What does the greyhound in Dante's Inferno symbolize?
The greyhound mentioned by Virgil in Dante's Inferno symbolizes salvation, and it may refer to a specific historical figure whom Dante sees as bringing salvation to Italy. This is most likely to be Cangrande della Scala, ruler of Verona, though purposely left open to interpretation.
In the first canto of the Inferno, Dante is driven off his path by a she-wolf. It is then that he meets the Roman poet Virgil, who is to guide him through the underworld. Virgil warns Dante to beware of the she-wolf, but he then prophesies that one day a greyhound will drive her down to hell, saving all of Italy in the process.
There is much scholarly controversy about the precise significance of this greyhound. In the most general sense, it is a symbol of salvation. Virgil says the greyhound feeds on love, courage, and wisdom, making clear that it is a divinely inspired creature. However, there is a more specific allusion, stating that the greyhound will come to Italy "between Feltro and Feltro." This may refer to Cangrande della Scala, who ruled Verona at the beginning of the fourteenth century. Verona lies between Feltro and Montefeltro, which seems to support this hypothesis. However, there have been numerous others. Some have identified the greyhound with the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII of Luxembourg, others, more improbably, with the long-dead Charles Martel.
As Alberto Manguel points out in his article "Dante's Dogs," the greyhound is unusual, since dogs are generally portrayed negatively in the Divine Comedy. The same is true of animals in general, partly because St. Thomas Aquinas had said that, since people did not need to eat in heaven, there would be no animals there.
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