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In their leisurely walk along the banks of the Phlegethon, Dante describes the protective mist that rises from the river and shields them from the fiery rain. He compares the misty shield to dams built by the Flemings or Paduans to defend their towns from seasonal floodwaters.
When they are far from the suicidal woods, our heroes run into a new company of sinners walking the same way. (This group of sinners, by the way, are sodomites.)
One of them squints at Dante. Suddenly he cries, "This is marvelous!"
On closer inspection, Dante recognizes the sinner as his former mentor, Ser Brunetto Latini.
Dante begs him to rest for a little while and talk to him. But Brunetto refuses. No surprise, since anyone who stops, even for a moment, is held behind for a hundred years and burns in the fiery rain.
At this point, the riverbank apparently splits into a higher and lower path, with only the lower one protected by the mystic misty shield.
Dante walks along the lower path while Brunetto is forced to take the higher one and they talk while walking in that awkward parallel path.
Brunetto asks why Dante is here in Hell if he’s still alive. And also who his guide is.
Dante answers that yesterday he got lost in a dark valley and Virgil here showed up to help him.
Brunetto realizes Dante must be blessed to take this spiritual journey while alive and regrets not being able to stay alive long enough to encourage Dante in his works.
He blames the Fiesoles, the natives whom the Romans conquered, for failing to understand or appreciate his and Dante’s intellectual work and blames them for all the Florentines’ bad traits.
In his ranting, Brunetto warns Dante to stay away from the Fiesoles lest they either devour him or lure him into false beliefs.
Dante wisely changes the subject, lavishing Brunetto with praise and saying how much he misses him.
Dante then shows off everything he learned from Brunetto. Like A) how man only gains immortality through his works (not his soul), B) how Dante is writing down everything Brunetto says so that when he meets Beatrice, she can comment on his teachings, and C) how he is prepared for whatever Fortune throws his way.
At this last comment, Virgil nods and winks his approval.
To further his knowledge, Dante asks Brunetto who else is in this group of sinners.
Suddenly Brunetto becomes reluctant to talk. He names only three fellow sodomites, Priscian, Francesco d’Accorso, and Bishop Andrea dei Mozzi, before finding an excuse to leave.
That excuse is "Oh dear, I see new smoke rising from the sand ahead, which obviously means some unsavory people are coming. Gotta go!"
But before he scrams, he asks that Dante value his most famous work, the Tesoro (a really popular poem), through which his name lives on.
As he departs, Dante compares his speed with that of racers running the famous Verona race during Lent. The prize is a bolt of green cloth. Brunetto moves so fast that Dante fancies him winning first prize.
In other words, Brunetto really wants to get out of there.