Simanaitis Says

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DANTE’S INFERNO, A DESTINATION GUIDE

WASHINGTON, D.C. PRONOUNCEMENTS concerning the defunding of Meals on Wheels and of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and of the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities are having an evangelical effect upon me: I believe in hell, more than I ever did before.

With this in mind and appreciating the appeal of guidebooks, I offer information on hell based upon Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, one of the three parts of his epic La Comedia, known in English as The Divine Comedy.

Durante degli Alighieri, known as Dante, c. 1265–1321, Italian poet. Renowned as the Father of the Italian language.

Dante’s Divine Comedy is widely considered the greatest literary work composed in the Italian language, all the more praiseworthy in its being one of the first. Dante lived during the Late Middle Ages, c. 1300–1500, when most literary works in Western Europe were in Latin. His writing in the Italian vernacular was brilliant but not without controversy, like a Broadway musical performed in rap.

In another modern parallel, Dante was caught up in political intrigue. The Florentine Guelphs fought in central Italy against the Arezzo Ghibellines. The Guelphs, Dante’s group, were victorious, only to squabble among themselves and split into the White Guelphs (Dante’s faction) and the Black Guelphs, sort of like Blue States and Red States.

The Blue States, um, White Guelphs held control for a while. Then the Black Guelphs, with support of Pope Boniface VIII, gained control, killed off a bunch of Dante’s faction in 1301 and exiled others, Dante included. Were he to return to Florence, the poet would have been burned at the stake.

Jumping ahead momentarily to June 2008, Florence city council passed a motion rescinding Dante’s sentence. And we think our governments are lax.

Sometime during his exile, perhaps between 1308 and 1320, Dante composed La Comedia. It is a narrative poem of 14,233 lines. Each of its three sections, Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso, is in 33 cantos, plus an introductory one.

Canto I, Inferno.

With the present goings-on in Washington, D.C., only Inferno need concern us here. To help in assigning destinations, Dante wisely splits hell into nine concentric circles, the innermost the most serious and nearest Lucifer himself.

Map of hell. Illustration by Michelangelo Caetani, 1804–1882.

Transportation is handled by Charon and his boat across the River Acheron and Phlegyas and his skiff across the Styx, each sort of like Air Force One on trips to Mar-A-Lago.

Arrival of Charon, Canto III. This and a following illustration, 1861–1868, by Gustave Doré.

Here’s a brief destination guide. The First through Fifth Circles are Upper Hell, dedicated to Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Greed and Wrath.

First Circle, Limbo. Sort of a low-budget heaven-lite for the unbaptized and virtuous pagans. Euclid, the Father of Geometry, and the poet Homer reside here. Thus apparently neither science nor the humanities are all that bad.

Second Circle, Lust. Recorded chats of Billy Bush and someone or other come to mind here. Dante recognizes among its residents Helen of Troy, “the face that launched a thousand ships.” Our tour continues.

Third Circle, Gluttony. A well-done steak drenched in catsup may not be gluttony per se, but ….

Fourth Circle, Greed. Golly, there’s room for the whole family and maybe a woman giving a TV pitch too.

Gustave Doré’s illustration for the Fourth Circle, Greed. The weights are money bags.

Fifth Circle, Wrath. Dante encounters active hatreds snarling at one another and sullen hatred choking with rage. This is the sort of thing that could lead to misspelled words in 6:00 a.m. tweets.

Next we enter Dante’s Lower Hell, the Sixth through Ninth Circles filled with devotees of Heresy, Violence, Fraud and Treachery.

Sixth Circle, Heresy. Here, Dante meets two fellow Florentines, one a Ghibelline, the other a Guelph. A mixed message? Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

Seventh Circle, Violence. “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks, although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is.” On second thought, keep moving, folks.

Eighth Circle, Fraud. After several close calls, Dante encounters the hypocrites, all weighted down with leaden robes. Funny, I see them dressed like members of the U.S. Congress. Law suits? Tax returns? “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

Dante and Virgil visit the Eighth Circle, Fraud. Illustration by Sandro Botticelli, c. 1480.

Ninth Circle, Treachery. Dante’s political climate influenced him to place those guilty of treachery in his lowest and worst level of hell. Lucifer is not far away.

Lucifer, in the first fully illustrated print edition. Woodcut by Pietro di Piasi, 1491.

Thanks for joining me today on this tour of hell. And special thanks to Dante, who so articulately recognized its existence. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017

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