What does Virgil symbolize in the Inferno? Why is he Dante's chosen guide? What is Dante supposed to learn from him?

The journey through hell with Virgil is meant to teach Dante about the spiritual world. He will learn from Virgil what reason alone can teach him, and then he will be ready to receive the grace of the Holy Spirit.

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Virgil symbolizes the best of the pagan world. He is as wise, as knowledgeable, and as virtuous as a person can be who has never had an encounter with Christ. This makes him a fit and trustworthy guide for Dante.

Virgil is especially suited for this journey as the writer of the Aeneid. In the Aeneid, Virgil has Aeneas travel to the underworld. Because he wrote of a journey to hell, Virgil is assumed to have special knowledge that will come in handy for this journey. Further, Virgil is the chosen guide because Christians, such as Beatrice, are not allowed into hell.

Dante is taking this journey because, in the middle of life (he is 35) he has fallen away from his spiritual path and hopes to regain his faith. From Virgil, he is expected to learn everything that reason alone can teach him about the spiritual world. Virgil can also protect him from danger.

One of Virgil's chief functions is to explain to Dante why hell's punishments, which can seem horrible, are just. From Virgil, Dante is expected to learn not to feel pity and grief for those who ended up in hell. After he journeys with and learns from Virgil, Dante will be passed along to those, like Beatrice, who can supplement Virgil's wise and rational wisdom with spiritual truth.

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