Inferno

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Light and Dark Symbol Analysis

Light and Dark Symbol Icon
Another pervasive symbol throughout The Inferno is the binary of light and dark. Hell is, of course, associated with darkness. Dante often remarks on the darkness of hell and how some areas of hell are completely devoid of light. God and heaven, on the other hand, are associated with light. (There is some light in hell, but it is generally not the result of God's brightness, but rather of burning fires that cause pain and suffering.) The first thing that Dante notices when he finally exits hell is the sight of the stars in the sky, which he could not see underground, symbolizing that he has returned from the dark world of sin. But beyond its associations with evil, darkness can also represent a kind of uncertainty, since one cannot see clearly in the dark. In the eighth circle of hell, for example, Dante first thinks the giants are towers, because his sight is impaired by the darkness. Thus, when the poem opens in a dark forest, this does not necessarily mean that Dante is in a place of sin (though it may also carry this association), but especially means that Dante is in an uncertain, unknown place. He is in a state of mental confusion matched by his inability to see clearly in the forest. He tries to climb the mountain in the beginning of the poem because he sees the light of the sun shining over it, promising some kind of knowledge or clarity. However, as Virgil informs him, he must come to the light through a more difficult path, one full of darkness.
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Light and Dark Symbol Timeline in Inferno

The timeline below shows where the symbol Light and Dark appears in Inferno. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Canto 1
Sin, Justice, Pity and Piety Theme Icon
Individual Fame Theme Icon
This World vs. the Afterlife Theme Icon
Midway through the course of his life, Dante wakes up in a dark forest, having lost his way from the right road. He does not know how he... (full context)
Sin, Justice, Pity and Piety Theme Icon
Dante sees a mountain with the sun shining above it. The sight comforts him, and he attempts to climb the mountain. But... (full context)
Canto 2
Sin, Justice, Pity and Piety Theme Icon
Paganism vs. Christianity Theme Icon
Individual Fame Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
It is now evening, as Dante begins his journey. As narrator, Dante invokes the muses and the personification of... (full context)
Language Theme Icon
...to heart, and his spirits are raised like a drooping flower that suddenly blossoms in light. Dante says that he is now eager and resolved to begin his journey. He starts... (full context)
Canto 7
Sin, Justice, Pity and Piety Theme Icon
Dante and Virgil walk along a dark, bubbling body of water and the marsh which forms at the end of the river... (full context)
Canto 8
Paganism vs. Christianity Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
Dante sees two lights at the top of the tower and sees a beacon far off flicker as if... (full context)
Sin, Justice, Pity and Piety Theme Icon
...that they are approaching the city of Dis, and Dante sees a city with buildings glowing red. Virgil explains that they glow from the endless fires that burn in the lower... (full context)
Canto 9
Sin, Justice, Pity and Piety Theme Icon
...he did once before, when he was sent to fetch a soul from the deepest, darkest circle of hell. Virgil reassures Dante that he knows the way. (full context)
Paganism vs. Christianity Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
...he is saying, as he is distracted by the tops of the towers of Dis, glowing with flames. There, he sees three female figures appear: the Furies. They are covered in... (full context)
Canto 10
Sin, Justice, Pity and Piety Theme Icon
This World vs. the Afterlife Theme Icon
...things—the future and past, but not the present. He can sometimes see glimmers of God's light from afar but when it comes near in some form, he cannot see it clearly.... (full context)
Individual Fame Theme Icon
...Virgil tells him that he will understand everything when he is basking in the glorious light of heaven. They take a path toward the center of Dis, from where Dante smells... (full context)
Canto 13
Paganism vs. Christianity Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
Virgil and Dante come upon a dark forest filled with old, gnarled trees and devoid of any greenery. Here are the harpies,... (full context)
Canto 15
Sin, Justice, Pity and Piety Theme Icon
Individual Fame Theme Icon
Dante explains to Brunetto how he found himself in the dark wood and is now being guided by Virgil through hell. Brunetto encourages him to keep... (full context)
Canto 24
Language Theme Icon
...they cross the bridge, Dante hears unintelligible voices from below but cannot see into the dark where they are coming from. He asks Virgil if they can go down after crossing... (full context)
Canto 26
This World vs. the Afterlife Theme Icon
...Virgil take the dangerous climb up some rocks and Dante can see the eighth trench lit up by many small, twinkling fires. Dante compares the small, moving fires to fireflies and... (full context)
Canto 29
This World vs. the Afterlife Theme Icon
...along until they can see the next trench—except that, as Dante remarks, there is no light for it to be seen by. Dante has to cover his ears because the shrieks... (full context)
Canto 31
This World vs. the Afterlife Theme Icon
...seriously upset with him, Dante follows him forward. Dante can hardly see anything in the darkness, but hears a loud horn that makes thunder seem quiet by comparison. Dante thinks that... (full context)
Canto 34
Paganism vs. Christianity Theme Icon
This World vs. the Afterlife Theme Icon
...island where Mt. Purgatory is located. Dante can look up and once again see the bright stars in the sky, which he hasn't seen since entering hell. (full context)