It is now the evening of Good Friday, as the two poets approach the entrance to Hell. But Dante wonders if he is truly worthy to make the journey: He recalls that Aeneas, and also St. Paul, made the journey, and he feels unworthy to be included in this noble group: "I am not Aeneas, nor am I Paul," and Dante is apprehensive.
Virgil reproves Dante for being afraid and assures him that there is great concern for him among angelic spirits, mainly Beatrice, Dante's beloved, who is now in Heaven. Virgil relates how the Virgin Mary's messenger, St. Lucia, sent Beatrice to instruct Virgil to help Dante rediscover the "Right Path" from the Dark Woods. Virgil says that Beatrice wept as she pleaded, and Virgil eagerly obeyed her instructions and rescued Dante, so they are ready to begin their journey.
Virgil tells Dante to have courage always because the three ladies of Heaven — Virgin Mary, St. Lucia, and Beatrice — all care for him. Dante is reassured and tells Virgil to lead on and he will follow.
As noted in the last Analysis, this is the introduction to the Inferno. In later parts, the Purgatorio and the Paradiso, Dante will invoke Christian deities to help him, but here he does not invoke them concerning Hell. Instead, he turns to the classical Muses, to Genius, and to Memory.
In his short invocation, he mentions two others who have gone before him, Aeneas and St. Paul. They represent Dante's two great concerns: the papacy and the empire. This preoccupation with the papacy and the empire will continue throughout the entire Inferno.
Note that the name of the Virgin Mary is by periphrasis — that is, her name is never mentioned directly. Neither will the name of Jesus ever be mentioned in this unholy place — only by allusion. And while Beatrice is mentioned in Line 103, she is never mentioned by name again.
Muses the nine goddesses who preside over literature and the arts and sciences.
father of Sylvius Aeneas.
Apostolate the office, duties, or peroid of activity of an apostle.
Aeneas hero of the Aeneid, written by Virgil.
Paul St. Paul; (original name Saul) died c. 67 a.d.; a Jew of Tarsus who became the Apostle of Christianity to the Gentiles; author of several letters in the New Testament.
Limbo in some Christian theologies, the eternal abode or state, neither Heaven nor Hell, of the souls of infants or others dying in original sin but free of grievous personal sin; or, before the coming of Christ.
Seraphim any of the highest order of angels, above the cherubim.
Lady in Heaven Virgin Mary.
Lucia St. Lucia, messenger of the Virgin Mary, patron saint of eyesight; here, represents Divine Light.
Rachel an Old Testament figure; here, she is said to represent Contemplative Life.
Beatrice Dante's childhood and lifelong love and future guide through Paradise.