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The Inferno by Dante Alighieri - Barron's Booknotes
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VIRGIL

If you were going to climb a mountain, you would probably
find someone who had climbed that particular mountain
before to guide you, right? It would only make sense to have
someone point out the most dangerous places and tell you how
he or she solved each problem along the way, rather than to
attempt the climb alone, proud and blind, and then fall. For the
first part of his journey, Dante needed a guide who knew
something about Hell, who knew something about the epic
form, and who could think differently from most. Luckily, he
got the perfect guide: Virgil.



1. VIRGIL WAS A GUIDE TO THE EPIC FORM.

Historically, Virgil was a Roman poet who created a
mythological beginning for the Roman Empire in his poem,
the Aeneid. The hero of the poem, Aeneas, was a Trojan who
survived the final sacking of Troy in the Trojan war by
escaping with his father, his son, and some loyal men. They
set off in ships to found a new Troy, which became Rome.
The expedition was, like Dante's own "journey" in the
Comedy, divinely inspired and aided (by Virgil's pagan gods).
But Dante felt there was even more significance than that to
Virgil's theme. The Roman Empire not only spread peace and
stability; it was eventually responsible for the spread of
Christianity. Although it was not biblical, Dante probably saw
the Aeneid as a very important myth for Christians.

2. VIRGIL WAS A GUIDE WHO KNEW HELL.

In Book VI of the Aeneid, Aeneas travels into the underworld
to speak to his father, Anchises. Dante takes many of his
images of Hell from this section of the Aeneid. Because Virgil
created the literary Hell, Dante chooses him as a guide
through his Hell.

3. VIRGIL WAS A GUIDE THROUGH THE SPIRIT WORLD.

Virgil had a reputation as a "White Magician, one capable of
manipulating spirits. In several places of the Inferno, you will
see him use this power to conjure. He got this reputation from
several sections of his writing which, in Dante's time, were
looked at as mystical predictions from a pagan author of the
coming of Christ.

4. VIRGIL STANDS FOR HUMAN REASON.

Virgil becomes in the Inferno the symbol of human reason.
Early in the poem, Virgil tells Dante that he is there because
Heaven wanted him there and that he can take Dante only part
of the way. (Virgil can't enter Heaven or see God because he
lacked a faith in God; he was a pagan.) Someone "more
worthy" will take Dante to God. Most critics interpret this as
saying that man's reason is finite, while God is infinite. Man's
reason and philosophy will get him started on the right way,
but the ultimate way to God is guided by a higher power.

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The Inferno by Dante Alighieri - Barron's Booknotes
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