite the warning he reads at the entrance, he retains hope in the success of his pilgrimage: to find the right path to reach the exit. As he passes through the gates and begins his journey, Dante stresses that he is a stranger in this territory. He is frequently surprised, and almost as often dismayed, by whom and what he encounters. The countless dead who are confined to Hell are desperate for release. Despite being a devout Catholic, Dante find things in common with many denizens of Limbo on the basis of their roles in life. Acknowledging the limits of the era when they lived, which prevented them from knowing Christ, Dante reveals compassion and empathy as personal characteristics. He also shows pride in his accomplishments as he evaluates his position among illustrious writers such as Virgil and Homer.

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