Inferno, the poem, begins on Holy Thursday of the year 1300, a significant holiday, "In the middle of our life's journey" (Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita), and so opens in medias res. Dante is thirty-five years old, half of the biblically alloted age of 70 (Psalm 90:10), lost in a dark wood (allegorically, contemplating suicide--as "wood" is figured in canto 13), assailed by beasts (allegorically, sins) he cannot evade, and unable to find the "straight way" (diritta via) to salvation. Conscious that he is ruining himself, that he is falling into a "deep place" (basso loco) where the sun is silent ('l sol tace), Dante is at last rescued by Virgil after his love Beatrice intercedes on his behalf (Canto 2), and he and Virgil begin their journey to the underworld.Colin Samuels, himself in the middle of life's journey, commenced writing his magnum opus blog in his 35th year. For more personal insight into next week's host of Blawg Review #35, you may glean what you might from this and this, or maybe even this.All hope abandon, ye who enter in!"
These words in sombre colour I beheld
Written 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 thee
Thou shalt behold the people dolorous
Who have foregone the good of intellect."
And after he had laid his hand on mine
With joyful mien, whence I was comforted,
He led me in among the secret things.
There sighs, complaints, and ululations loud
Resounded 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 on
For ever in that air for ever black,
Even as the sand doth, when the whirlwind breathes.
And I, who had my head with horror bound,
Said: "Master, what is this which now I hear?
What folk is this, which seems by pain so vanquished?"
And he to me: "This miserable mode
Maintain the melancholy souls of those
Who lived withouten infamy or praise.
Dante and Virgil enter the Gate of Hell, on which is inscribed the famous phrase, "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate" or "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here" and first pass through the Vestibule of the Oppurtunists, containing those whose actions and characters were so insignificant and indecisive that they do not deserve to be counted in Heaven or Hell: they are forever chasing after a whirling pennant and being stung by wasps (Canto 3). Then Dante and Virgil are ferried across the river Acheron by Charon to Hell proper.