Daily Archives: November 18, 2010

When Dante Met Mohammed

Hate Crime, courtesy of Gustave Doré

To please all of you Italophiles, today a bit of healthy Italian literature that is also a useful plunge into the Christian view of the world when the world was able to think – and act – Christian.

In Dante’s Inferno, Canto XXVIII deals with fraudulent people of various kind, like thieves, fraud specialists, people who used rhetorical ability to deceive others and people who spread discord and divisions. They are all placed in the eight Circle – further divided according to their particular sin – and are all punished (according to the contrappasso or contrapasso dear to medieval times) in a manner which has either a strong analogy to their sin or is, as it were, the contrary of it.

Now let us please remember that Dante didn’t know anything of “political correctness”. He would have probably been very amused at knowing what it is and would have considered the entire exercise in political correctness not only uncharitable, but outright unchristian in so far as it helps the spreading of error and heresy. In addition, please consider that “hate crime” as it is seen today did not have any big relevance in the Italian society of the beginning of the XIV century (nor of the XXI’s, Deo Gratias) and that the culture of self-victimhood, semi-permanent complaint and professional claim of being “discriminated against” wouldn’t have made any impression other than of amusement.
Basically, Dante lived in a Christian society and was, like many others, sincerely interested in its preservation and in the defence of its values.

This is why our probably most beloved poet of all times did something which, if made today, would make every politician’s, diplomatician’s, writer’s or poet’s hair stand on end. Which is the more remarkable because he was all four of these at one time or another and never was his work seen as being detrimental to, say, his diplomatic activity. Still, what he did would, today, attract accusations of hate crime, calls for boycott of his poetry, (obviously) calls for his execution and most certainly no invitation to afternoon tea from “call me Dave” Cameron. What did he do, then? He did something that should be a rather easy call (without falling into the sin of presumption of course; but an easy call nevertheless) in a Christian society.

He put Mohammed in Hell.

Mohammed is seen as a divisive figure, sowing strife and discord among the people (among his own, I infer, as well as among Christians and Infidels). Accordingly, he is condemned to being constantly torn open, “divided” in his own limbs. Dante and Virgilio behold his open chest, in Dante’s typical process of eternal repetition of the same punishment. The same destiny is reserved to his relative Ali whose punishment consists, perhaps even more impressively, in having his face completely open from end to end. All considered, rather strong stuff.

It is amusing to think, today, the astonishment of the Divino Poeta (as he is affectionately called in Italy) at being told that he is “uncharitable”, “judgmental”, or “divisive” himself. In Dante’s society and personal Weltanschauung – both solidly rooted in Christianity – charity could never have been confused with convenient lies, silence in front of scandal would have been considered being accessory to another’s sin and defence of Truth would never have been considered divisive, or spreading “hate”.

The simple fact is that he would have been right on all accounts then; and that – as the Truth doesn’t change – he would be right on all accounts now.

Therefore, we must seriously ask ourselves what is wrong with us, and when are we going to wake up.


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