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Dante's Inferno Canto 3: Summary & Quotes

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  • 0:04 Up to This Point
  • 0:38 Entering the Gate
  • 1:27 Occupants Inside the Gate
  • 2:55 Crossing the River
  • 4:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erica Schimmel

Erica has taught college English writing and literature courses and has a master's degree in children's literature.

Every journey starts somewhere. For Dante, his journey is just beginning when he and Virgil have to enter the gate to hell in Dante's 'The Inferno.' Learn more in this lesson's summary with important quotes from Canto 3.

Up to This Point

What would get you to agree to a journey that included going through hell? For Dante in The Inferno, it all starts with a desire to climb a sunny mountain. He almost gives up when wild animals block his way, but then the ghost of Virgil saves the day by saying he could take him by an alternate route. Sounds pretty simple, but it turns out that alternate path includes literally walking through hell. When Virgil assures Dante that his love, Beatrice, is looking out for him, Dante feels uplifted and ready to start his journey. That brings us to Canto 3, in which the two journeyman take their first steps into hell.

Entering the Gate

Even as a visitor, it would be pretty intimidating to stand in front of the gate to hell like Dante is doing at the opening of Canto 3. The stone sign above the gate doesn't do much in the way of calming his nerves, either. Created by God before nearly anything else in existence, the gate's sign says: ''I am the way into the city of woe. I am the way to a forsaken people. I am the way into eternal sorrow.'' If that isn't intimidating enough, the final words on the sign bluntly state: ''Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.''

The sign makes Dante a bit nervous, but he also isn't sure he completely understands what it's saying. When he asks, Virgil tells him this is when he'll most need courage. Virgil has warned him they'd be coming here, to the place of ''the fallen people, souls who have lost the good of intellect.'' He offers Dante a smile and his hand to hold as they enter the gate.

Occupants Inside the Gate

Have you ever entered a really noisy place, like a school cafeteria or a little kid's birthday party? The noise level in one of these places is nothing compared to the loud sounds Dante gets hit with just inside the gate. Surrounding him, ''sighs and cries and wails coiled and recoiled on the starless air.'' He also hears: ''A confusion of tongues and monstrous accents toiled in pain and anger'' combined with ''voices hoarse and shrill and sounds of blows. . .'' These loud noises are even more overwhelming for Dante because they are so full of pain and anger. But who's making these noises?

Virgil describes the souls around them as the people ''whose lives concluded neither blame nor praise.'' There are also some ''angels who were neither for God nor Satan, but only for themselves'' tossed into the mix. None of these souls is wanted by either heaven or hell, and so they're stuck here, nameless and miserable with ''no hope of death.'' So, they aren't quite in the official hell, but they still have to endure some form of torture. Dante sees a ''banner'' that is endlessly ''circling and circling'' around in the air. The naked souls are all chasing this banner while blood from wasp and hornet stings drips off their bodies, only to be eaten by worms and maggots on the ground. When Dante sees a few familiar faces among the crowd, he realizes these people ''were of that retrograde and faithless crew hateful to God and to His enemies.'' These selfish beings never picked a side between good or evil, instead focusing only on themselves.

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