Dante’s Man Crush on Virgil

Dante and Virgil
Dante and Virgil

In the past few weeks, I wrote a few blog posts on Dante’s Inferno, the great medieval Italian depiction of hell.  As it happened, I was in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts the other day, and I stumbled upon this wonderful sculpture of Dante and Virgil.  I had not been previously aware of this 1862 sculpture by Baron Henri de Triqueti.  (For more information on this work, click here.).

I was, though, aware of the serious “man-crush” Dante Alighieri had on Publius Vergilius Maro, more commonly known as Virgil.  Virgil was a Roman poet who lived from 70 – 19 B.C., while Dante was a Florentine who lived from 1265-1321 A.D,  Obviously, then, they never met.  This sculpture is a product of Triqueti’s imagination.

Virgil was most famous for epic poem The Aeneid, which was in many ways a rewriting of Homer’s The Odyssey and The Iliad,  but from the point of view of the Trojans who eventually became the Romans who, at the time of Aeneid’s writing, were a powerful empire controlling a good chunk of the world.

Dante thought Virgil was awesome, the bees knees, the greatest thing since sliced bread, the top of the charts, quite simply the best.  Dante thought Virgil was so cool, in fact, that he put him in his poem.  Virgil in The Inferno symbolizes the epitome of human reason, the best that humans are capable of without the light of God.  (Virgil was a pagan.)  Unfortunately, Virgil lives in hell because he was pre-Christian.   However, he lives in the best section of it, along with the other virtuous pagans.  Nothing really bad happens to the virtuous pagans.  They are simply without hope of heaven.

Having quite a bit of spare time on his hands, Virgil agrees to guide Dante through hell.  He explains who is who, what is what, and why they sinners are punished the way they are.  Without Virgil, Dante would not have been able to make it through hell and come out on the other end.  Without Virgil as his poetic guide, he would not have been able to write the masterpiece of The Divine Comedy, either.

What about you?  If you were writing an epic poem in which you were featured as the hero or heroine, who would you choose as your guide?  Do you have a man-crush or woman-crush on an author, dead or alive?


What Fresh Hell Is This? Dante’s “Inferno:

Sandro Botticelli, Portrait of Dante
Sandro Botticelli, Portrait of Dante


Medieval Italian poet Dante Alighieri wrote probably the most famous depiction of hell of all times.  In his Inferno, he wrote very detailed descriptions of the nine levels of hell.  For him, sins are not all created equal.  The first circle of hell is reserved for those who were not bad in life, just unbaptized.  The second circle is for those who succumb to lust.  The third is for gluttony, and so forth.  Each sin has its own punishment designed specifically for it.  For example, the lustful are forced to be blown about in a violent storm because they succumbed to the violent storm of lust  in real life.

Which level do you belong in?
Which level do you belong in?

At the center of hell lies Satan.  Although we tend to think of hell as a fiery place, Dante’s Satan is encased in ice, denoting his soul that is frozen to the love of God.

William Bougureau, painting of Dante's Inferno
William Bougureau, painting of Dante’s Inferno

Dante lived in the 14th century, so his conception of various sins was colored by the times in which he lived.  I think we need to update his map of hell for the present times.

I need your help for this.  If you were to create a map of hell as you see it, what/who would you put in the various levels?

For example, I teach at the college level.  If I were to make a map of academic sins, I might include the following:

–1st circle:  students who continually ask questions like, “When is this paper due?” or “What are we doing tomorrow” when all of this information is found on my carefully planned and copiously distributed syllabus.

–2nd circle:  students who missed class and ask the next day, “Did I miss anything in class yesterday?”

–3rd circle:  students who spend the entire class period looking down at their crotches, texting on their phones.

–8th circle:  Plagiarizers.

–9th circle:  Administrators who think people do not need to study literature.

(Obviously, this is a work in progress.)

Tell me about your levels of hell!