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Canto I. What is the "dark wood"? How did Dante get there? . How does Dante describe the “dark wood” he wakes to find himself in at the start of Canto I? What kind of place do you imagine from the way he describes it? Do these places still exist today?

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what is the dark wood how did dante get there
What is the "dark wood"? How did Dante get there?
  • How does Dante describe the “dark wood” he wakes to find himself in at the start of Canto I?
  • What kind of place do you imagine from the way he describes it? Do these places still exist today?
  • What are the modern “dark woods”? Who are the people you know or know of who seem lost in a modern “darkwood”?
what s the significance of dante waking up halfway through the course of his life
What's the significance of Dante "waking up" HALFWAY through the course of his life?
  • A time when you've had a chance to make lots of choices, and you've made a lot of bad ones
  • A time when you've begun to realize your mortality, which is scary
  • A time when you may panic: "I've got to change my life!"
why is this section like a hangover
Why is this section like a hangover?
  • A state of confusion!!
  • Shame
  • Loss of control
  • Can't undo what he's already done; he's here and he can't "put the toothpaste back in the tube"-he doesn't even fully remember what he's done
  • Stupor
  • Despite his confusion, he's stuck dealing with the consequences: he's lost
symbolic archetypical elements
Symbolic/archetypical elements



Three beasts


Sample AP test

questions from


canto ii

Question of the day:

How is Dante characterized in Canto II?

Canto II


The two men have talked all day and Dante is getting ready for the night…he’s a little afraid.

He asks Virgil why he was chosen for this journey and is he man enough.

Day was departing, and the embrowned airReleased the animals that are on earthFrom their fatigues; and I the only oneMade myself ready to sustain the war,Both of the way and likewise of the woe,Which memory that errs not shall retrace.O Muses, O high genius, now assist me!O memory, that didst write down what I saw,Here thy nobility shall be manifest!And I began: "Poet, who guidest me,Regard my manhood, if it be sufficient,Ere to the arduous pass thou dost confide me.


He compares himself to Aeneas and Paul, both of whom traveled in a divine realm

What’s the effect of Dante comparing himself to Aeneas (a great Roman epic hero) and Paul (a Christian hero)?

“I not Aeneas am, I am not Paul,

Nor I, nor others, think me worthy of it.

Beatrice am I, who do bid thee go;I come from there, where I would fain return;Love moved me, which compelleth me to speak.

Virgil’s soul is in Limbo when a lady with beautiful eyes asks him to help her friend who is lost.

She asks Virgil because he can be very persuasive.


Question of the day:

How is Dante characterized in Canto II?


Virgil asks Beatrice why she came from Heaven?

Beatrice responds that God has arranged it so that the misery of Hell cannot affect her.

God in his mercy such created me

That misery of yours attains me not,

Nor any flame assails me of this burning

A gentle Lady is in Heaven, who grievesAt this impediment, to which I send thee,So that stern judgment there above is broken.In her entreaty she besought Lucia,And said, "Thy faithful one now stands in needOf thee, and unto thee I recommend him."

The Virgin Mary herself is so upset by Dante’s predicament that she cried buckets for him and then sent for her very best friend, St. Lucia, to carry her message. Beatrice, even though she loves Dante, cannot possibly do anything for him since she’s a woman, so she brings the message down to the decidedly male Virgil.


Virgil then explains that he came to rescue Dante, as Beatrice asked, just in time to save him from the beasts (leopard and lion)


Then Dante begins to brag about his own power over words by comparing himself to drooping flowers that straighten out once touched by sunlight.

Virgil and Dante get hyped and enter into Hell.

Even as the flowerets, by nocturnal chill,

Bowed down and closed, when the sun whitens them,

Uplift themselves all open on their stems;

I entered on the deep and savage way.

What simile is used to emphasize Dante’s reaction when he hears that his beloved Beatrice is interested in helping him?

Notice, again, the emotional rollercoaster ride; as he sets out, he’s blooming and full of confidence (much like the end of Canto I). Is he able to sustain this feeling?


Question of the day:

How is Dante characterized in Canto II?

grammar check
Grammar check
  • 1. Dante became lost in the woods, was threatened by three animals and he felt overcome with fear.
  • 2. The leopard represents malice, the lion represents violence, unchecked passions are symbolized by the she-wolf.
  • 3. Dante was terrified of the dark wood, the three beasts, and to see the swarming insects.
  • 4. Virgil is a symbol of reason and Beatrice has the function of representing divine love.
typical canto structure
Typical canto structure
  • Description of the area
  • Demon threatens/Virgil protects
  • Description of "sin"
  • Interaction with "sinners"
  • Transition to next area

By becoming attuned to this underlying structure, we become more able to notice interesting, subtle changes or differences within it, and it's these small (and big) variations which often help us identify key developments in character and theme.


Dante and Virgil stop to look in awe at the Hellgate, on which encouraging words like "ABANDON EVERY HOPE, [YOU] WHO ENTER HERE" appear..

“ Through me the way is to the city dolent;Through me the way is to eternal dole;Through me the way among the people lost.Justice incited my sublime Creator;Created me divine Omnipotence,The highest Wisdom and the primal Love.Before me there were no created things,Only eterne, and I eternal last.All hope abandon, ye who enter in!"

  • Read the inscription over the Gate very carefully. What does it tell you about this place?

These words in sombrecolour I beheldWritten upon the summit of a gate;Whence I: "Their sense is, Master, hard to me!"And he to me, as one experienced:"Here all suspicion needs must be abandoned,All cowardice must needs be here extinct.We to the place have come, where I have told theeThou shalt behold the people dolorousWho have foregone the good of intellect."And after he had laid his hand on mineWith joyful mien, whence I was comforted,

  • Dante tells Virgil he doesn’t understand the inscription.
  • Virgil, in his sage way, doesn’t really answer Dante’s question, but tells him to be brave. He also describes Hell’s sinners as people who have "lost the good of the intellect.“
    • Dante asks Virgil to explain the inscription—notice the nature of their “teacher/pupil” relationship.

There sighs, complaints, and ululations loudResounded through the air without a star,Whence I, at the beginning, wept thereat.Languages diverse, horrible dialects,Accents of anger, words of agony,And voices high and hoarse, with sound of hands,Made up a tumult that goes whirling onFor ever in that air for ever black,Even as the sand doth, when the whirlwind breathes.

Why does Virgil instruct Dante to leave his fear and his distrust behind?

Notice how Dante is reduced to weeping just as soon as he passes the Gate? What is he reacting to? What does his reaction tell you about him?

  • Dante’s first impression of Hell: it’s noisy. It’s full of "strange utterances, horrible pronouncements, / accents of anger, words of suffering, / and voices shrill and faint, and beating hands…"
  • Horrified, Dante asks Virgil who these people are that scream so loudly.
  • Virgil explains that they’re neutrals, people who failed to choose either good or evil in their lifetimes and so are condemned to exist in a place that is neither really Heaven nor Hell. It’s called Limbo. The "coward angels" are here too – those that sided with neither God nor Lucifer in the great battle that created the Devil.

Forthwith I comprehended, and was certain,That this the sect was of the caitiff wretchesHateful to God and to his enemies.These miscreants, who never were alive,Were naked, and were stung exceedinglyBy gadflies and by hornets that were there.These did their faces irrigate with blood,Which, with their tears commingled, at their feetBy the disgusting worms was gathered up.And when to gazing farther I betook me.

While sightseeing, Dante notices the neutrals’ punishment: various insects sting their naked bodies, irritating them and making them run around in big circles under a long banner.

Dante is blown away by the sheer number of them; in other words, there are a LOT of neutrals.

How does the punishment of the Neutrals seem to fit their crime?


Dante sees a huge crown of people gathering at the river, and he asks Virgil why they are so eager to cross.

Virgil tells him to pump his breaks - he will find out soon enough.

Why doesn’t Virgil answer him? Isn’t he

the teacher, the guide? Why does Dante feel so abashed? Is this a rift in their relationship?


An old guy in a boat come up and basically says, __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

What happens between the old man and Virgil? What is the outcome?

Look closely at the spectacular simile Dante uses to describe the movement of sinners toward Charon’s ferry.

As in the autumn-time the leaves fall off,First one and then another, till the branchUnto the earth surrenders all its spoils;In similar wise the evil seed of AdamThrow themselves from that margin one by one,At signals, as a bird unto its lure.So they depart across the dusky wave,And ere upon the other side they land,Again on this side a new troop assembles.

Is there anything striking

about his use of these two images?


Dante faints.

Why do you think he was overwhelmed?