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Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy

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Divine Comedy

Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy is said to be the single greatest epic poem of all time. The opening story of the character of Dante the Pilgrim is told in the first of the three divisions: The Inferno. The Inferno is a description of Dante’s journey down through Hell and of the several degrees of suffering and many mythical creatures that he encounters on the way. Throughout his travel Dante displays many different feelings and actions but the emotion that summarizes the entire poem is fear. While some of his character traits change as his mind matures and acknowledges the justice being carried out, from the very beginning until the final Canto, his fear does not subside. This does well to reinforce the symbolism of Dante as Everyman and serves to direct the reader to the moral purpose of Divine Comedy, because of the humility and dependence upon God that fear produces. In the first Canto, which serves as an introduction to the entire comedy, Dante encounters the three beasts which impede his progress out of the dark woods. Coming upon the She-Wolf he writes: "This last beast brought my spirit down so low / with fear that seized me at the sight of her, / lost all hope of going up the hill" (I.52-54). Dante is so shaken by the appearances of the three beasts that he rushes headlong into the dark woods he has just come out of. This is only the first obstacle Dante encounters, but it proves an insurmountable one.

When Dante and Virgil reach the gate of Hell, Dante is overcome with fear upon reading the inscription above the gate and hearing the screams and lamentations of those inside. He reacts to the inscription by crying out, " ‘Master,’ I said, ‘these words I see are cruel.’ " (III.12). By this he shows his fear of the unknown because he does not yet know exactly what he will witness during his descent. One of Dante’s truest display of fear occurs upon reaching the vile City of Dis. When the "fallen angels" deny the travelers access through the city, Virgil, usually unflappable, even appears shaken up. Understandably, this does not help Dante’s nerves at all. He actually makes a side comment to the reader declaring the terror he felt after the angels had defied Virgil’s request saying: "And now, my reader, consider how I felt / when those foreboding words came to my ears! / I thought I’d never see our world again!" (VIII.
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