The Structure And Content Of Dante's Inferno

1119 words - 4 pages

In his first article of The Inferno, Dante Alighieri starts to present a vivid view of Hell by taking a journey through many levels of it with his master Virgil. This voyage constitutes the main plot of the poem. The opening Canto mainly shows that, on halfway through his life, the poet Dante finds himself lost in a dark forest by wandering into a tangled valley. Being totally scared and disoriented, Dante sees the sunshine coming down from a hilltop, so he attempts to climb toward the light. However, he encounters three wild beasts on the way up to the mountain—a leopard, a lion, and a she-wolf—which force him to turn back. Then Dante sees a human figure, which is soon revealed to be the great Roman poet Virgil. He shows a different path to reach the hill and volunteers to be Dante’s guide, leading Dante to the journey towards Hell but also the journey seeking for light and virtue.
In terms of structure, Canto I functions as an introduction, explaining the two major characters and the motivation of their journey. Dante portrays himself as the protagonist and speaks in the first person from a subjective perspective. Through the establishment of such a strong voice, readers are given clear insight into his emotions and motivations. He strikes the contrast between "dark" and "light" to strengthen that he fears the dark and sinful desires within himself but he pursues the hope of light at the same time, which is the key of his spiritual journey. To symbolize the dark side, Dante illustrates his encounter with three beasts while the rescue from Virgil signifies the light side. The image of “light” and “dark” as well as their allegorical meanings is shown through these lively imageries, rich metaphors and strong voice in order to present a self portrait of Dante’s character.
The first five terzinas illustrate the images of the three beasts—a leopard, a lion and a she-wolf—which force Dante to return to the dark woods. When alluding to the leopard in line two, Dante refers to it as "she" and uses "lithe" to describe its movement, indicating a strong sense of the feminine. Also, the usage of "quick of foot" and "blocking the path," shows a feeling of rapidity which creates a serious situation like a sudden attack. From the allegorical level, it is not hard to find out the moral of a female leopard: the dangerous but attractive desire of lust. In the next line, Dante expresses his fear of this leopard by saying "more than once she made me turn about to go back down". Here the leopard cuts Dante's way towards light, which is a signal of God’s love and the way to peace, and makes him return by the way he came, so he becomes frustrated. Another emergency starting with "But not so much that the next sight wasn't fearful" follows immediately. The second beast appears as a fierce lion. His “roaring with hunger” is so severe that “the air appears to tremble,” revealing a slaughterous animal nature and symbolizing great power in an allegorical plane....

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