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In Dante's Inferno, what does the minotaur represent in circle 7?

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cmebecarolyn | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 16, 2011 at 3:08 AM via web

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In Dante's Inferno, what does the minotaur represent in circle 7?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted October 16, 2011 at 5:28 AM (Answer #1)

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The minotaur in circle 7 of Dante’s Inferno has, like much else in The Divine Comedy, been interpreted in various ways.  Anyone seeking full information about any of the figures in Dante’s work should look for a fully annotated edition of the poem (such as the one by Charles Singleton).

Also helpful is a search of Google Books, and even a regular Google search can be useful, as long as one proceeds with caution.  It was a regular Google search, for instance, that turned up the following information at http://danteworlds.laits.utexas.edu/circle7.html, one of the very best sites about Dante on the Internet:

The Minotaur, a bull-man who appears on this broken slope (Inf. 12.11-15), is most likely a guardian and symbol of the entire circle of violence. Dante . . . clearly underscores the bestial rage of the hybrid creature. . . . Almost everything about the Minotaur's story--from his creation to his demise--contains some form of violence. Pasiphaë, wife of King Minos of Crete, lusted after a beautiful white bull and asked Daedalus to construct a "fake cow" (Inf. 12.13) in which she could enter to induce the bull to mate with her; Daedalus obliged and the Minotaur was conceived. . . . (Please follow the link for further information.)

As a check of Google Books will show, the minotaur has also been interpreted in such other ways as these:

  • “evil undoing itself” (Wallace Fowlie, A Reading of Dante’s Inferno)
  • “the sin of bestiality” (Fowlie)
  • “the impotence of brutishness before the challenge of reason” (Seth Zimmerman's translation of the Inferno)
  • symbol of “unnatural lust” (John Smyth Carroll, Exiles of Eternity)
  • symbol of sins against nature (Carroll)
  • symbol of transformation of man into brute (Carroll)
  • symbol of “degeneration into violent physicality” (Tom Simone’s translation of the Inferno)

And so on.  Rarely is there any absolutely simple or single interpretation of any of Dante's allegorical figures.

Nevertheless, the minotaur pretty clearly symbolizes an extreme departure from Christian ideals.  Medieval Christianity taught that humans were supposed to be reasonable; were supposed to exhibit godly love; were supposed to love one another as well as loving God; were supposed to control their passions; and were supposed to aspire to be as much like God as possible.  The minotaur obviously symbolizes the opposite of all these ideals.

 

 

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