Virgil’s influence on Dante’s Inferno

Essay add: 30-09-2015, 14:24   /   Views: 1 308
Virgil’s influence on Dante’s Inferno

An excellent poet in his own right Dante greatly admired the success and personal character of Virgil. Virgil is an interesting character greatly influences Dante as a poet and as the main character in the Inferno. In the Inferno, Dante turned the poet Virgil into the guiding character that was to be responsible for teaching and leading him along his pilgrimage through hell. Throughout the Inferno there are specific situations that demonstrates Virgil’s influence among Dante, as a poet and, as the main character. There are also other specific situations that demonstrate Virgil’s ignorance of Catholicism, which relates to his placement in hell.

Virgil not only aids Dante as the guiding character in the Inferno, but also aids Dante in his writing of the Inferno as a poet. Dante calls Virgil his "master and author (Canto I)," which emphasizes how important Virgil has been for Dante as a poet and a philosopher. “Dante borrowed as well from Virgil the poet much of his language, style, and content.” Because Virgil is made out to be an atheist, Dante being Christian could not copy Virgil’s exact outline but instead created a hell distinct from, yet still reminiscent of Virgil’s Underworld of Book VI. Dante’s interpretation resembled a more Catholic understanding of what hell should be like and modernizes Virgil’s perspective into what sort of people and crimes are deserving of hell’s occupancy.

Dante’s positioning of Virgil in hell’s hierarchy is important as a character and mentor of Dante’s. According to Christian doctrine no one outside the Church without the first Sacrament, baptism, can be saved. Dante going along the Catholic doctrine chooses to put Virgil among the souls suspended in Limbo. Souls are assigned to Limbo because they were virtuous individuals who had no knowledge of Jesus and His teachings, because they preceded Him in time, or after His coming died un-baptized. Although physical torment is absent, the shades, along with Virgil, suffer mental distress. This distress is due from being aware that there is a living God and they are forced to have to “live in desire” without any hope of joining Him in heaven. As comfortable as Virgil seems to be with his eternal fate he will start to show signs of remorse in the further Cantos.

Thus far in the Inferno Dante has put complete and absolute trust in Virgil’s ability as a guide and teacher. Dante does not yet question Virgil’s judgment until Canto XXI when Malacoda offers to send ten devils to escort Virgil and Dante to the sixth bolgia. Dante, fearing the devils, begs Virgil to refuse the escort and to let them continue alone. Virgil, despite Dante’s pleas, accepts the offer made by Malacoda with much gratitude on they continue on their way.

Although Dante and Virgil have not yet discovered the lie that Malacoda told them in the Canto XXI, Virgil's mistake is already becoming clear. The devils themselves, whom Virgil entrusted as guides, take part in trickery and seem to be guilty of the sins punished in hell even as they help to carry out the Divine judgment given to them by God. The sinners in this Canto are being punished for sins of fraud, which they still indulge in acts of fraud to escape future punishment, which is very ironic.

Virgil's shortcomings are becoming more noticeable as they progress and his resentment of his own suffering is starting to clearly set Virgil apart from Dante, who is beginning to be glad at the justice he sees enacted in these punishments. In the beginning of Dante’s pilgrimage, Virgil often scorned Dante for having sympathy for the shades he saw as they progressed through the various circles. As Dante makes greater progress in his spiritual journey and becomes more critical of the sinners, Virgil starts to appear more sympathetic towards them and their fate that has been eternalized. This sympathy starts to arise because Virgil is becoming now more aware of his situation and place in hell, and is finally starting to realize through the progression of Dante how eternal his situation in Limbo is.

There are three distinguishable moments in Canto XXIII that helps to show this transformation in Virgil’s character. First, Dante's memory of his "first fear" from Canto XXI reminds Virgil that if he had listened to Dante and refused the guidance of the devils, this danger could have possible been avoided. Second, Virgil's confusion with the figure of Caiphas, stretched out and crucified on the ground. Having crucified one man for the sins of the entire world, Caiphas must be crucified in this bolgia, where the shades walk over his naked body. In feeling the weight of their bodies Caiphas suffers for the hypocrisy of the other sinners. Virgil is later embarrassed that he does not recognize the figure of the crucifixion, which Caiphas re-enacts. Third, at the end of the Canto XXIII, Virgil is actually corrected by one of the sinners, who says, "The devil has many vices, among which . . . he is a liar and the father of lies (Canto XXIII)." When Virgil finally asks the hypocrites to tell them the way out of this bolgia they mock him for believing the devils in the first place. As Dante develops his understanding of the divine judgment in hell, Virgil's lack of understanding becomes more and more apparent.

Virgil has been a great help to Dante thus far in the Inferno, and his progression in understanding the divine justice of God would have not been possible without Virgil’s accompaniment. Nevertheless as they further progress towards the center of hell Dante starts to realize, through his own progression, that Virgil is only a shade, and will never be able to understand the divine justice as Dante is. Dante is also starting to dismiss Virgil as a mentor and starting to accept him more as an escort given to him by Beatrice. It is very surprising to slowly read of Virgil’s decaying self-image and worth when he has been such an inspiration to Dante in not only the entire structure of the Inferno, but also as a respected poet and an admirer of Dante.

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