Even though every English translation of the Inferno describes the wild cat that impedes Dante’s way up the mountain of Salvation in Canto I as a leopard, there is no direct correlation between the leopard we know and the Italian term Dante uses, 'una lonza.' A glance at Singleton's notes on the "lonza" reveals how the term’s ambiguity has resulted in little agreement about the cat’s gender, whether it was a live, breathing animal or merely mythical. This paper examines a variety of sources from art history to zoology to argue that the wild cat Dante was trying to conjure up was a cheetah rather than a leopard. There is evidently a long history of confusing the pair, which we’ll see from studying the illuminated manuscripts in medieval bestiaries, the sketchbooks by Italian artists who drew these animals from life, and the lynchpin, a painting by Titian. What follows is a dissection of Dante’s lonza in three parts: its etymology, zoology and allegory.
"Dante's 'Lonza': A Dissection of the Wild Cat in Canto I,"
Bibliotheca Dantesca: Journal of Dante Studies: Vol. 5, Article 21.
Available at: https://repository.upenn.edu/bibdant/vol5/iss1/21
Additional FilesDante_s_Lonza.m4v (159628 kB)