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How did Macrobius influence Dante?

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Though Macrobius undoubtedly influenced a number of Italian humanists, such as Boccaccio and Petrarch, it is by no means certain that he was a direct influence on Dante. It has been argued by a number of scholars that Dante was certainly familiar with Macrobius but that any influence the fifth-century Roman civil servant and man of letters may have exerted over him was indirect.

That said, there are traces of Macrobius in the epithets which Dante uses to introduce the character of Virgil in canto 1 of Inferno. The pilgrim Dante addresses the ancient poet as a "fountain, which spreads abroad so wide a river of speech." This excerpt seems to be based on a passage found in Macrobius' Saturnalia, where Virgil is praised in similarly gushing terms:

Quis fons: quis torrens: quod mare tot fluctibus: quot hic uerbis inundauit.

What spring, what torrent, what sea in flood can match with waves the number of his words?

Another instance of possible influence in canto 1 occurs in relation to the three beasts—a leopard, a lion, and a she-wolf—by which Dante is confronted in the forest. This could be an oblique reference to Macrobius' Saturnalia, which includes a discussion of the three-headed beast of Serapis, a figure of time associated with the three ages of man.

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