By Michael Conway
Before Dante begins the journey that encompasses The Divine Comedy, before he enters Hell, before he even meets Virgil, he is but a traveler “in the middle of our life’s journey” finding himself in a “dark wood.” Dante is literally meandering through a circle of trees, and he is also metaphorically lost in a clump of confusion. He has no idea how he wandered into this situation, and less of an idea on how to get out. It takes the guidance of Virgil to lead Dante through a vast array of hideous punishments and horrors so that he might begin an ascent out of the darkness.
The opening line of Inferno is a wonderfully rich depiction of a feeling endemic to being human. It is a sentiment that has been returned to again and again in the centuries since Dante composed the Comedy because it’s so easy to find oneself hopelessly turned around in a wood for just a few moments or for an extended period of time. It is uncomfortable, annoying, frustrating, disconcerting, alarming, and downright frightening. It’s also a simple fact of life that such obstacles will be encountered.
The Virgil’s of these moments are critical. Once committed to the journey out of the wood—whether it’s into Hell or somewhere else—the content and adventures of the journey take center stage. In the case of Dante, the spectacles in Hell assume greater prominence even as Virgil remains his guide and fount of information. But without Virgil, there is no journey. There is no next step—just more aimless wandering. Virgil provides direction and when you’re walking with purpose to a specific place or point, you are no longer truly lost.
Tony Reali, the host of ESPN’s Around the Horn and until recently “Stat Boy” on Pardon the Interruption, is one of the most important Virgil’s of my life. From a studio in Washington D.C., dressed impeccably in clothing that hugs his thin frame sensibly, topped by thick, black, gel covered hair, and armed with a broad smile, Tony has ushered me through the dark woods of life. [Read more…]