Great posts everyone; with so many interesting threads to pick up on I’m not entirely sure where to begin. Many of you have been wrestling with the idea of the damnation of the virtuous pagans and with the idea that sin is a rational choice. I too am uncomfortable by seeing Virgil and Caesar in limbo and by the idea that hell is rationally chosen, so for my first post I’d like to examine those ideas a bit and see what exactly it is that bugs me about them.
One of the more interesting things I’ve noticed so far in reading the Inferno is the change in Dante’s attitude towards those he encounters. At the beginning of his journey through hell he feels pity for the souls of the damned, swooning at the tale of woe Francesa tells him. But around the middle of Canto VIII, Dante has something of a change of heart. Whilst crossing the river Styx Dante and Virgil encounter one of the poet’s real life enemies, Filippo Argenti. Dante’s reaction is somewhat less than charitable. “I saw the loathsome spirit so mangled by a swarm of muddy wraiths that to this day I praise and thank God for it” (VIII, ll. 55-57).
I’d like to focus on this passage as an example of something that strikes me as odd. One of the more troublesome things contained within it is the idea that as sin is evil then sinners are evil. Then, since sin is against God, and the righteous are with God, they the righteous must be against sin and sinners. They in a sense must hate sin…must believe that yes, these filthy hell-dogs deserve what they get. Here it gets a bit tricky.
I guess what confuses me is the difference between anger and righteous anger. Perhaps it is a matter of perspective. Virgil praises Dante at around line 40 for his angry reaction to the sinners. What allegorically is this saying? That it is reasonable to sometimes hate? Is wrath a tool of the righteous? And probably most troubling for me…how exactly is righteous determined? This is the problem it seems with the damnation of the pagans. Where and how did they view the Right? And what is hell but a wrathful experience? The sinners experience the wrath of God…but how does one define the difference between good wrath and bad wrath?
I think the glee with which Dante damns the sinner is what makes me the most uncomfortable, the glee with which he draws the line between black and white. If you are on the side of God, are your political enemies automatically evil?
Many are the popes and corrupt religious figures that we find in hell. Most are there it seems to receive punishment they rightly deserve. But during their lives, and correct me if I’m wrong, they defined what was right on earth. What of those who, like the virtuous pagans, followed an incorrect definition of what is right? What of the misled? Of those with an “incorrect” understanding of Christ and love and right? What if you choose the wrong Right? Perhaps we will find some of these answers in Purgatory.