The Inferno by Dante Alighieri, known throughout history a Dante, represents an allegorical aspect of the individual’s existence in hell. While the poem is quite long and can be considered in numerous ways, much of it is an allegory with regards to Dante’s life and his person struggles. The poem begins in the decent to hell. Canto I can be interpreted as an allegory of Dante’s descent into his personal spiritual crisis. Dante wanted to be a good person; however, he had a strict black and white vision with regards to good and evil. As such, it made it more difficult for him to enter the gates of heaven in his own mind. In the beginning of the work, Dante discusses the characters of the leopard, the wolf and the lion. These three beasts were an allegory for the various vices which Dante struggled with in his life; Dante believed that these vices would keep him from entering paradise (St. Mary Valley Bloom).
The section under consideration includes lines 1 through 36 of Canto I of the Inferno. The narrator begins discussing the way he has lost his way in life; in this way, he admits that he is midway in the point of his life. Dante is having a mid-life crisis, particularly with regards to his faith and who he is as a person. Since good and evil are black and white for Dante, there is no moral relativism in his life. He cannot justify any of his transgressions from a moral aspect. Due to this, he believes that he has lost his correct path to heaven and he will end up in the fires of hell. He is wandering through a dark valley; The images of darkness are clearly a representation of the evil path in life.
The narrator indicates that he does not know how he ended up in such a desolate place. He appears to have fallen asleep and wandered off the proper path in life. However, when he awakes, he finds that he is in a “savage” place. He describes that he is in a “valley” and he is filled with “fear.” In this place, Dante meets three mystical beasts: a leopard, a wolf and a she-lion. These represent his major vices and he realizes that; fighting his vices is the same struggle as fighting a creature as strong and dangerous as these.
The three creatures represent what Dante continues to be the major categories of sin. The leopard is an allegory for incontinence or lust. The lion is an allegory for violence and pride. The wolf is an allegory for fraud, greed, and deceit. Dante describes the leopard as “light and swift, / and covered with a spotted pelt” (Dante 32-33). The leopard will not back away from Dante. The leopard is described in a beautiful manner; it moves in a graceful way. It moves quickly to enter Dante’s path. In this way, Dante realizes that lust is quite beautiful on the exterior and moves with grace; however, it is dangerous when it blocks one’s path to righteousness.
The lion is the next creature; lions are known for their pride and their ability to rule the jungle. They are the perfect symbol of pride; a group of them is even called this. The lion sat “with his head held high and furious with hunger / so that the air about him to tremble” (Dante 46-47). One is prideful because one believes that one is better than others and deserves more. It is closely related to greed in this manner; the lion is hungry. He is hungry for more recognition and more power. Dante realizes that this is one of his sins as well. He wants to be important, rather than realizing he is just one of many.
The she-wolf appears next, a symbol of greed and deceit. In order to be greedy, one must be deceitful; few individuals openly admit their greed. Fraud is frequently associated with greed as well. Dante realizes that greed leads to fraud, deceit and other sins. The she-wolf is starving. It is skin and bones, unlike the other two creatures. It shares the same appetites for more that Dante realizes has led so many down a dark path in life.
In the poem the Inferno by Dante Alighieri, the poet uses the imagery of animals to suggest that the individual has lost his way in life due to various sins. The characters of the leopard, the lion and the she-wolf represent lust, pride and greed. Until Dante conquers these, he will be trapped in hell.