Inferno: Dante Alighieri and Rival Political Factions

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1.The symbolism of the three beasts in Inferno I

The three beasts, a leopard, a lion and a she-wolf, which impede Dante’s path as he tries to climb the sunlit hill, represent dark forces that threaten mankind. There are three interpretations that the beasts symbolize. Firstly the beasts represent the sins of lust, the leopard, pride, the lion, and avarice, the she-wolf. Second, the three beasts have a biblical analogue in Jeremiah, which states, “Wherefore a lion out of the forest shall slay them, and a wolf of the evenings shall spoil them and a leopard shall watch over their cities.” Finally, the beasts represent cities. The black and white leopard represents Florence, which was divided between rival political factions known as Black Guelphs and White Guelphs. Dante made enemies with both groups and when the Black Guelphs along with the pope and France came into power, all those that opposed were to be exiled, including Dante. The lion is the symbol of the King of France who aligned himself with the pope. The French occupied Florence and let the Black Guelph’s rule that tried Dante and sentenced him to death. The she-wolf is associated with Rome and represents the papacy, which obtained political control of Florence. Dante remains in fear that he will be punished for his political opposition to the pope.

2.The symbolism of the three heavenly ladies in Inferno II

Since the beasts represent sin, an obstruction in Dante’s path, the three heavenly ladies, the Virgin Mary, St. Lucia and Beatrice, represent salvation. Lucia represents “divine light” closely associates with sight and vision. She was said to have gouged out her eyes to protect her chastity. Beatrice who represents “the way” is Dante’s spiritual guide and Dante’s love from his early poetry. The Virgin Mary, the gentle lady, represent “the truth”. Dante describes justice in terms of stern judgment, presumably that of Christ, who is tempered by the pleas of Virgin Mary who is able to alter the...
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