the Divine Commedy is not simply an
epic poem whose sole purpose is to narrate the pilgrim’s imaginary physical
journey from Hell, to Purgatory and Heaven like many would perceive it. It is
about the pilgrim’s self-evolution, growth of character and an allegorical
journey towards salvation led by the greatest poet in the Latin language and
the most significant writer of antiquity, Publius Virgilius Maro, commonly
known as Virgil. Given the overall theme of the poem however, one would most
likely predict Dante to choose a religious or a Christian figure as his guide for
a spiritual journey of this kind. At the very least, we would expect Aristotle,
who the poet refers to as “the master of all
those who think and know” (Inferno IV, 13), to be chosen to
fulfil/take on the task. Therefore, readers may wonder why a classical poet like
Virgil, author of the Aeneid and the Fourth Eclogue whose meticulously crafted
poetry inspired many poets around the world, including Dante himself, was the
one he would chose.
From the very start,
not only does Dante introduce Virgil as his teacher and author, “tu sei lo mio
maestro e lo mio autore” (inf.1, line?) due to Virgil’s moral and intellectual
authority, he also mentions how much the poet has influenced his poetic style
and skill in “tu solo se’colui
da cui io tolsi Lo bello stilo che m’ha fatto onore” (inf.1. line?). This shows
how much Virgil has contributed to the Golden age of Roman poetry where he
carried a status of a master poet and a predecessor of millions of roman poets.
In fact, when entering the limbo with Dante, Virgil is greeted as the “Prince
of Poets” (Inf.2.80).
was a master poet whose rigorously structured texts prophesized the birth of
Christ and therefore were not only praised for their literary value, but also
for their Christian interpretations. He was a role model to many also because he
was the manifestation of human intellect, who represents Dante’s idea of empire,
as his intentions with the Aeneid are mirrored in Dante’s political dream. Which
brings us to Dante’s three key ideas which link him to Virgil: idea of reason, idea
of Empire and idea of poetry.