Monday, January 29, 2007

It is interesting to note the reactions that myself and other people are having to the strictly hierarchical, rigid Dantean worldview. It’s hard to look at one of Dante’s categories of sin without wondering “what about this” or “ what if that.” I’m going to do it in the next paragraph, in fact. What I’m really hoping is that we will be disagreeing just as much with Dante’s placements in Paradisio; bloodthirsty crusaders and things like that.

I don’t think I have much to contribute to the great Sodomy Debate…so I’m going to backtrack a bit and write again about how limbo continues to cause problems for me. As we’ve gotten further and further into hell and met more and more denizens of Dis, some inconsistencies have started to trouble me. Dante places Caesar in limbo along with Saladin. I’d like to take a look at these two in relation to a few fellows we find down in the eighth circle, the sowers of discord.

Way down in the Ninth Bolgia we come across the Islamic prophet Mahomet and the Roman Tribune Curio. These two are representative of the inconsistencies that I wonder about. First Mahomet. What is the difference between Mahomet and Saladin? If Saladin is used as an example of Dante acknowledging a great follower of Islam, then what to make of the founder of Islam “cleft from crotch to chin” in the depths of hell? At what point does the sin of following a false religion become muted? 200 years? I guess what makes Saladin so special? What did he do to avoid the fate of Mahomet?

But more interestingly I would like to know what Curio is doing here in hell. He has had his tongue hacked out for counseling Caesar to cross the Rubicon and begin the Roman civil war. Caesar is up in limbo though, as a virtuous pagan and the one who made the actual decision to cast the die. Can someone explain the fine point of internationality that separates the two men? My Roman history is a little rusty, but I don’t think there is much doubt that Caesar and Pompey were going to clash and that the Republic was doomed. So why isn’t Caesar chopped in two for dividing the Roman people and beginning the slide towards Tyranny?
Caesar established Rome as a full-fledged empire with himself as dictator; perhaps this is part of Dante’s rehabilitation of all things Roman as pre-Catholic precedent. But if the Pope then becomes the heir to the crown of the Empire, why is the man who allegedly helped make this a reality—Curio—not glorified as some sort of a prefigured pre-Papist?


Deacon Chris said...

And the point of this? Lots of ways to poke holes and find inconsistencies. So? What's at stake?

Isn't it obvious that the poem is going to reflect Dante's own preconceptions and interests and limitations? That's not intellectually very interesting.

What about the larger issues? The deeper themes? For you? The culture? Him?

Hell's Belle said...

I can explain the difference between Mahomet and Saladin. Mahomet was a Schismatic. In Dante's view, Islam is an offshoot of Christianity in the same way that Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism. Mahomet was the prophet who founded the Islamic faith (in our view) but he was also a prophet who came after Jesus, which to the Christian belief system is impossible- there is no prophet after Jesus. Christianity has this timeline... like, there was the age of the Patriarchs, the age of the Prophets (Jonah, Isaiah, Elijah, Elisha, etc). Then Elijah (who never died) would come back to announce a new era in which the Son of Man (God Incarnate) would come and from then on the age of Prophets is over, presumably. By dividing The Faith, Mahomet was in a sense dividing the Body of Christ, therefore his body is divided. His son-in-law Ali is the founder of the Shia vs. Sunni schism... he was married to M's daughter Fatima and contested with M's nephew for the Islamic "papacy" (lead position). So his schism is smaller, hence the smaller division of only his head. To Dante I'm guessing Mahommedism is the equivalent of Orthodoxy (Greek/Russian church), Nestorianism (Ethiopian church) or Pelagianism (Welsh schism, not as big). If you want to discuss this further I'd be glad; I love this kind of stuff.