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Like all good conversations, the one between Dante and Virgil has apparently lasted all day. Seriously. The sun is setting and Dante mentally fortifies himself for the upcoming night. (Picture an internal pep talk, complete with the you-can-do-it coaching.)
To give him courage and virtue and whatnot, Dante invokes the Muses.
But he’s still afraid and doubtful of his own abilities. So he asks Virgil in a long, convoluted way why he was chosen for this journey. This includes comparing himself to "he who fathered Sylvius" (meaning Aeneas, from Virgil’s Aeneid) and the "Chosen Vessel" (meaning St. Peter), both of whom traveled in a divine realm (Underworld and Heaven). Dante claims that he’s not nearly as great or heroic as these figures. So, "why me?" he asks.
Virgil understands that Dante’s "soul has been assailed by cowardice" and so explains why he (Virgil) was chosen for this task in order to calm Dante’s fears.
Virgil’s tells the story of how he came to be here with Dante. Let's jump back into that story:
Virgil's soul is hanging out in Limbo (more on this later) when a lady with really pretty eyes appears and asks him to help out her lost "friend." (She overheard news of her "friend’s" trouble in Heaven.) She says she wants Virgil's help because he has a silver tongue or "persuasive word".
This lady calls herself Beatrice, and Virgil learns that she’s doing this out of "Love" (yes, with a capital "L") for Dante.
Virgil is curious as to why Beatrice came all the way down to Hell (from her boudoir in Heaven) just to tell him this. Beatrice responds that God has arranged it so that the misery of Hell cannot affect her.
And the orders for Virgil don't come from just Beatrice. The Virgin Mary herself is so upset by Dante’s predicament that she cried buckets for him and then sent for her very best friend, St. Lucia, to carry her message. Beatrice, even though she loves Dante, cannot possibly do anything for him since she’s a woman (what's up, sexism), so she brings the message down to the decidedly male Virgil.
She makes a big deal about Virgil’s wonderful way with words and cries.
Smitten, Virgil rushes off and finds Dante just in time to rescue him from the big, bad wolf.
Virgil's story ends.
Dante’s chest swells with gratitude and he demonstrates his own way with words by comparing himself to drooping flowers that straighten out once touched by sunlight.
In fact, he’s so pumped up now that he has a mind-melding moment with Virgil. Observe: "A single will fills both of us."
And with that, our emboldened heroes strike out to conquer the world. Or Hell.