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Virgil is Dante’s traveling companion in Dante’s Inferno. Virgil is a poet from Ancient Rome who appears in ghost form, but he comes to Dante and guides him through the Inferno. Virgil is significant because Dante is alluding to and calling on poets of the past, hearkening to the Ancient Roman roots of his civilization.
Dante loses his way on the path to God and ends up in a frightening underworld. He encounters Virgil, a man who “seemed from long-continued silence hoarse” (Canto 1). Dante first asks Virgil if he is a man or not, and Virgil replies that he was. He goes on to describe his life.
I born, though it was late,
And lived at Rome under the good Augustus,
During the time of false and lying gods.
A poet was I… (Canto 1)
Apparently, the path is treacherous. Virgil explains this.
Many the animals with whom she weds,
And more they shall be still, until the Greyhound
Comes, who shall make her perish in her pain. (Canto 1)
Virgil knows the way, and tells Dante that he can show him where to go. It is significant that Virgil seems to have shed his own culture in favor of a Christian one. Dante is re-writing history. While Virgil may have turned to God and can help Dante, he can only do so to a point. Virgil’s influence is long gone. Dante belongs to a more advanced, more sophisticated, more righteous culture than Virgil.
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