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Dante’s Inferno is a book that has enraptured many audiences for ages. It was written during Dante’s exile from Florence, which was commanded by Pope Boniface VIII. Inferno is one part of the Divine Comedy and reveals Dante’s expedition through hell. In Dante’s hell, he separated the hell into nine different circles. In each of the nine circles, he placed different creatures to guard or even to punish sinners. In Inferno, Dante used creature symbolism to enhance the understanding of God’s omnipotence, mercy and wrath through his punishments.


Dante’s story begins when he awakes from slumber and finds himself lost in a dark forest. In fear of his surroundings he began to wander around until he finds a hill covered with a bright, illuminating light. Dante tries to climb this hill but on the way up he sees three different animals which were obstructing his path. These three animals were the lion, the leopard and the she-wolf. They were very foul beasts. The first that Dante was to encounter was the leopard, which signified the sins of fraud. “ …sprang up a leopard trim and very swift…everywhere I looked, the beast was there blocking my way…”( I -5). A leopard is a very agile and cunning beast and can run remarkably fast. The color of the skin and spots depends on where it is from, so that it can camouflage into its surroundings. This helps them to be able to capture their prey easily. “It was covered by a pelt of many spots”(I ). Leopards look sleek and beautiful on the outside but they can be extremely dangerous when it gets close to something it wants. People are similar to this due to the fact that some of them like to hide their true selves just to con others and receive what they want without any consideration of other’s welfare. These people work fast so that the people that they are trying to cheat don’t discover their plot. Satan is also very deceptive and fraudulent and for this reason those who committed this sin were placed near him in the lowest section of hell. Also since their actions were almost creature like, they are placed near the worst creatures ever made.


The next animal that Dante saw was the lion, which is known to be very large and very strong. They are the king of the jungle because they fear nothing and are always ready and willing to fight. Violence not only means murder, it also includes all things that hurt others or even one’s self. Lions must always protect themselves and their pride and if threatened they will lash out and fight. This is comparable to people because some of them are known for their hostile attitudes and they are always ready to hurt the people around them. The sub levels in this section of hell also have animals guarding them including centaurs and minotaurs.


Centaurs and Minotaurs are mythological creatures from ancient times. They are part human and part beast and are known for their anger and violence. Minotaurs are part human and part bull. The Minotaur’s domain was over the circle of the Violent in the second section of Hell. When Dante and Virgil were in that section of hell, they could not pass this monster because it was so large and would eat them. Luckily the monster fell into such a rage that they were able to sneak by and continue their journey. Centaurs are also in the circle of violence and they make sure the sinners are in the proper depth in the boiling river of blood. Centaurs are very wild and there was only one that was known to be good. Dante positioned these here to emphasize the evil of violence and how it can damage people not only physically, but also mentally. Animals have this problem because when injured they are driven mad with pain and can become very deadly. In this section, the sinners are in boiling blood and are kept down by the Centaurs. God put the sinners in that blood so that they would not be able to speak which is one of the worst punishments there is. The people, in this section, were violent through both their body and with words, so God made them unable to use either of them. Others are more fortunate and given the ability to speak and when they do they have a lot of intense things to say. Erich Auerbach said, “ … and that barrier, created by their situation of punishment or atonement, makes their communication even more poignant when it does break forth” (Auerbach 8). The Minotaur is like this because it is so driven by rage that it can’t speak and only roars.


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The last animal that Dante faces was the she-wolf and on account of his sin of incontinence, he could not pass her. “This last beast brought my spirit down so low with fear that seized me at the sight of her, I lost all hope of going up the hill”(I 5-54). Wolves hunt in packs and are very smart with amazing senses. They are very quiet and can sneak up on their prey. They, in this way, resemble sins of incontinence because these sins are subtle and can sneak upon a person without giving any warning.


During Dante’s pilgrimage he must go through the City of Dis to go through all of Hell. At the gate the Fallen Angels would not let them in and so the pilgrims had to wait for God to help them along their way. During this time the Furies appear and release Medusa against Dante and Virgil to impede them. Medusa is a creature that is half-human with many snakes on her head instead of hair. No man was allowed to look at her because immediately they would be turned to stone. Medusa is thought to be a figure that fascinated men and petrified them but did nothing to women. She is the judgement that will befall the men who lust and are too fascinated by women. John Freccero thinks of Medusa as a perverted Venus, “ Dante’s Medusa…is Venus’ idol, stripped of its charm… under the aspect of death” (Freccero 104). This means that unlike Venus who is good love, Medusa is the evil love and the pain that comes with it. After waiting for some time, a Heavenly Messenger from God appeared and opened the gate to the city. The messenger let them in and then rebukes the Furies severely. “…he was sent from Heaven…and he touched the gate with his wand; it opened with resistance from the inside”(IX 85-0). Even in Hell, God’s might is strong and everyone fears him. No one is able to stop God, even if they seem to succeed at first they will always fall short to his Almighty power.


Geryon is another creature in hell and he has the face of a man, the body of a reptile, the paws of a beast and the tail of a scorpion. The human part of Geryon is very handsome but the other half is very deadly and grotesque. This symbolizes first the beautiful appearance of fraud and then the snaky dealings that coming along with it. At


the very beginning of creation, serpents were cursed by God for deceiving Eve in the Garden.


“ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate’”(NIV Bible 5). Snakes have always had a bad reputation because they are so slithery and unlike any other thing God made. In the garden, God punished the snakes by taking away their legs and making them slither using their bodies.


The only way that Dante and Virgil were able to reach the third circle of hell was by Geryon carrying them on his back. The reason for this was that there was a big cliff leading down to a great abyss which almost nobody could go down it. Geryon is a very evil creature and so he said he would not help them on their journey. When Geryon was told that God was the one permitting Dante’s voyage he had no choice but to do what they asked. All the way down Geryon was forced to use self-control and not kill Dante with his tail because he knew he would have serious repercussions. Geryon was angry he had to do this and as soon as he dropped them off he bolted back to his part of hell. No matter how badly he wanted to kill Dante he knew he could not because he knew God’s omnipotence and he knew he must obey.


In the eight circle of Hell, Dante finds a certain character named Vanni Fucci who was a Black Guelf who stole the treasure of San Jacopo from the church of San Zeno. He was in hell for this reason and after telling this story to Dante, he disobeyed God and tried to flee. Vanni Fucci makes an obscene gesture with his hands and said, “Here, God, I’ve shaped them just for you”(XXV ). As soon as these words came out of his mouth many snakes attacked and squeezed him intensely. When he fled, a centaur comes to chase him with a fire-breathing dragon on his back. As soon as they catch him they punish him severely because of his great transgression. In this section, Dante was pointing out that even in Hell a person could not say anything bad about God because then his wrath and fury would be on them and he would use his creatures to give punishment.


Dante emphasizes the punishments using the creatures that are either guarding or chastising the sinners that is in that area. Dante believes that God is above all things and that the Father must be accepted by all. Jorge Borges states, “ God is beyond all human justice, as He Himself declares in the Book of Job. And the men humble themselves before God…(Borges 10). Dante placed these creatures into a circle that best fit their character traits in order to prove a point. He obtained these animals from all-different books and stories and placed them together to give meaning. He also used the animals to prove that no matter what is happening in the lives of people, God is there watching and always protecting. Nothing is as powerful as God is, so people have nothing to fear because as long as people have faith then they will be fine.


Works Cited


1. Bloom, Harold. Modern Critical Views Dante. New York Chelsea House Publishers, 186.


----------Modern Critical Interpretations. New Haven Chelsea House Publishers,


187.


. Dante. The Diving Comedy Vol. 1 Inferno. Mark Musa. New York Penguin Books, 184.


. Hawkins, Peter and Jocoff, Rachel. Eds. The Poets’ Dante. New York Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 001.


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