Dante's Inferno: the Three Beasts of Hell

The Three Beasts of Hell
      In the figures of the three beasts at the beginning of Inferno, Dante creates a metaphor for the three types of evil deeds punished in Hell, and thus shows where each sin falls in Hell’s hierarchy. The she-wolf, the lion, and the leopard divide the sins and the levels of Hell into the concupiscible sins, the irascible sins, and the sins of the will, while at the same time revealing the nature of those sins to be insatiable, violent, and beguiling, respectively. Unbridled greed and hunger emanate from the she-wolf, making her the most terrifying of the three; her unrestrained desire corresponds to those among the damned who commit concupiscible sins. The lion, similarly, hides nothing of his violent nature, frightening the Pilgrim who recognizes its viciousness; the lion’s bloodlust and proudly uplifted head create a clear comparison between it and those transgressors who commit irascible sins. The leopard with its beautiful coat fills the Pilgrim’s mind with soothing images, causing him to forget its inherently violent nature as a predator, just as those who commit sins of the will use their skills to lure their victims into a false sense of security.
      Dante’s treatment of the she-wolf indicates that a connection exists between her and the concupiscible sins. The Pilgrim’s encounter with the she-wolf and his description of her ravenous appearance serve to create a link between her and the sins of those who cannot control their appetites. When the Pilgrim first sees the she-wolf, he says that she “seemed laden with all cravings in her leanness and has caused many people to live in wretchedness […] that restless beast, who, coming against me, little by little was driving me back to where the sun is silent” (1.49-60). By using words like “laden,” “cravings,” “leanness,” “wretchedness,” and “restless,” Dante creates an image of a starving creature advancing menacingly toward her meal. Hunger drives the she-wolf to kill, just as...