Monday, June 28, 2021

Mythological Beasts in Dante's Inferno

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The Inferno is the first part of Dante Alighieris poem, the Divine Comedy, which chronicles Dantes journey to God, and is made up of the Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Paradise). Dante starts on ground level and works his way downward. He goes all the way through the earth and Hell and ends up at the base of the mountain of Purgatory on the other side. Inferno tells of their journey through the Nine Circles of Hell, where sinners of different types endure varying degrees of punishment

The Cantos I of The Inferno starts with Dante, The Pilgrim traveling through the dark wood, he wakes to find that he has lost his path and now wanders fearfully through the forest. Terrified at being alone in so dismal a valley, he wanders until he comes to a hill bathed in sunlight, and his fear begins to leave him. But when he starts to climb the hill his path is blocked by three fierce beasts first a Leopard, then a Lion, and finally a She-Wolf. They fill him with fear and drive him back down to the sunless wood. The Leopard is extremely active with skin, which was mottled. The Lion had a brilliant skin and was so frightening that the air trembled with terror. The She-Wolf was very thin but had nothing but an excessive appetite.

At that moment the figure of a man appears before him; it is the shade of Virgil, and the Pilgrim begs for help. Virgil tells him that he cannot overcome the beasts, which obstruct his path, "for their wilful desires are never satisfied because after a meal, they are hungrier than before"(7). They must remain until a 'Greyhound' comes who will drive them back to Hell. Virgil advises Dante to take another path where he will reach the sunlight. He also promises to guide him on that path through Hell and Purgatory, after which another spirit, more fit than Virgil, will lead him to Paradise. Dante begs Virgil to lead on, and the Guide starts ahead. The Pilgrim follows.

Metaphors and symbolism are found in every line, and to give a complete description of all the interpretations that have been made would be a huge undertaking. The dark forest is a metaphor for everything that Dante thought was wrong in 100. This could include inner confusion and sin, the necessary imperfection of the world (as opposed to Paradise and God), political corruption, the absence of true authority, the bad behavior of the Pope, etc. The uncertain symbolism of the three beasts--a leopard, a lion, and a she-wolf contributes to the shadowy atmosphere of the opening scene. The leopard indicates sexual promiscuity or lust. The lion represents pride. The she-wolf portrays avarice, which in modern terms means materialistic and has political ambition. Virgil in his role of Reason or Human Wisdom is of course the means through which man may come to an understanding of the nature of sin. With Virgil-Reason as his guide, Dante the Pilgrim will come to see the penance imposed on the repentant sinners on the Mount of Purgatory. In any case the beasts must represent the three major categories of human sin, and they threaten Dante the Pilgrim, the poets symbol of mankind.

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The journey to the deep ends of the earth then continues though the rest of the cantos covering the other two parts which are Purgatory and Paradise of this astounding. Inferno is also a landmark in the development of European language and literature, for it stands as the greatest medieval poem written in vernacular languagethe common tongue of a people

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