We have just concluded the journey on which Virgil takes his hero, Aeneas, through Hades with the Cumaean Sybil as his guide. Some 1300 years later, the Florentine Poet Dante Alighieri wrote the Divina Commedia, in which he makes a great metaphysical journey through the Christian Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. This journey too calls for a guide, and Dante chose Virgil, no doubt mainly on the strength of Aeneas’s underworld travels in Book 6 of the Aeneid.
In this extract near the beginning of Dante’s poem, he meets Virgil for the first time and acknowledges the poetic debt that he owes to him. As it opens, the narrator has become lost in a dark wood. He sees the sun light the top of a mountaintop before him. He attempts to climb it in the belief that the light will lead him home, but is confronted by three symbolic beasts – a leopard, a lion and a she-wolf – and has begun a hasty retreat. The reader is Daniel Servini.
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