Dante sees two lights at the top of the tower and sees a beacon far off flicker as if answering the lights on the tower. He asks Virgil what the lights mean, and Virgil says that the lights are signaling their arrival, and points out that a boat is arriving for them. The boat comes close, piloted by a spirit Virgil recognizes as Phlegyas. Virgil tells Phlegyas that he must ferry Dante and him across the Styx.
Virgil again uses his words to make the inhabitants of hell help Dante along his journey, this time with Phlegyas, a character from Greek mythology who ferries Dante across the Styx, an underworld river also from Greek myth.
As Dante and Virgil ride through the marshy Styx, a soul sits up through the grime and asks Dante who he is: "Who are thou, come here before thy time?" (8.34) Dante responds that he is not staying in hell, and asks who the spirit is. The spirit merely replies that he is one who weeps. Dante curses the filthy spirit, which then tries to lay hands on the boat, but Virgil pushes him back into the mire.
This angry spirit (Filippo Argenti) accosts Dante because he is a living soul transgressing the boundary between earth and the afterlife. He does not name himself, perhaps as an attempt to avoid the shame of infamy at being memorialized in Dante's poem as a sinner.
Virgil tells Dante that this spirit was arrogant on earth and that, "Many who strut like kings up there are such / As here shall wallow hog-like in the mud," (8.49-50). Dante sees the arrogant spirit get attacked by other muddy souls in Styx, who call out, "Have at Filippo Argenti!" (8.61) Argenti begins to bite and hurt himself, as Dante and Virgil move along in the boat.
Argenti's punishment is, as Virgil explains, a fitting reversal: arrogant and haughty on earth, he wallows in the lowly mud in hell.
Virgil announces that they are approaching the city of Dis, and Dante sees a city with buildings glowing red. Virgil explains that they glow from the endless fires that burn in the lower regions of hell. Their boat circles around the moat surrounding the city, before Phlegyas shows them the gate.
The glowing city of Dis is a rare example of light in hell, but the light is caused not by God or heaven but rather by the burning fires that punish sinners within. Still, even the city of Dis, full of suffering, is ultimately of God's design.
Around the gate, more than a thousand spirits of fallen angels congregate and ask why a living man is walking through hell. Virgil tries to speak with them, but they tell him to leave Dante behind and stay with them in Dis. Dante is terrified and begs Virgil not to leave him. He says that if they cannot move forward, they should turn back. Virgil tells him not to worry and assures him that nothing can stop their divinely willed journey, and that he will not leave Dante alone.
Dante is again a source of amazement because he is a living inhabitant of earth who walks through hell. Remarkably, even Virgil's words are to no avail here. Dante is understandably frightened, though Virgil tells him to keep faith in their divinely approved journey.
Dante, though, is so terrified that he hardly hears Virgil's reassurances. The fallen angels slam the gate to Dis shut in Virgil's face, and Dante continues to worry. Once again, Virgil assures him that nothing can get in their way. He says that someone is already coming to "unbar to us the gates of Dis," (8.130).
Virgil tries to assuage Dante's fears, but even his reassuring words—which earlier raised Dante's spirits instantly—fail to have an effect on him. As Dante and Virgil move deeper into the circles of hell more (though certainly not all) of the inhabitants seem to continue to try to resist God.