illustration of a human covered in a starry sky walking from the sky and plains toward a fiery opening to hell

The Divine Comedy

by Dante Alighieri

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Why and how does Dante glorify Virgil in The Divine Comedy?

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Dante glorifies Virgil through his praise of the poet as a fountain and as the "light and honor of all other poets." Indeed, Virgil was considered among the greatest of poets in Dante's day. The character Dante elevates Virgil as his master and guide, for Virgil has found him in his time of great need, but the poet Dante associates Virgil with reason and recognizes that reason alone is not sufficient to reach Heaven.

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In the Divine Comedy, Dante (the fictionalized version of the poet) has strayed from the right path both literally and figuratively and finds himself in a dark wood. He is unable to make his way out, and he is stalked by beasts and terrified by everything. Then a man appears—or at least, Dante thinks he might be a man, or perhaps a shade. Dante calls out, "Have pity on me," for he is truly lost and needs someone to guide him.

The man turns out to be the shade, the ghost, of the poet Virgil, and when Dante recognizes him, he calls him "the fountain / that freely pours so rich a stream of speech." Virgil indeed was considered the highest of poets in Dante's day, and he was famous for his Aeneid, which was held as a standard for all other poetry. Dante (the character) shows his admiration for this best of poets by his words, glorifying him as a source of finest poetry.

A couple lines later, Dante again exclaims over Virgil, referring to him as the "light and honor of all other poets." Virgil is the model for other aspiring writers, and he provides them light to imitate him as they honor him for his greatness. Dante then declares that he has long studied Virgil and possesses an intense love for him and for his work. He calls Virgil his "master" and his "author" and proclaims how he has achieved his own "noble style" by drawing from Virgil's work. Virgil, therefore, has been a role model for Dante himself.

Dante (the character) puts his trust in Virgil to lead him through his journey, for Virgil has been sent to him by the Blessed Virgin Mary through St. Lucy and Beatrice. Virgil is symbolic of human reason that can guide a person truly, but only so far. Dante's great admiration for him thus also extends only so far, for Dante (the poet) realizes that to get to Heaven, a person needs faith as well as reason, and Virgil cannot help him there.

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