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: 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.
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.