Dante starts out on his journey
When I had traveled half of life's course, I woke to find myself in a dark wilderness with no clear path in sight. It's still hard for me to describe how fierce, dense and deep that wilderness was. Just thinking of it recalls a fear so bitter that death seems hardly worse. Yet good befell me in that place, and to tell of that, I'll speak of other things I found there
I can't really say how I came to be in that wood, I was too overcome with sleep when I wandered off the right path. But when I got to the foot of a hill,at the end of the vale which had struck terror through my heart, and looked up at it, I saw that the rays of the sun which guides people rightly by every road had begun clothing its shoulders. Then the fears that had pooled deep in my heart during that piteous night, subsided a little. And like a gasping swimmer, who, after escaping the ocean and setting foot on shore, turns back to stare at the treacherous waters, so my mind, still bent on flight, turned back to look at that vale from which no one had ever emerged alive.
I rested my weary body for a while then resumed my way up a desert slope in such a way that my lower foot was always the firmer, when there, just before the ascent steepened, stood a leopard, looking lithe and very fleet in its spotted coat. Not only didn't it leave on seeing me, but it blocked my way, so that I turned back several times.
It was early morning and the sun was rising higher along with the stars that were with it, when Divine Love first moved those things of beauty. So that the time of day and the gentleness of the season gave me reason to hope for good from that gaily mottled beast. But not so much that I wasn't frightened at seeing a lion appear. It seemed to be coming toward me with its head high and roaring so with hunger that it made the air tremble. Then a she-wolf appeared, whose leanness bespoke every appetite and all the lives to which she'd brought despair. The sight of her weighed upon me with such fear that I lost hope of ever reaching the mountain top. Like someone thrilled to have been winning, who, when he must face losing, weeps and grieves, my every thought was a lament as that restless beast forced me slowly, step by step, back to where the sun is silent.
And while I retreated into the depth, someone long silent, appeared dimly to me. Seeing him in that vast wilderness, I shouted, "Whatever you are, shade or man, have pity on me."
"I am not a man," he answered, "though once I was. My parents were Lombards, both of them, born in Mantua. I was born under Julius, though late in his reign, and lived under the good Augustus in Rome in the era of false and lying gods.
I was a poet and sang of that just son of Anchise who came from Troy after proud Ilium burned. But why are you walking back toward so much misery? Why aren't you climbing the mountain of delight, the source and cause of every joy?"
"Then you are Virgil, that fountain that pours forth so large a stream of speech?" I said, timidly. "Oh, glory and light of all other poets. May the long study and great love that made me plumb your works, serve me now. You are my master and my author. From you, and you alone, I took the fair style that has brought me honor. You see the beast that made me turn back. Help me counter her, oh famous sage. She makes my blood and pulses tremble."
"You will have to take another path if you want to escape this wilderness," he said on seeing my tears, "for this beast causing you to lament, never allows anyone to pass her, but besets all to the point of death. Her nature is so evil and malicious that her greed and wants are never satisfied. After a meal she is hungrier than before. She mates with many creatures and will go on doing so until the coming of the Greyhound, who will kill her painfully. He will not feed on land and riches, but on wisdom, love and virtue. He will be born between two Feltros, and will be the salvation of that low Italy, for which Eurialo, Turno, Niso, and the virgin Cammilla suffered wounds and died. He will pursue that beast through every town until he drives her back into Hell from which envy first sent her. For now, in my judgment, I think it best that you follow me. I will be your guide and lead you out of here through an eternal place, where you will hear desperate shrieks and see ancient suffering spirits, all of them lamenting their second death. And you will see those who are content within the fire because they are hoping for the day, whenever it may come, that they will rise to be among the blessed. And if later you want to ascend to them too, a spirit more worthy than I will guide you. I will leave you with her when I depart. The Emperor who reigns above doesn't wish me to enter His city since I never complied with His laws. His Empire is everywhere, but that is his Kingdom. There is His city and His high throne. Oh, happy are those he chooses to be there."
And I said, "Poet, I beg you in the name of that God whom you do not know, to help me escape this evil and even worse. Take me to the place you just described that I might see St. Peter's Gate and those whom you say are so filled with woe."
Then he set out and I followed him.
Canto IIThe day was ending and the dark air releasing earth's creatures from their labors. I, alone readied myself to withstand the strife of the journey and of the pity which memory will unerringly recount.Oh muses, oh high genius, now help me. Oh memory that recorded what I saw, now will your excellence be known."Poet, who will guide me," I began, "Before you entrust me to this great course, look to see if my virtues suffice. You say that Silvius' father, while still corruptible, entered the world of the immortals and was there with all his senses. To a knowing man, it doesn't seem unwont for the Enemy of all Evil to have so favored him, considering who and what he was, and the great things that would come from him. For he was chosen by Empyrean heaven to be the father of noble Rome and of her empire. Both of which, to speak the truth, were created to be the holy place and seat of the successor of great Peter. And by this journey, which you ascribe to him, he learned of the things that were to bring him victory and the papal mantle. Later the Chosen Vessel went there too, to bring back confirmation of that faith which is the beginning of the road to salvation. But why should I go there? And who allows it? I am not Aeneas. I am not Paul. Neither I, nor others think me worthy of that. Therefore, if I yield and come on this journey, I fear the venture would be madness. You are wise and understand better than I can explain."And just as someone who unwills what he willed, and with fresh thoughts changes his plans so that he retreats completely from his first intentions, so did I, with my thinking on that dark hillside, pick apart the enterprise which had begun so quickly."If I have understood you rightly," that noble shade replied, "your spirit is beset by cowardice which often encumbers men and turns them away from honorable endeavors, even as illusions cause beasts to shy. To allay your fear I will tell you why I am here and what I heard at the very moment I first felt compassion for you."I was among those who are suspended, when so saintly and beautiful a woman called out to me, that I entreated to serve at her command. Her eyes shone more brightly than stars, and speaking her own language she addressed me softly and gently in an angelic voice.'Oh, courtly Mantuan spirit, whose fame still endures and will endure as long as the world will last, a friend of mine, though not a friend of fortune, who is journeying on a deserted hillside finds the way so barred to him that he has turned back in terror. From what I have been told in Heaven, I fear that he is already so far astray that I may be too late coming to his aid.. Go now, and with your eloquent speech, and all else that may be required for his survival, and help him so that I may be consoled. I am Beatrice, who sends you. I come from a place to which I long to return. Love, it is, which moved me and compels me to speak. And when I appear before my Lord I shall often praise you to Him.' Then she was silent and I resumed speaking."Oh virtuous Lady, through whom alone the human race surpasses everything beneath that Heaven with the smallest spheres, your command so pleases me that had I already obeyed it, it would seem late. It is enough that you declare your will to me. But tell me why you are not wary of coming down into this center from the spacious place where you long to return."'Since you have such a deep desire to know, I will tell you briefly why I am not afraid to enter this place," she replied. 'One need only fear those things that have the power to do harm.. Nothing else is fearful. I have been so made by God's grace, that your suffering does not affect me, nor am I harmed by the flames of this fire."A gentle lady in heaven feels such compassion for this difficulty toward which I am sending you, that she has broken the stern judgment made up there. It was she who called upon Lucia and said, 'Now your faithful one needs you and I commend him to you.''Lucia, enemy of all cruelty, responded by coming to where I was sitting with venerable Rachel and said, 'Beatrice, true praise of God, why do you not save him, who loves you so, and who forsook the vulgar throng for you? Do you not hear the suffering in his cries, do you not see the death against which he is struggling on a torrent, treacherous as the sea?''No one in the world was ever quicker to seek her own good, or to flee from harm than I after she had uttered those words. I came down here from my blessed seat, confident of your noble speech which so honors you and those who have heard it.'"When she had explained this to me, her eyes glistened with tears and she turned away, which made me hasten here all the faster. And I came to you as she wished me to, and saved you from the savage beast that kept you from the short way up the fair mountain."So, what is it? Why, why do you not move? Why does your heart harbor so much cowardice? Why aren't you bold and confident when there are three blessed women in Heaven's Court who care about you, and my words promise you so much good?"Just as tiny flowers, drooped and closed by night's chill, stand straight and open on their stems when the sun brightens them, so did my weak spirit change. And such warm ardor rushed into my heart that I began as one set free. "Oh, compassionate she, who saved me, and courtly you, who responded so quickly to the true words she spoke to you. With your own words you have so filled my heart with the desire to move, that I have returned to my first intent. Now onward, for we are of a single will. You are my guide, my master and my teacher."All this I said to him.And when he set out, I entered upon the steep and savage path.