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Canto 2

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Canto 2 of Dante Alighieri's epic poem Inferno.

Inferno | Canto 2 | Summary

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Summary

It is now evening. Dante calls upon the Muses to help him remember and express what he has seen. Concerned about the journey ahead, he begins to have second thoughts. He asks Virgil if he can really travel into "the deathless world" in his living body. Virgil replies that Dante's cowardice is a distraction. Then he reassures Dante by explaining that Beatrice, whom Dante loves and who now resides in Heaven, had learned from two other blessed women, St. Lucia and a "gentle lady" (who is probably the Virgin Mary), that Dante had gone astray and had asked Virgil to help him. Encouraged by this news, Dante overcomes his reluctance and advances on the path toward the gates of Hell.

Analysis

As darkness falls, Dante notes that he alone is preparing for "battle" while the rest of the world prepares to rest. He also gives readers a preview of one very important part of his journey: pity, which he suggests is part of the battle he faces. Dante's pity will be an important feature of Inferno.

One of Dante's worries in this canto is the fact that he is going to the afterlife in his physical body while others are there as shades, or spirits, without their bodies. He believes that the spirits of those who die enter the afterlife without their bodies and that, at a later time, they will rejoin their resurrected bodies. He is reassured by Virgil, but the fact that Dante has a body—one that has mass and breathes air, for example—is another detail that comes up time and time again throughout the poem. Images of Dante knocking things over, causing boats to sit low in the water, and so on are found throughout. Through these images the physicality of the human condition is emphasized. In comparing himself unfavorably to Aeneas and Paul (St. Paul, author of the New Testament), Dante makes himself closer to the reader, casting himself as an ordinary man, not a hero or great leader.

Dante often uses elaborate similes to describe how he feels. In this canto, he describes the rush of courage that Virgil's description of Beatrice brings about in him using the simile "As little flowers, which the chill of night/has bent and huddled, when the white sun strikes,/grow straight an open fully on their stems." This lovely simile changes the mood from dark and ominous to hopeful, and it is this hope that allows Dante to fully commit to the journey.

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