- How does the author portray your subject?
Dante portrays his journey on the road as ominous and dangerous. The very first Canto opens with “Midway upon the journey of our life/I found myself within a forest dark/ For the straightforward pathway had been lost.”
Forest paths are not known for being straight and orderly. Most tend to wander and meander despite appearing straight at the beginning, and if one is unfamiliar with the area it can be easy to get lost. Forests at night are uneasy at the best of times, and the one Dante is describing is strange. “Ah me! How hard a thing it is to say /What was this forest savage, rough, and stern / Which in the very thought renews the fear.”
- What does your subject represent in the story? How do you know? Give examples.
The road in this story is the path Dante must take to get to Heaven (“Mount Delectable”). He is blocked by a she-wolf, a jaguar, and a lion and runs for his life. In his flight he meets the ghost of the Roman poet Virgil, who says, “Thee it behooves to take another road,”/ responded he, when he beheld me weeping, / “If from this savage place thou wouldst escape / Because this beast, at which thou criest out / Suffers not anyone to pass he way, / But so doth harass him, that she destroys him.” ……. “Therefore I think and judge it for thy best / Thou follow me, and I will be they guide, / And lead thee hence through the eternal place.”
Dante is too afraid to confront the she-wolf and other beasts, which would likely kill him, and he’s too lost to return to the original path. The only way out of the savage forest is to follow Virgil through Hell (the ‘eternal place’), through Purgatory, and eventually to Heaven (where someone else will be his guide, since Virgil isn’t allowed that far.)
The story of Dante’s Divine Comedy as a whole is an extended allegory of man’s fall from grace (original sin) and his subsequent efforts to get to Heaven. ‘The straightforward pathway had been lost’ is when he first sinned and thus became unable to enter Heaven on his own. He is lost and at the mercy of the wild animals (traditionally representing fraud, pride, and greed).
The road through Hell (and eventually Purgatory) is Dante being purged of his sins and winning to Heaven, all while making note of those who were permanently lost.
- What is the meaning that the author is trying to portray?
The journey through Hell is not just a ‘get-up-and-go’ sort of journey. Dante is not assured safe passage; in fact, he is almost denied at the first obstacle because he’s still alive and not condemned by sin. The other ‘Lords of Hell’ are terrifying beasts and monsters and would have killed Dante if Virgil had not saved him.
(Almost eaten by Cerberus, turned to stone by Medusa, given wrong directions by Maledoctum….etc)
Roads from progress into wilderness are rarely safe, and not everyone makes it out alive or in one piece. Even individual preparation to the max may be insufficient without a guide to show the way. Some roads are not meant to be traveled alone.