When looking at Virgil's role, why does he seem to act the way he does towards Dante? What lesson is it that Virgil wants Dante to learn?
Dante Alighieri carefully selected Virgil as his guide through Hell because he could provide insights from the ancient world. As a man who lived in Rome’s pre-Christian past, Virgil was acquainted with the customs and morals of those who had not the advantage of learning from Christ’s teachings: he was a noble “pagan.” In addition, Virgil was a gifted chronicler of the conflicts and transgressions of his own day and earlier epochs.
Dante’s faith in Virgil is demonstrated early on, when they approach the gates of Hell. Dante is not only discouraged by the warning above the door to “abandon all hope” but unsettled by the hue and cry he hears from within. He warns Dante that the inhabitants are truly miserable but compassion is of little use; they have earned just punishment. These sad people “have foregone the good of intellect.” Once he passes through the gates, Dante’s only path forward is to address all sights bravely: “All cowardice must needs be here extinct.” Virgil will play a vital role in helping Dante endure the gruesome sights and develop his inner bravery as he does so.
Later Virgil provides steadfast guidance when Dante becomes enthralled by the chaotic scenes. “Think I am ever at thy side,” he instructs Dante, who should avoid the bad influence of those condemned for their furious arguing.
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