Essential Quotes

Essential Quotes by Character: Dante

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.)

Essential Passage by Theme: Sin

Essential Passage 1: Canto I

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,
But when a mountain's foot I reach'd, where clos'd
The valley, that had pierc'd my heart with dread,
I look'd aloft, and saw his shoulders broad
Already vested with that planet's beam,
Who leads all wanderers safe through every way.

Then was a little respite to the fear,
That in my heart's recesses deep had lain,
All of that night, so pitifully pass'd:
And as a man, with difficult short breath,
Forespent with toiling, 'scap'd from sea to shore,
Turns to the perilous wide waste, and stands
At gaze; e'en so my spirit, that yet fail'd
Struggling with terror, turn'd to view the straits,
That none hath pass'd and liv’d.

Dante, at the age of thirty-five, is travelling along the road of his life when he comes into a dark forest on Maundy Thursday (the Thursday preceding Good Friday, commemorating the memorial of the Last Supper, in which Christ shared a final meal with his apostles). Bewildered, he quickly loses his way and deviates from the path. Oblivious to his surroundings, his focus is solely on his fear. He cannot remember exactly at what point he strayed from the road, stating that he was sleepy and inattentive to his walk and thus departed from his prescribed course unintentionally. He comes to the foot of a hill at the end of the valley where the dark forest lies and sees the guiding star lighting the way. His fear lessens somewhat and he turns and looks back the way he had come. He sees the darkness from which he has emerged in the hopes of finding his way back to the correct road.

Essential Passage 2: Canto IV

The gentle guide: "Inquir'st thou not what spirits
Are these, which thou beholdest? Ere thou pass
Farther, I would thou know, that these of sin
Were blameless; and if aught they merited,
It profits not, since baptism was not theirs,
The portal to thy faith. If they before
The Gospel liv'd, they serv'd not God aright;
And among such am I. For these defects,
And for no other evil, we are lost;
"Only so far afflicted, that we live
Desiring without hope.”

Virgil, the Latin poet who is serving as Dante’s mentor and guide, has brought Dante through the gates of Hell into the First Circle, which is Limbo. Dante dreads having to encounter the people who are in anguish. Although Virgil accuses him of being in fear, Dante states that it is pity, not fear, that fills him with dread. Observing the inhabitants, Dante sees individuals who appear to be sad, yet without inner or outer torment. There are no cries of remorse, only sighs of lost opportunities. Virgil explains that these are the innocent who died outside of the Church, unbaptized and unredeemed. He readily admits that they had their good qualities, but it was not enough. The rite of baptism is required for all who are accepted into the realm of Heaven. For those who died before Christ, these residents in Limbo failed to honor God as God and instead worshipped other gods or idols. They are thus condemned to remain without hope.

Essential Passage 3:

(The entire section is 1469 words.)