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The Beasts and Monsters in Dante's Inferno

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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...


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...s Minos's warning to Dante and his unusual illustration of how the sinners are judged.  The monsters also form strategic narrative devices, as their confrontations with Dante and Virgil continue the pattern of incident and movement in the text, adding variety and tension.

The beasts form an inherent and essential part of the narrative because of the excitement and terror that they add to Dante and Virgil's journey, as well as reinforcing Dante's classification of sin.  They also illustrate the traditional motifs of Otherworld visions, whilst simultaneously expanding and developing previous representations of the afterlife in order to form original and exciting creations.  This shows the importance Dante placed on the inclusion of these beasts as they not only express the influence of other works on Inferno, but also his own spectacular creativity and fantasy.

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