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Where Athens and Jerusalem Meet: Why Dante Chose Virgil as his Guide

Dante’s Divine Comedy, perhaps the single greatest expression of the human imagination,
sets itself the daunting task of embodying in verse the full medieval vision of God, Man, and
the Universe. However, when he chose what great figure of the past would function as his
guide through Hell and Purgatory, the Catholic Dante chose not Peter or Paul, not Augustine
or Aquinas, but the pagan poet, Virgil. To understand why Dante chose Virgil as his guide is
to plumb not only the soul of Dante but to grasp and appreciate the Italian, Roman Catholic
legacy at its fullest and most profound. It is to understand as well Virgil’s multiple status as
the greatest epic poet, as the most noble of Romans, as the exemplar of human reason and
classical virtue, and as a proto-Christian whom God used to prepare the ancient world for
Christ’s coming.