If, as Patrick Boyde has observed, Dante exploits the indeterminate phases of perception to create suspense, then the prelude to Geryon's arrival in Inferno amplifies this effect by disposing the monster's appearance out of the darkness as the expected, yet answer to a sign. When Virgil throws Dante's girdle down into the pit, the disappearance of the cord cuts a path into the darkness, through which Geryon can make his appearance. Dante, indeed, already perceives this possible arrival as a necessity:
"And surely, something strange must here reply,"
I said within myself, "to this strange sign--
the sign my master follows with his eye."
The sign is a cord, "knotted and coiled." It recently had the practical function of girdling Dante's attire, and once the allegorical function of enabling Dante "to catch the leopard with the painted hide." By divesting himself of it, Dante at once divests it of this its double significance--or rather, he testifies to the loss of its allegorical function. The history of the cord runs thus: once, it was an allegory--or a thing waiting to become one, like a coiled snake waiting to strike, its allegorical destiny bound within it; then, its significance waning, the allegorical occasion having escaped it, it became a mere thing, its knots and coils girdling only attire; now, Dante having "loosened it completely," the cord is loosened from its literal function as well. Yet, it remains "knotted and coiled." Around what, and binding what? Nothing, to be sure. But this nothing is a determinate nothing: the loosening of a thing from its literal and allegorical significance. Its meaning is now only this loosening, which it binds. "Strange sign," indeed.