Divine Comedy - Dante and Virgil's Relationship in Canto XIV of Dante’s Inferno

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Dante and Virgil's Relationship in Canto XIV of Dante’s Inferno

In Canto XIV of Dante’s Inferno, Virgil describes the statue of the Old Man of Crete. Dante uses the Old Man of Crete as a metaphor for Virgil’s legacy in order to elucidate the nature of Dante’s and Virgil’s relationship.

In the beginning of the metaphor, Dante carefully and methodically illustrates the grandeur of the Greek empire and Roman civilization. "[Mount Ida] was once chosen," Virgil explains, "as a trusted cradle/ by Rhea for her son" (XIV.100-101). According to Roman mythology, Rhea gave birth to Zeus, who ultimately became the father of all Greek gods and mortal heroes and served as the cornerstone of Greek civilization. Crete, thus, is the "cradle" or
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The Old Man of Crete is a representation of Virgil’s legacy and also a reminder to readers that Virgil has had tremendous influence on Dante.

The connection between Dante and Virgil, however, goes beyond a simple mentor/student relationship. Dante and Virgil are united in their craft, which is to produce literature and communicate through words. They are both poets who, by depicting hell in their works, face the challenge of answering to blasphemy. This common thread is emphasized by the fact the passage about the Old Man is told in the Circle of the Violent Against God. The only way to be violent against God, i.e. to deny his existence, is through words. In this context, the Old Man shows how Dante and Virgil are united through their literary craft. Furthermore, Dante the poet very carefully places this message in the Circle of the Violent Against God, and not in the Eight Circle of Fraud, suggesting that Dante and Virgil do not intend to blaspheme.

The statue also reveals the dichotomy in their relationship. "The Old Man’s head is fashioned of fine gold,/ the purest silver forms his arms and chest,/ but he is made of brass down to the cleft" (XIV.106-108). If the Old Man is supposed to represent the legacy of Virgil, why do decreasingly pure materials make up the statue? Perhaps these different materials represent the different levels of relationship between Dante and Virgil. The gold may be a reference to their relationship at