Divine Comedy: Summary: Inferno section 1- Inferno section 5

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Inferno section 1: Dante's journey through Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio), and Heaven (Paradiso) takes place in 1300, at the midpoint of his life.  Dante sets himself as the narrator and main character of this epic poem.  His flight through Hell begins in a dark and unknown forest.  As Dante wanders through the woods he comes to a hill above which shines the first sunlight that he has encountered in the forest.  But as Dante begins to climb the hill a leopard blocks his path.  As Dante retreats, a lion and a she-wolf join the leopard in driving Dante back into the dark valley.  Rushing terrified down the hill Dante encounters a shadowy figure.  The figure reveals itself to be the spirit of Virgil, the master poet from Mantua who lived during the reign of Julius Caesar, before the coming of Christ.  Directing Dante to take a path around the beasts on the hillside, Virgil becomes Dante's teacher and guide through Hell and parts of Purgatory.
Inferno section 2: Night begins to fall on Virgil and Dante as they begin their journey.  Invoking the Muses with, "O Muses, o high genius, help me now," Dante wonders whether or not he is worthy to take such a momentous trip.  Comparing himself to others-Aeneas and St. Paul-- who have journeyed into the underworld, Dante does not feel he is up to the task.  Virgil comforts Dante and quells his misgivings by telling him that Beatrice, sent by the Virgin Mary, asked Virgil to rescue Dante from his wanderings and to be his guide for her sake.  After Virgil asks Dante, "Why do you resist? Why does your heart host so much cowardice? Where are your daring and your openness," Dante gathers his resolve and the pair move on.
Inferno section 3: Dante's first encounter with Hell is the inscription over its gates, "Through me the way into the suffering city, through me the way to the eternal pain, through me the way that runs among the lost.Abandon every hope, who enter here." Virgil reminds Dante to have courage and leads him into Hell, a dark and starless abyss filled with terrible noise.  Virgil explains that the cries that Dante hears are those of the uncommitted, souls who were neither rebellious against God nor faithful to Satan.  These souls occupy the Vestibule, a portion of Hell outside the formal First Circle.  Neither Heaven nor Hell would take these souls so their punishment is to spend eternity running through the Vestibule behind a banner while wasps and horseflies sting them and worms at their feet feed on their blood and tears. 
Dante and Virgil continue to the river Acheron, the border between the Vestibule and the First Circle.  Many souls wait on the shores of the river for the boatman, Charon to carry them across.  Charon does not want to help Dante because he is still alive but Virgil, as he will often do during this journey, commands the underworld guardian to let Dante pass because his mission was willed in Heaven.  As they cross the river, Virgil tells Dante that the sinners on the shores are compelled by "celestial justice" to cross the river into Hell.  As the poet finishes his discussion of Charon and the river, violent winds and fires from the ground accompany the tremors of a giant earthquake.  Terrified by the chaotic rumblings, Dante faints away.
Inferno section 4: Loud thunder stirs Dante from his sleep.  Dante finds himself in a new place, on the edge of an abyss the bottom of which he cannot see.  As Virgil and Dante descend into the First Circle, Limbo, they hear quiet sighs and moans of sadness.  Virgil explains that the souls that make these pitiful sounds belong to humans who led blameless lives but were never baptized.  Virgil, who died before Christianity, lives in Limbo where his punishment is to never be able to see God.  Dante expresses sorrow because the souls he meets in Limbo belong to great men.  As Virgil and Dante walk, Dante sees a fire around which the most honored souls rest.  As they approach the fire, Dante recognizes the shades (spirits) as Homer, Horace, Lucan, and Ovid, great classical poets.  The group salutes Dante as one of them as the stroll toward a castle with seven walls surrounded by a stream.  Upon entering the enclosed area, Dante finds more masters of ancient philosophy and mathematics-Plato, Cicero, Socrates, Ptolemy, Hippocrates, and "the master of the men who know" (Aristotle).  Dante and Virgil move from this hallowed, calm place to a place "where no thing gleams."
Inferno section 5: As Dante and Virgil descend in the Second Circle they meet Minos whose job it is to judge condemned souls.  Minos wraps his tail around his body to indicate the number of the circle in Hell to which the soul must fall.  Again, Virgil commands Minos to let Dante pass because his journey was commanded in Heaven (although Virgil does not use the word "Heaven" because to do so in Hell would be blasphemous).  Once Minos lets the poets pass they encounter a pit filled with shrieking and moaning spirits that flail about in the winds of an eternal storm.  The Second Circle houses the souls that were lustful on Earth.  Dante pities these souls and asks to speak with one of them.  Meet Francesca, a woman whose husband kills her and her beloved Paolo for succumbing to one lustful kiss.  Paolo stands by as Francesca tells their story.  Moved by pity and sadness, Dante faints.

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