Inferno Inferno Canto VIII (the river Styx, the gates of Dis) Summary
Belatedly, Dante tells us that this tower – something like a lighthouse – has been guiding them towards itself for a while.
As they approach it, Dante notices another flame flickering in the distance. He asks Virgil why.
Trying to cultivate his air of mystery, Virgil tells Dante to look harder. Dante does and goes "I see it! It’s a boat!"
The boatman gruffly stops them. He, like Charon, has issues with Dante's alive-ness. By the way, his name is Phlegyas. Try to say that five times fast.
Virgil puts him in his place, Phlegyas pouts, and they board the boat, which promptly sinks a little under Dante's weight. (Live people are heavier than dead ones.) Thankfully, it doesn’t stop them from crossing the Styx.
While on the boat, Dante leans down towards the river and asks one of the mud-encrusted sinners: "Who are you, who have become so ugly?" Seriously.
When the sinner gives an ambiguous answer, Dante becomes infuriated and curses him. Which is…well…different from his usual responses to sinners, like crying or fainting.
When the sinner reaches out towards the boat (presumably in a gesture of longing), Virgil pushes him back into the river.
Then in another switch of personality, Virgil joyously hugs and kisses Dante.
Why? Dante is making Virgil proud by feeling righteously indignant enough to not sympathize with sinners and instead to rage at them.
He continues, using his prophesying skills to predict that before reaching the far shore, Dante will see a sight that justifies his insult to the sinner.
A bunch of muddy sinners attack the same guy Dante did, crying, "At Filippo Argenti!" At which point Filippo goes crazy and starts biting himself.
Having filled his meanness quota for the day, Virgil turns into Mr. Explain-Everything again, telling Dante they are approaching the city of Dis.
Dante catches sight of it on the horizon and is struck by how red everything is.
Yes, red. Apparently, this comes from the eternal flame that burns within the city, signaling that it is within lower (worse) Hell. So says Virgil. In other words, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
When they arrive at the gates of the city, they find a thousand enraged sinners trying to bar Dante from getting through. Because of his alive-ness.
To recap, we’ve got a thousand angry sinners waving their pitchforks around and spitting at Dante. So Virgil "makes a sign" to fend them off and has a private chat with them.
Dante can’t hear what they’re saying. Probably because he’s freaked out by the mad sinners and wants to go home.
The citizens of Dis agree to open their gates, but only for Virgil. The live guy has to go back.
Dante freaks out at the thought of having to go back on his own, so much so that he tells the reader directly about his fears.
Then he begs Virgil to come back with him if these sinners are so intent on blocking their way.
Virgil, his ego puffed up now, scoffs at Dante’s words and says he’ll take care of it.
So while he does the fast talking, Dante wrings his hands with indecision.
And then the crucial moment: the gates slam shut in Virgil’s face and he’s forced to make the slow shameful walk back to Dante. Virgil failed? (Hmm, Important Passage!)
Virgil rants at the sinners, but reassures Dante that he will win against them.
He tells Dante that this has happened before at the entrance of Hell (when Christ harrowed Hell) and that an angel is now descending to help them. Thank goodness.