The Beasts And Monsters In Dante's Inferno

3058 words - 12 pages

The Inferno is the first section of Dante's three-part poem, The Divine Comedy. Throughout Dante's epic journey into the depths of Inferno he encounters thirty monsters and five hybrid creatures.  The most significant of these monsters are of central importance to his journey and to the narrative, as they not only challenge Dante's presence in Inferno, but are custodians of Hell, keeping in order or guarding the "perduta gente".  In this essay I am concentrating on these prominent beasts, namely Minos, Cerberus, Plutus and Geryon, establishing why they feature in Dante's eschatological vision and discussing the sources which influenced his inclusion of these particular creatures. These four monsters all fulfil important functions as well as representing important themes in Inferno, establishing them as symbols which reinforce Dante's allegory.

Minos, as the infernal judge and agent of God's justice, represents our own conscience and morality.  When the sinners come before him "tutta si confessa", which causes the reader to reflect on their own sins.His terrifying treatment of the souls is significant as after Charon, he is one of the first figures who they encounter on their passage into Hell, and his unique method of demonstrating which area of Hell that the souls should be sent to increases the horror and adds to the alarming atmosphere.

His warning to Dante, is similar to several of the infernal custodians, who continually remind him that he should not be in the Otherworld,

tu che vieni al doloroso ospizio,

guarda com'entri e di cui tu ti fide non t'inganni l'ampiezza de

l'intrare (1)

However, Cerberus's reaction to Dante is one of obvious malice and vice, and rather than comment on his presence he merely "le bocche aperse e mostrocci le sanne". Dante depicts Cerberus as a personification of gluttony, whose task is to guard the gluttons of the third circle, and his quasi-human form, with "la barba unta e atra" and "'l ventre largo", are fitting attributes which illustrate the gluttony he represents.  This gastronomic theme is continued with Dante's description of him as "il gran vermo", creating the image of a worm gorging itself on food, but this is also connected with Satan himself, who is described as "il vermo reo che'l mondo fora" in Canto XXXIV.

Plutus, the next monster Dante encounters is also associated with thefigure of Satan due to his description of "il gran nemico", as herepresents greed which was seen as the source of all ills (2).  Hisrepresentation of greed and avarice is strengthened by Virgil's rebuketo him,

            Taci, maladetto lupo! (3)

As this associates Plutus with the She-wolf from Canto I who is correlated with one of the triple divisions of Hell, the sins of the disordered appetite, and this inherent connection with greed is marked by Plutus's function as guard of the avaricious and prodigal of the fourth circle.

Dante and Virgil meet Geryon when they need to...

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