In Dante's Inferno, Dante meets three obstacles: the leopard, the lion, and the she-wolf. What do they symbolize? Which animal poses the greatest problem for Dante? Why? How are they encountered in real life?  

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The dark forest in which Dante finds himself at the beginning of The Divine Comedy represents sin, and the three animals that confront him stand for specific sins. The leopard is lust, the lion is pride, and the she-wolf is avarice. Dante is most concerned about the she-wolf, as is...

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The dark forest in which Dante finds himself at the beginning of The Divine Comedy represents sin, and the three animals that confront him stand for specific sins. The leopard is lust, the lion is pride, and the she-wolf is avarice. Dante is most concerned about the she-wolf, as is his guide, the Roman poet Virgil, who appears at this point. Virgil says that the she-wolf will continue to menace the world until it is liberated by a savior.

The she-wolf is represented as the most frightening of the three animals (for both Dante and humankind in general) because avarice is a particularly tempting sin and one which has no redeeming features. Lust is natural, and there may be a certain majesty about pride, but the cold, calculating sin of hoarding money while others starve is both unnatural and debased. The Bible warns in 1 Timothy 6:10:

For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

The warnings against lust and pride are less vehement, despite the fact that they are also regarded as deadly sins.

The question of how lust, pride, and avarice can be encountered in real life is an easy one to answer, for they are all difficult to avoid if you participate in society, watch television, or use the Internet. Although these sins may well have been just as prevalent in Dante's time, they were at any rate regarded as sins, which is no longer true in many societies. It is certainly arguable that in modern societies, driven by conspicuous consumption, lust and pride are seen as perfectly natural (whereas chastity and humility are somewhat absurd), while the adulation with which billionaires are treated shows that avarice is regarded as a positive virtue.

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