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Imagery in Dante's Inferno

Imagery Examples in Dante's Inferno:

Canto 7

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"Such is the dance this wretched race must lead..."   (Canto 7)

Dante discovers that the bubbles he sees at the surface of the Styx are actually signs of the breathing of spirits who are trapped in the mud at the bottom of the under worldly river.

"Within the mount, upright An ancient form there stands and huge..."   (Canto 14)

This line refers to a colossal statue inside Mount Ida, an invention of Dante's. Its material—gold for the head, silver for arms and chest, brass for the waist, iron for the lower body—comprise a metaphorical representation of the ages of man, starting with the Golden Age, the earthly Paradise, but devolving to an age characterized by base metal, iron.

"as under stove The viands..."   (Canto 14)

Comparing the glow of the marble to scraps of food—specifically "viands"—that glow while being cooked.

"As naked champions, smear'd with slippery oil, Are wont intent to watch their place of hold And vantage..."   (Canto 16)

Dante is comparing the stance of the three men to the way wrestlers prepare to wrestle, looking for the most advantageous hold on an opponent.

"But that the wind, arising to my face..."   (Canto 17)

In an example of verisimilitude—creating the semblance of reality—Dante takes great care to describe the flight of Dante and Virgil on Geryon realistically. As they descend, the air rushes up into Dante's face.

"E'en thus the cook bestirs him, with his grooms, To thrust the flesh into the caldron down With flesh-hooks, that it float not on the top..."   (Canto 21)

Dante compares the way the demons push the sinners back under the boiling tar to the way cooks push stewing meat back into the broth when it rises to the top of the cooking pot.

"When as the rime upon the earth puts on Her dazzling sister's image..."   (Canto 24)

It is winter, most likely January. It is the time when hoarfrost—frozen dew that looks like a light coating of snow-—imitates snow on the ground, "her dazzling sister's image."

"that the serpent split his train Divided to a fork, and the pierc'd spirit Drew close his steps together..."   (Canto 25)

This and the following lines describe the transmutation of the two figures: the lizard is slowly becoming a man, and the man slowly changing into a lizard.

"One from the wound, the other from the mouth Breath'd a thick smoke, whose vap'ry columns join'd..."   (Canto 25)

Thick vapors rise out of both the lizard's mouth and the wound in the sinner the lizard has caused. These two vapors mingle into a single column.

"One he transpierc'd; then down before him fell Stretch'd out..."   (Canto 25)

Another lizard, this one small, has pierced another sinner through the mouth, gone through him, and landed on the other side of the sinner.

"Swarm not the serpent tribe, as on his haunch They swarm'd, to where the human face begins..."   (Canto 25)

The Centaur is depicted with snakes growing on his torso, up to the point at which his head begins.

"The crust Came drawn from underneath in flakes, like scales Scrap'd from the bream or fish of broader mail..."   (Canto 29)

In other words, the scabs on the skin of the condemned came off just like the scales of large fish scraped off by a knife.

"But rose as in a bark the stately mast..."   (Canto 31)

Antaeus rose like a mast of a stately "bark," or sailing vessel.

"at the thought Of those frore shallows..."   (Canto 32)

The "doggish" grins on the faces of the "frore," or freezing, sinners are caused by the unrelenting cold. The image makes Dante shudder with horror.

"the beautiful lights of heav'n..."   (Canto 34)

Dante and Virgil emerge from the underworld through a cave, bidden by the sounds of a stream. They climb forth from the shadowed depths to see the stars shining above them. Each of the three books of the Divine Comedy end on the word stelle, meaning "stars."

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