Dante has wandered the dark wood all night. Lost. Alone.
Just as Jesus was alone. Keep in mind that while Dante is wandering, Jesus is being tried. This is intentional on the poet’s part. He’s not trying to distract or detract from the events of Good Friday but is interweaving his own dark night of the soul into them.
When Dante reaches the foot of the mountain at the end of the valley, he meets his first serious check: the three beasts. The beasts are symbolic of the three main categories of sins punished in Hell and it is they who hinder him from climbing any further.
The Leopard represents self-indulgence.
And see! not far from where the mountain-side
First rose, a Leopard, nimble and light and fleet,
Clothed in a fine furred pelt all depple-dyed,
Came gambolling out, and skippede before my feet,
Hindering me so, that from the forthright line
Time and again I turned to beat retreat.
Canto 1, lines 31-36Dante Alighieri
The leopard is the first to leap in Dante’s path. He’s able to tolerate it for a little while, and it doesn’t make him lose hope. I”ve personally always thought the leopard was fitting for the sins of self-indulgence. We often associate leopard print with somethign wild, exotic, if slightly less classy in the fashion department.
These are going to be the sins Dante first encounters in Hell.
The lion represents violent sins.
I saw him coming, swift and savege, making
For me, head high, with ravenous hanuger raving
So that for dread the very air seemed shaking.
Canto I, lines 46-48Dante Alighieri
Today, we associate the lion with kingliness. Not violence. Perhaps this too is intentional, symbolizing the vilence of misrule. Dante would have known little else in his lifetime. Italy wasn’t unified in his day, but was a collection of principalities and city-states which often warred with one another. It was very little like the famed Pax Romana of Ceasar Augustus’ day.
The sins of the lion are byond the river Styx and within the walls of the City of Dis. This is where you’ll find heretics, tyrants, and murderers.
But beyond lies worse…
The wolf represents avarice and the sins that are done with malicious intent.
And next, a Wolf, gaunt with the famished craving
Lodged ever in her horrible lean flank,
The ancient cause of many men’s enslaving;
She was the worst–at that dread sight a blank
Despair and whelming terror pinned me fast,
Until all hope to scale the mountain sank.
Inferno, Canto 1, lines 49-54Dante Alighieri
This wolf is lean, hungry, ready to pound and bite. This is the worse of the three creatures, and it’s the most beligerant towards Dante. He actually starts to run when it pursues him. Little wonder. A hungry wolf in the wild with no other prey in sight might just decide a Florentine poet is mighy fine eating.
The sins of the wolf are in Circles 7 through 9 of Inferno.This is where the theives, fraudsters, and traitors reside.
The action will pick up again around 6ish pm where Dante meets someone he does not expect…
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