Dante's Inferno Essential Passage by Theme: Sin
by Dante Alighieri

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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: Canto VIII

"O my lov'd guide! who more than seven times
Security hast render'd me, and drawn
From peril deep, whereto I stood expos'd,
Desert me not," I cried, "in this extreme.
And if our onward going be denied,
Together trace we back our steps with speed.”
My liege, who thither had conducted me,
Replied: "Fear not: for of our passage none
Hath power to disappoint us, by such high
Authority permitted. But do thou
Expect me here; meanwhile thy wearied spirit
Comfort, and feed with kindly hope, assur'd
I will not leave thee in this lower world.”


Dante, guided by Virgil, has successfully traversed Upper Hell, if not without pleasure, then at least without the fear of personal danger. The duo arrive at the gate to the City of Dis (Satan), which signifies the entrance to Lower Hell, the place where souls who have committed more grievous sins are punished. At the gate, however, a thousand...

(The entire section is 1,469 words.)