Virgil came to be regarded as one of Rome's greatest poets. His Aeneid can be considered a national epic of Rome and has been extremely popular from its publication to the present day. Virgil- Beatrice sends Virgil to Earth to retrieve Dante and act as his guide through Hell and Purgatory. Since the poet Virgil lived before Christianity, he dwells in Limbo (Ante-Inferno) with other righteous non-Christians. As author, Dante chooses the character Virgil to act as his guide because he admired Virgil's work above all other poets and because Virgil had written of a similar journey through the underworld. Thus, Virgil's character knows the way through Hell and can act as Dante's knowledgeable guide while he struggles alongside Dante when they enter Purgatory together for the first time. As a spirit, Virgil suffers no physical pain and moves through Hell and Purgatory without effort. However, he must make arrangements for Dante to cross chasms, rivers, and walls because Dante retains his physical form. Dante's physical presence gives clues, such as casting a shadow and displacing rocks, that indicate to the spirits that Dante is still alive. The fact that Dante is alive angers many of the spirits, especially the guardians of the underworld, so Virgil also serves as Dante's protector as he warns Dante's would-be foes that their journey was predestined in Heaven. Virgil as a Teacher
Although Virgil’s official job title is a "guide" for Dante, we all know there is more going on. Virgil quickly goes from tour guide to personal tutor, liaison, and father figure to Dante. Even so, Virgil does a tremendous job as the tour guide. In each canto, he does some straight-up lecturing, but Virgil does show-and-tell too, with real-life sinners. He’s quite a speaker, able to convey to Dante such huge concepts as the role of Fortune in the human realm, the internal structure of Hell, the origin of the Underworld rivers, the geography of the earth, and the Harrowing of Hell.
But he’s more than just a lecturer. Virgil knows when to step back and let Dante do the dirty work and learn his lesson the hard way. He doesn’t stop Dante from arguing with sinners or sympathizing with them, though he obviously disapproves of the latter. He is patient with his naive pupil and only begins reprimanding him in the later circles. But he does eventually get fed up with Dante’s crying and swooning and orders him to toughen up.
Enter Virgil the taskmaster. No more Mr. Nice Guy. He rebukes Dante for daring to pity the magicians and the sowers of scandal – even when one of them turns out to be Dante’s fourth cousin twice-removed.
To scare some sense into Dante, Virgil seems to provoke every single "guardian" of Hell they encounter. Minos? Yep. Charon. Him too. Phlegyas? You bet. In fact, he riles up the Minotaur so much that Dante is forced to do the Hellish equivalent of the Pamplona Bull Run. And after the black comedy encounter with the demons, Dante has a healthy fountain of fear for tapping into later. At one point, Virgil even sends Dante away on his own to talk to some sinners while he deals with Geryon. And how does Dante do? Pathetically. When the usurers tell him to scram, Dante raises no argument and runs back to Virgil. Dante wilts without Virgil’s guidance.
But Virgil is not hoping for Dante to get hurt. He does his best to protect Dante, and he does get them safely past every guardian of Hell he incites. Virgil also reigns in his proud boasting when he realizes that he actually needs some guardians’ help, from Geryon and Antaeus for example, to complete their journey. To his credit, he also risks his own life (errr, afterlife?) to make sure Dante escapes the demons.
As stern as Virgil tries to be, we know that deep down inside, he just wants to share a beer with Dante while watching the big game. Virgil likes Dante, and his affection shows in their pseudo-familial relationship. How many times have we heard Virgil call...
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