We meet Virgil in the Inferno just when Dante begins to lose all hope in going through that "shadowed forest." Beatrice has appointed him to guide our hero through hell and then through Purgatory. Himself being in Limbo, Virgil knew the nooks and crannies of hell. His knowledge would then profit Dante in his perilous journey.
On the allegorical level, however, Virgil represents reason. Dante, on the other hand, is the personification of every man. Every human person is a sinner. In order to obtain forgiveness and salvation, every person needs reason to acknowledge the nature of sin, and how it goes against God's love and His divine plan for everyone. As we all learned in our very extensive theology classes, the way to salvation is through reason enlightened by faith. Beatrice, whom we meet in Purgatorio, embodies faith.
The role of Virgil in both books is not always the same. The character of Virgil in the Inferno is more confident and reassured than he was in Purgatorio, wherein he is often insecure and uncertain.
The Divine Comedy could be read from many different angles. One could take in everything at face value, judging the book as just another piece of fine poetry. On the other hand, there is more to what the lines actually say. Underneath the story, one finds a richness of symbolism and metaphors which reflects each and everyone's spiritual lives. This paper is divided into four parts. The first part is the literal sense of the Inferno, the second, the allegorical, the third is the literal meaning of the Purgatorio, and finally followed by its allegorical sense.
Virgil in the Inferno is the "head honcho." He knows where to go, who to talk to, and what to do. His confidence is something to be admired.
As Virgil and Dante embark on their journeys in Canto I of the Inferno, Virgil is cool, calm, and collected. When he sees Dante, he immediately takes charge:
" I think it best for you
to follow me, and I shall guide you, taking
you from this place through an eternal place "
(Inf. I, 112-114)
In their journey, the duo meets with the souls who are forever being punished for their sins. Virgil often addresses them rudely, sometimes with open hostility: "Then he stretched both his hands out toward the boat,/ at which my master quickly shoved him back,/ saying : Be off there with the other dogs!'" (Inf. VII, 40-42)
His hostility is not spared even toward the guardians of hell. In Canto III, we meet the demon Charon. He is a fearsome creature, " with eyes like embers." (Inf. III, 109) Everyone is scared of him. Everyone, that is, except Virgil. After shouting to the shades and our heroes about losing all hope, and making the shades lose their color and gnash their teeth in fear, Virgil immediately snaps: "Charon don't torment yourself " (Inf., III, 94). The same is true when they meet Cereberus, Plutus, the boatman Phlegyas, Minos, the Centaurs, and so on. In Canto VII, Virgil reassures his charge that no one could possibly harm him and reprimands Plutus. In the following Canto, we could picture Virgil's ingratiating little smirk as he tells off Phlegyas: "'O Phlegyas, Phlegyas, such a shout is useless/ this time,' my master said; we're yours no longer than it will take to cross the muddy sluice.'" (Inf., VIII, 19-21). Virgil is never afraid in the Inferno. He approaches everything and everyone with confidence, his head held high, his patrician nose turned up.
In the Inferno, Dante puts Virgil on a pedestal. He almost always refers to his guide as "my master." Virgil, on the other hand, guides him every step of the way. He tells Dante where to go, how to talk to the shades, and what to ask of them. In Canto X, for example, as they approach...