Inferno, I, 3
From the half-light of dawn to the half-light of evening, the eyes of a leopard, in the last few years of the twelfth century, looked upon a few wooden boards, some vertical iron bars, some varying men and women, a blank wall, and perhaps a stone gutter littered with dry leaves. The leopard did not know, could not know, that it yearned for love and cruelty and the hot pleasure of tearing flesh and a breeze with the scent of deer, but something inside it was suffocating and howling in rebellion, and God spoke to it in a dream: You shall live and die in this prison, so that a man that I have knowledge of may see you a certain number of times and never forget you and put your figure and symbol in a poem, which has its exact place in the weft of the universe. You suffer captivity, but you shall have given a word to the poem. In the dream, God illuminated the animal’s rude understanding and the animal grasped the reasons and accepted its fate, but when it awoke there was only an obscure resignation in it, a powerful ignorance, because the machine of the world is exceedingly complex for the simplicity of a savage beast.
Years later, Dante was to die in Ravenna, as unjustified and alone as any other man. God told him the secret purpose of his life and work; Dante, astonished, learnt at last who he was and what he was, and he blessed the bitterness of his life. Legend has it that when he awoke, he sensed that he had received and lost an infinite thing, something he would never be able to recover, or even to descry from afar, because the machine of the world is exceedingly complex for the simplicity of men.