In canto III of the Inferno, Dante and Virgil reach the gate of hell. Dante is absolutely terrified. This is for good reason, too. He can hardly see a thing, but he can hear a lot; he hears a hideous cacophony of groans, screams, and cries emanating from the swarm of sinners within. No wonder he starts crying.
The fabled inscription above the gate ends with the infamous words:
ABANDON ALL HOPE, YOU WHO ENTER HERE.
It is fair to say that Dante needs a bit of moral support at this moment—and what better person to provide it than noble Virgil, wisest of all the pagans. However, Virgil is not there to hold Dante's hand; he will guide him, but ultimately, it must be Dante who digs deep to find the courage within himself to continue on his perilous journey:
Here you must give up all irresolution;
All cowardice must here be put to death.
This is not so much advice as a stern, fatherly imperative. Dante must be big, brave and confront his demons, both internal and external. However, Virgil's softer side soon comes to the fore. He puts his hand on Dante's hand and smiles as they press ahead.
In Dante's classic, The Divine Comedy, there are three parts to the entire work: Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise.
The question at hand is answered in Inferno, Canto 3. As Dante and Virgil, his guide on this fearfully wonderful quest, arrive at Hell they discover a gate on which is written -
"To enter through the lost city, go through me. Through me you go to meet a suffering unceasing and eternal. You will be with people who, through me, lost everything. My maker, moved by justice, lives above. Through Him, The Holy Power, I was made - made by the height of wisdom and of first love, whose laws all those in here once disobeyed. From now on every day feels like your last forever, let that be your greatest fear. Your future now is to forget the past. Forget your hopes, they were what brought you here."
These lines introduce several ideas, such as the fact that this place was not created by the Devil but by God, not for the purposes of evil but because He was "moved by justice" and "the height of wisdom." Regrets and sorrows, which are perhaps our greatest fears in life, are revealed to be what haunts us after death.
As they prepare to enter through the gate so that their quest may continue, Virgil does indeed have advice for his companion:
"Here you must renounce your slightest doubt and kill your every weakness. Leave behind all thoughts of safety first or be shut out..."
In pursuing the journey on which Dante finds himself, he must believe. He must be willing to put first and foremost a trust in God that what he is about to see is right, and he must overcome the natural tendency to put yourself first: a task that few are able to accomplish.
As Dante and Virgil approach the gates of Hell, Dante starts getting more than a little scared, not least because the inscription above the gates says "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here." Thankfully, the wise pagan is on hand to guide Dante through this difficult phase of his journey. He smiles at Dante and offers him this sage advice:
Here you must renounce your slightest doubt and kill your every weakness. Leave behind all thoughts of safety first or be shut out. (canto 3)
That's easy for Virgil to say, we might think. He is, after all, a virtuous pagan, so Hell holds no fears for him. But Dante, as a Christian, can't afford to be complacent; he may not be dead, but he's still understandably worried about the ultimate fate of his soul. However, we shouldn't forget that Dante is in the early stages of his epic journey, so he still has much to learn about the meaning of sin.