[One hypothesis is that the shot has no significance at all. Another is that it is to be emblematic of the threats of nature confronting the man-apes. But there's another hypothesis. In Dante's work THE INFERNO (completed in the early 1300's), the Leopard is one of three beasts (along with the Lion and the Wolf) preventing Dante's fast ascent to Joy. The poet Virgil (Dante's symbol for reason), explains that to get to Joy, one must first descend into Hell; the beasts cannot be bypassed. Here are the beginning passages from THE INFERNO (from the Ciardi translation [Mentor: 1954] pp. 28-9), ending with confrontation with the Leopard. Those who have seen THE SHINING and 2001 will note some striking parallel imagery here in these passages apart from that of the Leopard . . .] * * * * Midway in our life's journey, I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood. How shall I say what wood that was! I never saw so drear, so rank, so arduous a wilderness! Its very memory gives a shape to fear. Death could scarce be more bitter than that place! But since it came to good, I will recount all that I found revealed there by God's grace. How I came to it I cannot rightly say, so drugged and loose with sleep had I become when I first wandered there from the True Way. But at the far end of that valley of evil whose maze had sapped my very heart with fear! I found myself before a little hill and lifted up my eyes. Its shoulders glowed already with the sweet rays of that planet whose virtue leads men straight on every road, and the shining strengthened me against the fright whose agony had wracked the lake of my heart through all the terrors of that piteous night. Just as a swimmer, who with his last breath flounders ashore from perilous seas, might turn to memorize the wide water of his death -- so did I turn, my soul still fugitive from death's surviving image, to stare down that pass that none had ever left alive. And there I lay to rest from my heart's race till calm and breath returned to me. Then rose and pushed up that dead slope at such a pace each footfall rose above the last. And lo! almost at the beginning of the rise I faced a spotted Leopard, all tremor and flow and gaudy pelt. And it would not pass, but stood so blocking my every turn that time and again I was on the verge of turning back to the wood. This fell at the first widening of the dawn as the sun was climbing Aries with those stars that rode with him to light the new creation. . . . * * * * Dante wasn't the first to use the Leopard as a symbol. Here are some quotes from the Old and New Testaments which do the same: ISAIAH 11:6 -- The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. JEREMIAH 5:6 -- Wherefore a lion out of the forest shall slay them, and a wolf of the evenings shall spoil them, a leopard shall watch over their cities: every one that goeth out thence shall be torn in pieces: because their transgressions are many, and their backslidings are increased. JEREMIAH 13:23 -- Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil. DANIEL 7:6 -- After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard, which had upon the back of it four wings of a fowl; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it. HOSEA 13:7 -- Therefore I will be unto them as a lion: as a leopard by the way will I observe them. REVELATION 13:2 -- And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority.
Back to Table of Contents.