The Inferno by Dante Alighieri is an allegory explaining Dante’s journey through the depths of hell. Dante who has abandoned the catholic way of life has to now travel through hell to reach the right path that will take him to heaven. He is guided by a man called Virgil, a Roman poet, who is in limbo, the first circle of hell. Virgil takes Dante through hell and shows him people who are suffering for the sins that they have committed. Together they travel through the nine different stages of hell taking into account who is in each stage, what sins they have committed and what their punishment is.
The relationship between Dante the pilgrim and Virgil the guide develops throughout the Inferno. In this essay I am going to look carefully at the author’s use of Virgil as the pilgrim’s guide by analyzing their relationship and the transformation of this relationship as they both travel through the circles of hell. By doing this I will be able to learn more about the mindset of Dante the poet. At the beginning of the Inferno, it is evident that Dante is docile to Virgil, however, as they travel further into the depths of hell, Virgil aids Dante’s spiritual enlightenment, so that by the end, Dante has risen to Virgil’s spiritual level and has in many respects surpassed him. I will elaborate on this concept and develop my arguments by using quotes from Dante’s Inferno and adding my own ideas.
Dante the poet and Dante the character appear to look at Virgil in different ways. Dante the character regards Virgil as his master, constantly admiring him, seeking his protection and also has great trust in him. Dante the poet, however, seems to utilize the Inferno to prove his own poetic achievements and compare them to the classical poets who preceded him, including Virgil. Virgil not only supports Dante as the guiding character in the Inferno, but also helps Dante in his writing of the Inferno as a poet. He is Dante’s guide and is accountable for leading him along his journey through hell. Throughout the Inferno there are several different situations that show Virgil’s influence towards Dante. Dante says to Virgil "You are my teacher. You, my lord and law.” (Inferno, Canto 1, Line 85)," which shows how influential Virgil has been for Dante, both as a poet and a philosopher.
Allegorically, Virgil, like many of the characters that appear in the Divine Comedy, has more than one meaning. Firstly, he can be portrayed as standing for Dante's conscience. An example of this is in Canto 23 when Dante is saved by Virgil from the demons. This is again evident in Canto 30 when Virgil scorns Dante for listening to the damned arguing and speaks of always being with him, even back in the living world. Moreover, Virgil demonstrates all the wisdom that Dante had learned from the classical world. Dante believes Virgil's limitations point to those of classical wisdom which lacks the Christian revelation.
As Dante’s guide, Virgil helps to show the classical aspects of the poem. His relationship with the character of Dante in the Inferno is extremely important and symbolic. Throughout the Inferno, Virgil comes across as a character of reason and protection. For Dante, Virgil is a very good guide as he has travelled the territory before. It is evident that Virgil provides Dante, who is at times unsure and afraid of experiencing the depths of hell with the safety and knowledge that he requires. An example of this is in Canto 2 when Dante panics at the Vestibule, the entrance to hell. With the help of Virgil’s words of reassurance, Dante finds the strength of mind to continue his journey by replying to Virgil “You, as you speak, have so disposed my heart in keen desire to journey on the way that I return to find my first good purpose, Set off! A single will inspire us both. You are my Lord, my leader and true guide.” (Inferno, Canto 2, Line 136)
There are various other...