“In the opening scene of Episode 5 of Season 11 of the television show Curb Your Enthusiasm, titled “IRASSHAIMASE!”, Larry David and his friend Freddy Funkhouser argue about whether Freddy talked through Larry’s putt in their game of golf earlier in the day. Larry asks his friend Jeff Greene to weigh in, but he refuses to take a side. In response, Larry says, ‘Jeff, you know what Dante said: The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in time of crisis retain their neutrality.’ He then jokes with Jeff, saying, ‘You’re goin’ straight to hell’ in reference to Jeff’s neutrality in Larry and Freddy’s argument about golf.
“Larry is referring to Canto III of Dante’s Inferno, in which Dante encounters cowardly and neutral souls who ‘lived without infamy and / without praise. / They are mixed with that cowardly chorus of / angels who were not rebels yet were not faithful to / God, but were for themselves. / The heavens reject them so as not to be less / beautiful, nor does deep Hell receive them, for the / wicked would have some glory from them’ (Canto III, lines 35–42, English
“Larry’s citing of Dante is actually a common misattribution of his placement in Hell of neutral souls. Dante does indeed encounter souls who retained their neutrality in times of crisis in Canto III of Inferno, but places them not actually in Hell, but rather outside of its gates, doomed to never enter Hell nor Heaven. The contrapasso of these neutral souls’ punishment is that they are neutral in the afterlife, being neither damned nor saved, as they were neutral in their Earthly life; they are forced to nakedly follow a blank banner, representative of their neutrality, while being stung by insects. Dante asserts that they were never even really alive because of their neutrality, and thus are not worthy of being named. His misattribution of Dante’s placement of those who remain neutral in the ‘hottest places in hell’ further alludes to a speech given by Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 15, 1967, in which he stated ‘I am here because I agree with Dante, that: The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in a period of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.’ –Cesca Craig
Contributed by Cesca Craig (University of Arkansas, ’23)