The Divine Comedy is composed of three canticas (Ital. pl. cantiche) — Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Paradise) — each consisting of 33 cantos (Ital. pl. canti). An initial canto serves as an introduction to the poem and is generally not considered to be part of the first cantica, bringing the total number of cantos to 100. The verse scheme used, terza rima, is hendecasyllabic (lines of eleven syllables), with the lines composing tercet. Metaphors and symbolism are found in every row. Dante wrote the Inferno after he was exiled in 1301, this made it possible for him to make accurate “predictions” about events which had already occurred, thus lending an aura of truth to his genuine prophecies. Dante begins his travel halfway of his life and in the first line of the Divina Commedia he says the central motif of his poem: it is the story of man’s pilgrimage to God.
The writer recounts that in the middle of his life, he found himself lost in a dark forest, having lost the right path while half asleep. Worried and frightened, he was comforted by the sight of a hill, the top of which was sunlit. However, when he tried to climb the hill to reach the top, he saw three savage animals, which blocked his way. The first important metaphor is the dark forest, which represents everything that Dante thought was wrong in 1300. This could include inner confusion and sin, political corruption, the absence of true authority, the bad behaviour of the Pope, etc. We can point out on the line 6 the word “fear”, which let us know that Dante is not an Hero, because its first representation about himself is connected with something in contrast with Heros. Dante’s character symbolise indeed the human being, with all its fears and worries.
Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
Ah me! How hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.
The three animals are the representation of the three most serious negative elements of Dante’s time. The leopard which symbolizes lust, the lion pride, and the she-wolf avarice.
And lo! Almost where the ascent began,
A panther light and swift exceedingly, Which with a spotted skin was covered o’er!
And never moved she from before my face, Nay, rather did impede so much my way, That many times I to return had turned.
The time was the beginning of the morning,
And up the sun was mounting with those stars
That with him were, what time the Love Divine
At first in motion set those beauteous things;
So were to me occasion of good hope, The variegated skin of that wild beast,
The hour of time, and the delicious season; But not so much, that did not give me fear A lion’s aspect which appeared to me.
He seemed as if against me he were coming With head uplifted, and with ravenous hunger,
So that it seemed the air was afraid of him;
And a she-wolf, that with all hungerings Seemed to be laden in her meagreness, And many folk has caused to live forlorn!
She brought upon me so much heaviness, With the affright that from her aspect came,
That I the hope relinquished of the height.
The other important character is Virgil. Dante-poet chooses Virgil, who was one of the most important Roman writers, because in truth it was his leadership literature.
This is the reason why during this trip Virgil-character will be the Dante’s guide. In fact, Virgil is without a doubt the reason of the human-being that proves sober, measured, resolute and wise.
During the trip several times in fact protect Dante from hostile demons and monsters, which are the bad elements that can come into our lives.
And is interesting to note that Dante-character and Dante-poet seem to consider different Virgil. Dante-character considers Virgil his mentor, always emphasizing his extreme confidence in him and his abandonment to his advice.
Dante-poet, however, makes use of Hell to prove their poetic greatness often making reference to the great classics, including, first and foremost, the Aeneid of Virgil.
We can understand this important meaning of Virgil-character in the following triplets of Canto I.
“O, of the other poets honour and light, Avail me the long study and great love That have impelled me to explore thy volume!
Thou art my master, and my author thou, Thou art alone the one from whom I took The beautiful style that has done honour to me.
Behold the beast, for which I have turned back;
Do thou protect me from her, famous Sage, For she doth make my veins and pulses tremble.”
After this introduction Dante and Virgil will begin their journey trough Hell, while they will compare each other about life’s complications, efforts and contradictions.