Dante was traveling. He was walking the path of life. He had already reached the halfway point and was about to embark on the final leg of his journey.
Suddenly he got lost. He inadvertently strayed from the path and wandered hopelessly in a forest that was as dark as sin.
After many horrible experiences in this terrifying forest, Dante encountered a spiritual joy. He came to a mountain illuminated by the rays of the beneficent sun. It was steep, but Dante realized that this mountain was the source of all joy, so he began the arduous ascent.
On the way, he encountered a ferocious leopard. Worse yet, a hungry lion blocked his path. Then a wicked wolf appeared. This vicious beast frustrated Dante’s desire to partake of the delights of the mountain. The struggling poet gradually lost ground, until he was engulfed by the sinister forest once more.
In the darkness, Dante saw a possibly sinister figure. He begged for mercy.
To his relief, it was the spirit of Virgil, a poet whom Dante deeply admired and from whom he had learned to write with an excellent style. Virgil asked Dante why he had returned to the forest instead of continuing to climb to the summit of the delightful mountain.
In reply, Dante explained the difficulties that he had encountered. He asked Virgil to help him.
Virgil understood the situation. He knew the ways of the wolf, who would continue to prey on helpless stragglers until the time when the greyhound would come and kill it. He suggested that Dante alter his plans and escape the dark forest by a different route. Virgil himself would be Dante’s guide.
The journey that Virgil proposed would not be easy. Together they would pass through the dreadful circles of hell. Then they would climb the terraces of Mount Purgatory. When they reached the summit of this august mountain, Virgil would have to leave Dante, but someone else would guide him through the celestial realms. At the end of his journey, Dante would see God.
Without hesitation, Dante accepted the suggestion of the ancient poet. They immediately started on their journey, with Virgil leading the way.
I used a little imagination when writing the foregoing narration, but it is reasonably true to Dante’s text. It is based on his original Italian.
There is obviously a lot of allegory in the first canto of Dante’s Inferno. I’ll let you figure it out for yourselves.
This epic journey is supposed to take place in the year 1300 when Dante was thirty-five years old. He wrote that this was the midpoint of his life. As it turned out, he did not reach his allotted three score and ten years. He died in 1321.
“The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri”; “Inferno”; Italian text with verse translation by Allen Mandelbaum