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Dante Inferno Essay, Research Paper

Dante Alighieri s Divine Comedy is said to be the single greatest epic poem of all time. The opening story of the character of Dante the Pilgrim is told in the first of the three divisions: The Inferno. The Inferno is a description of Dante s journey down through Hell and of the several degrees of suffering and many mythical creatures that he encounters on the way. Throughout his travel Dante displays many different feelings and actions but the emotion that summarizes the entire poem is fear. While some of his character traits change as his mind matures and acknowledges the justice being carried out, from the very beginning until the final Canto, his fear does not subside. This does well to reinforce the symbolism of Dante as Everyman and serves to direct the reader to the moral purpose of Divine Comedy, because of the humility and dependence upon God that fear produces. In the first Canto, which serves as an introduction to the entire comedy, Dante encounters the three beasts which impede his progress out of the dark woods. Coming upon the She-Wolf he writes: “This last beast brought my spirit down so low / with fear that seized me at the sight of her, / lost all hope of going up the hill” (I.52-54). Dante is so shaken by the appearances of the three beasts that he rushes headlong into the dark woods he has just come out of. This is only the first obstacle Dante encounters, but it proves an insurmountable one. When Dante and Virgil reach the gate of Hell, Dante is overcome with fear upon reading the inscription above the gate and hearing the screams and lamentations of those inside. He reacts to the inscription by crying out, ” Master, I said, these words I see are cruel. ” (III.12). By this he shows his fear of the unknown because he does not yet know exactly what he will witness during his descent. One of Dante s truest display of fear occurs upon reaching the vile City of Dis. When the “fallen angels” deny the travelers access through the city, Virgil, usually unflappable, even appears shaken up. Understandably, this does not help Dante s nerves at all. He actually makes a side comment to the reader declaring the terror he felt after the angels had defied Virgil s request saying: “And now, my reader, consider how I felt / when those foreboding words came to my ears! / I thought I d never see our world again!” (VIII.94-96). In this phrase Dante appears very discouraged and feels helpless that his journey may not be successful after all. Another notable display of fear by Dante is found upon his meeting of the Malebranche (Evil Claws) who are black demons. These whimsical but very frightening, violent creatures create an ample amount of terror and worry for the poets. Upon first seeing one rush by him with a sinner slung over his shoulders, Dante is struck by fear as he says: ” (his body s strength draining with sudden fear), / but, looking back, does not delay his flight; / and I saw coming right behind our backs, / rushing along the ridge, a devil, black!” (XXI.27-30). They prove to be a great cause for fear after the demons get into a fight among each other over the escape of a sinner they were torturing and Dante and Virgil steal away. The demons come after the poets because of their part in the sinner s escape and the two barely get away by sliding down the rocky crevice into the next bolgia. Another contributor to Dante s fear is the enormous amount of mythical animals and beasts found guarding the entrances to various circles and bolgias. Minos, the Minotaur, the harpies, and many others are scattered throughout the poem. One monster, in particular, provokes a great fear in Dante when the need surfaces for the poets to journey into the Eighth Circle. Geryon, symbolizing fraud, is a mythical creature that, according to Dante, has the pleasant, honest face of a man, hairy paws and arms, and the body of a snake. This is a point where Dante must face his fear of the unknown and get onto the beast in order to continue his passage. This does not make it any less frightening, as he shows after being told to climb on: “A man who feels the shivers of a fever / coming on, his nails already dead of color, / will tremble at the mere sight of cool shade;” (XVII.85-87). This remarkable metaphor is very true of one who fears what he believes in his mind to be horrible. The mythical fiends that cause Dante the most fear are the giants who live near the well that is the entrance to the Ninth Circle. Upon discovery of his error in believing the legs of the giants to be great towers of a city, he declares, ” confusion cleared and my fear took on more shape” (XXXI.39). Also when the chained Ephialtes, one of the giants who rose against the ancient gods, stirs on the ground, Dante makes a definite statement of fear: “I never feared to die as much as then, / and my fear might have been enough to kill me, / if I had not already seen those chains” (XXXI.109-111). This shows the might, incredible size, and mass the giants must show which invokes such an immense declaration of fear. In only one other place in the poem does Dante show more fear, and rightfully this place deserves it. In Canto XXXIV Dante finally finds himself in the presence of the “Prince of Lies”, the enormous monstrosity of Lucifer himself. After receiving encouraging words from his guide, he again comments to the reader in this passage that describes fear itself: How chilled and nerveless, Reader, I felt then; do not ask me-I cannot write about it- there are no words to tell you how I felt. I did not die-I was not living either! Try to imagine, if you can imagine, me there, deprived of life and death at once. (XXXIV.22-27) This describes the essence of fear, where life and death blur and the presence of either is uncertain. Lucifer was certainly very deserving of this kind of fear. Dante describes him as having three faces and huge bat-like wings that, when flapped, created wind which kept all of the Ninth Circle frozen. Throughout Dante Alighieri s incredible journey through The Inferno, fear plays an important role in the development of the moral purpose of the comedy. That is, to have humility towards God and be dependent upon him trusting his grace and plan no matter what perils or strife is cast in your way. Through the insight of Dante, one can see the possible consequences of denying God and turning away from him and facing what undoubtedly is, as Minos declares, “the place where pain is host.”

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