Dante’s Inferno Questions

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Who is Dante's guide in the inferno and what is his occupation? 

Dante is guided by the Latin poet Virgil, considered one of the greatest poets in that language. Like Dante, Virgil was Italian, residing in Ancient Rome. Virgil is considered one of the “good” pagans of classical antiquity.  He ultimately parted ways with Dante at the gates of Heaven.

Q2. What three creatures does Dante first encounter in the woods? Q3. What three sins are represented by the animals Dante first encounters?

Dante encounters a leopard/panther, a lion, and a she-wolf.  Each animal was symbolic of a breed of sin:  the leopard was symbolic of fraud, the lion was symbolic of pride, and the she-wolf was symbolic of greed.  

            The animals are further illustrated corresponding to their sins:  the leopard has few definite physical characteristics, suggesting its ability to adapt camouflage itself and adapt to the needs of its environment; the lion is described pridefully as having its "head held high", and the she-wolf is described as "carrying every craving in her leanness", suggesting that the she-wolf's inherent greed has left it "skinny", and unfulfilled (Alighieri).  

Q4. As Dante’s poem begins, what is the setting (time and place)? Be specific.

Dante is wandering in dark woods at night, having lost his path. This is symbolic of the poet’s spiritual uncertainty.  The reader is not made fully aware of this meaning until later in the poem, to prepare the reader with a key strategy for understanding the poem:  you must sometimes read and understand subsequent events in the poem and apply that knowledge to fully understand and interpret previous events in the poem.  

Q5. How old is the narrator when the poem begins? 

He is middle-aged, symbolic of a kind of midlife crisis.

Q6. The lost traveler in the inferno is referred to as Dante the........? 

Wayfarer, a synonym for a lost traveler.

Q7. What is the inscription found over the Gate of Hell? 

“Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”

Q8. “When we see men of worth, we should think of equaling them; when we see men of a contrary character, we should turn inwards and examine ourselves” and “The noble man seeks what he wants in himself; the inferior man seeks it from others” (Confucius/Analects 94).

In the first quote, Confucius is prescribing the manner in which one should approach self-improvement.  In our walks of life, we inevitably meet individuals of with admirable traits, and those with deplorable character traits.  When we encounter the former, we are to stand in awe, "take notes" on the qualities which we find admirable and plot ways in which we can develop ourselves to become more similar in nature to these individuals.  Conversely, when we encounter individuals with deplorable traits, we are to look inward and take an honest assessment of our similarities to these individuals, noting the proximity of which the manner in which we live our lives is to the manner in which they live theirs.  Taking them as a warning, we are to use these individuals as living cautionary tales and plot a strategy in which we can prevent ourselves from decaying to their level.

Regarding the second quote, Confucius is warning that true fulfillment and satisfaction can only be found within, and that esteem and affection found from others is empty and fleeting.  A modern illustration of this concept would be materialism:  if we seek to win the approval of others by acquiring superior possessions, spouses, careers, or other objects by which we can measure ourselves compared to others, we may obtain the respect and awe of others but this will fail to satisfy us, as they are admiring what we have, as opposed to what/who we are.  Further, this approval will vanish the moment someone else possesses something of a superior nature to what we have.  But, if we seek to substitute this esteem from others with esteem from ourselves, admiring our character and personal qualities above our material possessions, this will prove to be a more fulfilling and nourishing esteem compared to esteem from others as it is of a more genuine and permanent nature than the esteem we can receive from others.

Works Cited

Dante Alighieri. The Inferno. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1995