"A panther light and swift exceedingly "

(Canto 1, line 32)

This "panther" is often viewed as a symbol for the desires of the flesh. The panther, the "lion" and the "she-wolf" further down together represent a triple barrier and a triple sin (the lion representing pride and the she-wolf greed). Others have interpreted the panther as signifying envy. A historical document from 1285 mentions a caged leopard or a panther in the possession of the city authorities of Florence, which Dante may have seen.

The concept of the three beasts may have its roots in the biblical verse 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."