Essential Passage 1: Canto I
IN the midway of this our mortal life,
I found me in a gloomy wood, astray
Gone from the path direct: and e'en to tell
It were no easy task, how savage wild
That forest, how robust and rough its growth,
Which to remember only, my dismay
Renews, in bitterness not far from death.
Yet to discourse of what there good befell,
All else will I relate discover'd there.
How first I enter'd it I scarce can say,
Such sleepy dullness in that instant weigh'd
My senses down, when the true path I left...
Dante presents himself as the narrator as well as the protagonist in The Divine Comedy. He begins the tale by announcing himself as a wanderer, having reached the halfway point of his life (Dante was thirty-five when he wrote The Divine Comedy), in the year 1300, on the Thursday before Good Friday (Maundy Thursday). Using the allegory of a road through a dark forest, he states that he lost his way along the correct road. He confesses a fear at the darkness of his location, a fear that lingers even at the time of writing. Yet the forest is not totally devoid of goodness; it is not a place of utter evil (as the depths of Hell where he will soon find himself). He cannot remember how he became lost, only that he had been sleepy and thus lost the proper way.
Essential Passage 2: Canto II
That from this terror thou mayst free thyself,
I will instruct thee why I came, and what
I heard in that same instant, when for thee
Grief touch'd me first. I was among the tribe,
Who rest suspended, when a dame, so blest
And lovely, I besought her to command,
Call'd me; her eyes were brighter than the star
Of day; and she with gentle voice and soft
Angelically tun'd her speech address'd:
"O courteous shade of Mantua! thou whose fame
Yet lives, and shall live long as nature lasts!
A friend, not of my fortune but myself,
On the wide desert in his road has met
Hindrance so great, that he through fear has turn'd.
Now much I dread lest he past help have stray'd,
And I be ris'n too late for his relief,
From what in heaven of him I heard. Speed now,
And by thy eloquent persuasive tongue,
And by all means for his deliverance meet,
Assist him. So to me will comfort spring.
I who now bid thee on this errand forth
Am Beatrice; from a place I come.
The Roman poet Virgil has come to Dante as a mentor along his journey through the three stages of the afterlife (Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven). He explains to Dante why he has come to escort his fellow poet. Virgil explains that he is counted among those in the first level of Hell, those who are denied heaven because they had never heard the message or ignored the revelations in nature of God. He is waiting for his possible rescue and to be allowed to enter Heaven on the basis of what he did know outside of his exposure to Christianity. He explains that a lady called to him (Beatrice, the love of Dante’s life). Overcome by her beauty and her obvious blessedness, Virgil begs to know what she desires of him. She...
(The entire section is 1433 words.)