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The Inferno by Dante Alighieri - Barron's Booknotes
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Dante and Virgil continue along the rock path over Phlegethon
until they are within earshot of where the river runs over a
huge cliff. Before they reach the edge, Dante sees and speaks
to several well-known Florentine politicians. The men can't
stop the incessant running to which they are condemned so
they form themselves into a wheel, each watching Dante very
carefully while they speak. The men ask particulars of
Florence; Dante gives them a depressing report.

When they have finished talking, Dante and Virgil proceed to
the edge of the cliff. Virgil asks Dante to take off the rope belt
that he is wearing. Dante promptly does so, telling the reader
that at one point he had hoped to catch the leopard with it.
Virgil throws the girdle over the cliff. Dante thinks to himself
that some strange creature will probably appear out of the
depths in response to this signal. Virgil, apparently reading
Dante's thoughts, replies that that is exactly what is to happen.
Dante begs the reader to believe what he scarcely could, that
out of the mists appeared the head of some strange beast.

NOTE: There are many interpretations of the source and
purpose of the rope and its use as a signal. Dante does say
that he hoped to catch the leopard with it; perhaps we can see
this as a step in Dante's allegorical journey. The sins of
Incontinence, symbolized by the leopard, are left behind and
Dante's defenses against them are freed for other uses.

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The Inferno by Dante Alighieri - Barron's Booknotes

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