Inferno, Canto I, Maundy Thursday Night

Me, reading the first nine lines of Inferno

Midway this life we’re bound upon,

I woke to find myself in a dark wood,

Where the right road was wholly lost and gone.

Ay me! how hard to speak of it–that rude

And rough and stubborn forest! the mere breath

Of memory stirs the old fear in the blood;

It is so bitter, it goes nigh to death;

Yet there I gained such good, that, to convey

The tale, I’ll write what else I found therewith.

Dante Alighieri

So begins one of the greatest epic poems of all time. This isn’t just a story of a man who loses his way and then goes off into a flight of Medieval Catholic fantasy. This isn’t just a story for Christians, although it was almost certainly written for a totally Christian audience. It’s a story for all of us.

It’s been said before, you are never too old to “make it.” Dante makes that clear enough here. He’s at least 35 in the Comedy. You could say it’s a “mid-life crisis.” His youth is gone and he’s lived long enough to see a bit of the world and know how horrible it can be.

He’s lived and he’s watched his life fall apart. When his entire life should have been on track, his personal and professional goals should have been in reach, he finds himself lost.

And having to start over again.

Notice that he still is hurt by the memory. He didn’t just “get over it.” The memory of the wood and his being lost in it still hurts him. Now that is something I personally find comforting. Too often we feel ashamed for not being able to just let go of past hurts.

Dante is giving us permission to still feel hurt. However, he recognizes that good came of his experience.

Can we do the same? Can we still hurt and yet know good came of it?

Good questions to ponder.

Below, you’ll find the first part of the timeline for today and tomorrow morning. Please note that I have given you suggestions for the Spotify playlist to go along with these entries. Later on, there will be journal prompts too. I’m currently working on providing a fully PDF download of all the timelines.

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3 thoughts on “Inferno, Canto I, Maundy Thursday Night

  1. Great blog post! Dante’s story truly resonates with me and I appreciate how you brought out the fact that it’s not just a story for Christians.

    My question is, what other life lessons do you think we can learn from Dante’s experience in the dark wood and how can we apply them in our daily lives? Thanks for sharing!

    Let’s stay ready!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting. I’m so glad Dante resonates with you and that you appreciate part of my mission on this blog! So often I hear people dismissing some of the classics out of hand just because they’re “Christian.”

      The irony, of course, is that most Christians dismiss writers like Dante because they’re “Catholic” Christians. Even more ironic is that most of those nasty medieval “Catholics” had better brains than most people alive today. They weren’t the superstitious simpletons we’re so fond of painting them as. Nor were they the mindless sycophants of a sinister, overbearing church. Those existed, but they exist in every age.

      So, I take the old, the forgotten (even forgotten by the Catholic Church) and try to breathe new life into them. Jesus Christ said it best himself when he told the parable of the wedding feast. If the people you intend something wonderful for won’t have any of it, then you have to go to the people who will grab it by both hands and enjoy it.

      Virgil perhaps is the one other significant lesson we can learn in the dark wood. If we look at him as a type of bibliotherapy, then the dark wood teaches us the power of the really great art and literature of the world and why they matter to a world that increasingly craves a never-ending present over and above anything else.

      Virgil by Dante’s time, was already a classic. He’d inspired the Roman Empire, and he inspired medieval kings, writers, and thinkers. Even the great legends of King Arthur tie back into Virgil’s work (see my post on Geoffrey of Monmouth). He wasn’t irrelevant just because he’d lived over 1000 years in the past. Medieval people saw no reason to revise Virgil to make him more “relevant.” They may have cast him in a role as a proto-Christian allegorist, but they didn’t essentially change him.

      He appears to Dante exactly as he is, as limited as he is, and it’s only when Dante grows into true virtue in purgatory that he can fully appreciate both Virgil’s strengths and shortcomings. Great art and great literature aren’t perfect, but they have something in them that power to move us out of our own limited and feeble attempts to set our lives straight. Why do you think all sides like to attack the great works?

      If you look at great art and read great literature and have the will to understand them, then you can’t stay trapped in the dark wood. You’d have to be monumentally stubborn. And minds that can’t stay trapped are harder to control. You’ll have some people say this is wrong. But as you move on into Purgatory, you’ll find out just how right it is. Free minds that can choose virtue freely and truly without coercion are more whole.

      Hope this answers your questions, if only partially. I have another post that goes into a specific encounter Dante and Virgil have in the Dark Wood that may also give you something to think about!

      Thanks again for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I couldn’t agree with you more, especially as a Christian. But being a Christian metaphysician, the same extremely narrow-minded zealots that look on the very same classic works of art and literature that were spawned by the religion they claim to be a part of, cast the same judgey eyes at the underlying mystical roots that helped spawn their own religion. And so, I am not generally acknowledged as Christian by my fellow Christians. Sigh.

        Oh, well.

        But I am deeply concerned with this idea of rewriting classics in the name of so-called relevancy, but even more so in the name of removing “offensive” language and scenes. Offensive of course to our modern ears and consciousness, but very good to always be able to see what we have grown out of.

        Why do all sides do this now? I think for two reasons. First, VERY VERY poor education, most especially an education in history. People who don’t know or understand history cannot appreciate how a work came to be what it is, and are therefore so much more likely to want to see it changed… or torn down.

        Secondly, pure jealousy and much of that jealousy born out of having no relationship or belief in God, As a culture, especially in the Zoomer generation, they have become quite lazy about paying the price to develop the skills necessary to create great art or literature of their own. They want instant, and now they really even think AI can start doing the work of writing a moving novel or creating an art masterpiece for them. They can only feel this way or belief such things because they have no true understanding of the Source of all great art and of themselves, which is God. If they knew this, they would feel no threat and instead be willing to do the work to make themselves the strongest channel they can be to bring through God’s original and glorious inspirations. He can inspire them with the Mona Lisa of their time, but if they lack the skills to paint and have never studied the masters before them, try as they might, they will not be able to make that vision a reality.

        Kiddo Elliott

        Liked by 1 person

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