…My gentle escorts turned to me
and Virgil said: “My son, though there may be
suffering here, there is no death. Remember,
remember! If I guided you to safety
even upon the back of Geryon,
then now, closer to God, what shall I do?
Be sure: although you were to spend a full
one thousand years within this fire’s center,
your head would not be balder by one hair.
And if you think I am deceiving you,
draw closer to the flames, let your own hands
try out, within the fire, you clothing’s hem –
put down, by now put down, your every fear;
turn toward the fire, and enter, confident!”
But I was stubborn, set against my conscience.
When he saw me still halting, obstinate,
he said, somewhat perplexed: “Now see, son: this
wall stands between you and your Beatrice.” (Purg. XXVII, 19-36)
When Dante balks at the final passage through fire on the seventh terrace, Virgil reminds him of a previous episode in Hell when Dante also hesitated, but the loyal Virgil persevered and delivered him safely, as promised. Virgil’s words seem to suggest that after the terrifying ride on the monster Geryon’s back, this trial fire should be nothing. He tries to inspire Dante to have faith in him, but it doesn’t work. Indeed, Dante does not yet have simple faith, forcing Virgil to turn to luring him across with the thought of his childhood sweetheart, Beatrice, who awaits him on the other side. Virgil’s crafty words illustrate the concept of mental love beguiling an innocent childlike soul.