The entrance to Dante's underworld is situated somewhere in a dark forest:

Midway in the journey of our life
I came to myself in a dark wood,
for the straight way was lost.

Ah, how hard it is to tell
the nature of that wood, savage, dense and harsh --
the very thought of it renews my fear!

It is so bitter death is hardly more so.
But to set forth the good I found
I will recount the other things I saw

Canto I, Divina Commedia, edited by Giorgio Petrocchi and published by Mondadori

Dante often references classical works, and I wonder if this imagery was inspired by a Greco-Roman tale. A forest entrance to Hades, for example.

  • 1
    It was probably inspired by the fact forests in Middle Age was not our modern forests. They was dense and dark, haunted with wildlife, including wolves, and potential robbers. We have some old examples of people in middle age spending a night in forest alone and not enjoying it whatsoever. You can check here on Wikipedia what happened to young Philip II of France: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_II_of_France, check the Early years section. – Gibet Feb 1 '17 at 11:44

The metaphor was (probably) inspired partly by Medieval literature (courtly or theological) and partly by Virgil's works, for example the "Georgics" that, in part, discusses the myth of Orpheus, who attempted to rescue his dead lover Eurydice from the Underworld.

Besides this, as was already said in a comment, Dante could be influenced by the Italian landscape; contact with forests was routine for people in the Medieval age, as it often reached the limits of Italy's communes (city-states).

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