In the final years of the twelfth century, from twilight of dawn to twilight of dusk, a leopard looked upon some wooden planks, some vertical iron bars, men and women who were always different, a thick wall and, perhaps, a stone trough filled with dry leaves. The leopard did not know, could not know, that what he craved was love and cruelty and the hot pleasure of rending and the odor of a deer on the wind; and something rebelled and God spoke to him in a dream: You live and will die in this prison, so that a man I know may look at you a certain number of times and and not forget you and put your figure and your symbol in a poem which has its precise place in the scheme of the universe. You suffer captivity, but will have furnished a word to the poem. In the dream, God enlightened the rough beast, so that the leopard understood God's reasons and accepted his destiny; and yet, when he awoke, he felt merely an obscure resignation, a gallant ignorance, for the machinery of the world is overly complex for the simplicity of a wild beast.In Dante's inferno, the lines in which the poor imprisoned leopard makes his appearance are:
Years later, Dante lay dying in Ravenna, as little justified and as much alone as any other man. In a dream, God revealed to him the secret purpose of his life and labor; in wonderment, Dante knew at last who he was and what he was and blessed his bitter days. Tradition holds that on awakening he felt he had received and then lost something infinite, something he could not recuperate, or even glimpse, for the machinery of the world is overly complex for the simplicity of men.
My wearied frame refreshed with scanty rest,Virgil's ascent of the hill is further hindered by a lion and then a she-wolf. Indeed, "The machinery of the world is overly complex for the simplicity of men."
I to ascend the lonely hill essayed;
The lower foot still that on which I pressed.
And lo! ere I had well beginning made,
A nimble leopard, light upon her feet,
And in a skin all spotted o’er arrayed:
Nor ceased she e’er me full in the face to meet,
And to me in my path such hindrance threw
That many a time I wheeled me to retreat.
It was the hour of dawn; with retinue
Of stars that were with him when Love Divine
In the beginning into motion drew
Those beauteous things, the sun began to shine;
And I took heart to be of better cheer
Touching the creature with the gaudy skin,