Another pervasive symbol throughout The Inferno is the binary of light and dark. Hell is, of course, associated with darkness. Dante often remarks on the darkness of hell and how some areas of hell are completely devoid of light. God and heaven, on the other hand, are associated with light. (There is some light in hell, but it is generally not the result of God's brightness, but rather of burning fires that cause pain and suffering.) The first thing that Dante notices when he finally exits hell is the sight of the stars in the sky, which he could not see underground, symbolizing that he has returned from the dark world of sin. But beyond its associations with evil, darkness can also represent a kind of uncertainty, since one cannot see clearly in the dark. In the eighth circle of hell, for example, Dante first thinks the giants are towers, because his sight is impaired by the darkness. Thus, when the poem opens in a dark forest, this does not necessarily mean that Dante is in a place of sin (though it may also carry this association), but especially means that Dante is in an uncertain, unknown place. He is in a state of mental confusion matched by his inability to see clearly in the forest. He tries to climb the mountain in the beginning of the poem because he sees the light of the sun shining over it, promising some kind of knowledge or clarity. However, as Virgil informs him, he must come to the light through a more difficult path, one full of darkness.
Light and Dark Quotes in Inferno
The Inferno quotes below all refer to the symbol of Light and Dark. 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: Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer 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.
Canto 16 Quotes
So may thy soul these many years abide
Housed in thy body, and the after-light
Of fame shine long behind thee.
Related Characters: Guido Guerra, Tegghiaio Aldobrandi, and Jacopo Rusticucci (speaker), Dante
Related Symbols: Light and Dark
Page Number and Citation:
Explanation and Analysis:
Light and Dark Symbol Timeline in Inferno
The timeline below shows where the symbol Light and Dark appears in Inferno. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
...seriously upset with him, Dante follows him forward. Dante can hardly see anything in the darkness, but hears a loud horn that makes thunder seem quiet by comparison. Dante thinks that... (full context)