Inferno

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The Journey Symbol Analysis

The Journey Symbol Icon
Dante's poem is heavily allegorical, which means that there are countless individual, minor symbols throughout the text that stand for larger ideas. However, one major symbol that recurs throughout the poem is the idea of the journey. The first line of the poem compares Dante's life to a road or path which Dante is halfway through. Thus, when Dante strays from the right path in the beginning of Canto 1, he has symbolically strayed from the right kind of life. His journey with Virgil through hell is both a physical journey toward heaven and a more allegorical journey of spiritual progress toward God and away from sin. Throughout hell, Dante often lingers to talk to souls or is delayed because of his pity and fear. When Virgil repeatedly encourages him to stay on the course of their journey, he is also, in a sense, telling Dante not to stray from virtuousness. Similarly, the various impediments that threaten to halt Dante's journey are not just physical barriers, but can be seen as agents of hell that threaten to keep Dante from a pious life. Dante's purposeful journey toward the destination of heaven can be contrasted with the aimless wandering and back-and-forth movement of many damned souls in hell. They have completely lost the path of righteousness and literally have no direction in the afterlife. Dante, by contrast, has the ultimate goal of heaven, which gives a purpose and direction to his wandering.

The Journey Quotes in Inferno

The Inferno quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Journey. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Sin, Justice, Pity and Piety Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of Inferno published in 1950.
Canto 1 Quotes

Midway this way of life we're bound upon,
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
Where the right road was wholly lost and gone.

Related Characters: Dante (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Journey, Light and Dark
Page Number: 1.1-3
Explanation and Analysis:

These are the opening lines of the Inferno. They describe how the speaker, Dante, is personally and spiritually lost—and in need of aid to right himself again.

This beginning is a classic example of a story “in medias res,” or that which commences mid-action without any preface. Instead of outlining the scene or his personal history, Dante places his reader immediately in the moment. Indeed, the phrasing highlights suddenness with the opening word “Midway” and the opening image “I woke”—both of which point to a rapid shift. Thus the text stumbles into its own first events without any orientation—much as the speaker Dante has lost “the right road” and has no clear route forward. The Inferno places reader and speaker in analogous situations of being lost.

It is worth digging into the specific way in which the speaker Dante has become lost. He casts it, first, as a crisis that has hit at a specific moment—“midway” in his life, which implies that his experience in the Inferno will seek to address this personal plight. The image of the “dark wood” takes the idea of being internally lost and makes it an external experience, while the “right road” can indicate both a geographical disorientation and also an ethical or spiritual uncertainty. Thus the opening lines of the Inferno establish a key theme in this work: an external geography and journey will be used as an allegory for an internal one. As Dante travels through the different circles of hell, he will address these corresponding moral and personal uncertainties.

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Canto 9 Quotes

So we stirred
Our footsteps citywards, with hearts reposed,
Safely protected by the heavenly word.

Related Characters: Dante (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Journey
Page Number: 9.103-105
Explanation and Analysis:

When Dante and Virgil first arrive in Dis, they are distraught at the resistance they meet from the Furies and other diabolical forces. After an angel clears the way, however, they proceed more confidently.

That Dante and Virgil stay “safely protected by the heavenly word” corroborates that their quest is sanctioned by God. More specifically, it shows that the heavens are taking an active stake in their journey as it proceeds, continuing to protect and to aid the travelers. The emphasis on “heavenly word” accents how this protection stems from language—God's word and the angel's word (which cleared the way to Dis), just as Dante has exalted his own poetic verse and Virgil harnesses speech to move various obstacles aside.

The scene at Dis also shows the innovative way Dante generates dramatic tension and suspense. This is a somewhat difficult task, for he must affirm God’s omnipotence, while also leaving sufficient textual obstacles to create a compelling narrative. As a solution, Dante will often describe events like this one at the gates of Dis: an evil creature surfaces who will be eventually dispelled by God, but first it is able to instill sufficient terror in Dante and Virgil to generate an emotional response. Thus Dante is able to maintain both his loyalty to religious doctrine and his commitment to crafting a well-wrought, suspenseful tale.

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The Journey Symbol Timeline in Inferno

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Journey appears in Inferno. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Canto 1
Sin, Justice, Pity and Piety Theme Icon
Individual Fame Theme Icon
This World vs. the Afterlife Theme Icon
...life, Dante wakes up in a dark forest, having lost his way from the right road. He does not know how he strayed from the road or how he arrived in... (full context)
Sin, Justice, Pity and Piety Theme Icon
...the mountain by wild beasts, and Virgil informs him that he must take a different path. He says that the wolf prevents anyone from passing, and will continue to do so... (full context)
Sin, Justice, Pity and Piety Theme Icon
Paganism vs. Christianity Theme Icon
This World vs. the Afterlife Theme Icon
Virgil says he will guide Dante on his journey. He says Dante will go through a terrible place with souls in torment, after which... (full context)
Canto 2
Sin, Justice, Pity and Piety Theme Icon
Paganism vs. Christianity Theme Icon
Individual Fame Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
It is now evening, as Dante begins his journey. As narrator, Dante invokes the muses and the personification of memory to help him recall... (full context)
Language Theme Icon
...blossoms in light. Dante says that he is now eager and resolved to begin his journey. He starts on the path, following behind his trusty guide Virgil. (full context)
Canto 3
This World vs. the Afterlife Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
...refusing to ferry across a living man. He tells Dante that this is not his path. But Virgil tells Charon that it is God's will for Dante to pass through hell... (full context)
Sin, Justice, Pity and Piety Theme Icon
...wrath, and that it is thus good that Charon told Dante this is not his path, as good souls do not come this way. Suddenly, there is a great earthquake, and... (full context)
Canto 7
Paganism vs. Christianity Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
...Roman mythology), who is hailing Satan. Virgil assures Dante that Pluto will not halt their journey, and he shouts at Pluto, telling him that it is willed by God for Virgil... (full context)
Paganism vs. Christianity Theme Icon
...Fortune does not hear their curses. Virgil tells Dante that they should continue on their journey. (full context)
Canto 8
This World vs. the Afterlife Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
...tells him not to worry and assures him that nothing can stop their divinely willed journey, and that he will not leave Dante alone. (full context)
Canto 9
Sin, Justice, Pity and Piety Theme Icon
...are "heresiarchs", leaders of heretical sects and their followers. The two poets continue on their journey, walking past the blazing tombs. (full context)