Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 453
Phlegyas: The mariner on the Styx who comes for Dante and Virgil
Filippo Argenti: Florentine resident; had differed politically with Dante
At the top of the tower Dante and Virgil see two sparks of light; in the distance two sparks answer and Phlegyas, the angry oarsman, arrives. Phlegyas does not like the fact that Dante and Virgil are only visitors and not to be permanent residents of the area.
Dante expresses anger toward the soul in the mud who tries to hold their boat. Dante expresses this contempt toward the man—whom he recognizes. Virgil commends Dante for his expression of contempt toward the shade and agrees with Dante’s actions.
Virgil goes to the gates of the City of Dis, or Lower Hell. In the lower regions, more serious sins find greater punishment. The enemy, however, slams the gate in Virgil’s face. When Virgil is unable to enter, he calls to ask for help.
Discussion and Analysis
The ferryman Phlegyas may be the same mythological Greek King who burned Apollo’s temple upon finding that Apollo was in love with his daughter. Apollo killed Phlegyas and condemned Phlegyas to Hades. Because of his own wrathful and sacrilegious actions, Phlegyas would be an appropriate oarsman between the Wrathful and Impious Souls.
There are several possible explanations for Dante’s anger toward the soul in the mud. First, since the wrathful had accepted cruelty and denied pity in life, in death no pity could be given them. Another reason for the unkind remarks might be that Dante is beginning to change and to reject sin. A third, obvious reason might be the fact that the remarks and actions of the wrathful soul in the mud caused anger in Dante. A fourth reason might be that the soul in the mud was an enemy of Dante when they were both in Florence; in fact Dante states that he knows the person. Some interpreters believe the soul to be Filippo Argenti.
The reader should note that Dante’s actions in Canto VIII vary from the tears that Dante originally shed when he first saw the shades in Hell. Virgil’s support of Dante’s anger is because Virgil, as a man of reason, is bitter toward those who would deliberately choose sin.
Virgil’s having to ask for help in order to gain admission to the City of Dis symbolizes that people cannot make this trip alone but must have permission from a higher power to continue onto the area of greater sins. The fact that Virgil has difficulty gaining admission is an indication that Virgil has not committed those sins which would gain him entrance to the lower parts of Hell.
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