Lawrence M. Ludlow, “Dante’s Divine Comedy and the Divine Origins of the Free Market”

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“We already are familiar with the Marxian social gospel that is so popular among many current theologians and their followers. In the verses I will cite, Dante himself voices an understanding of the marketplace that shares this erroneous communitarian view of economics. In particular, he describes his adherence to what is known among libertarians as the fallacy of zero-sum economics. Those who hold the zero-sum view claim that in a free marketplace, the gains of one participant are exactly balanced by the losses of another. If the total of the gains and losses are added up, the sum will be zero. In other words, if the sum total of all wealth were embodied in a single chocolate cake, one person’s share of cake would be another’s loss. Furthermore, the addition of each new market participant requires the slicing of thinner and thinner pieces of this cake. We libertarians, of course, despise this theory. If it were correct, the seven billion inhabitants of planet Earth would now be sharing and dividing infinitesimally small pieces of the very same chocolate cake that was first made available in the mists of Mexican pre-history. If such were true, I frankly wonder if there would be so much as a single calorie available to any of us – and very stale calories at that. Furthermore, the current spectacle of American obesity appears to belie this interpretation without my assistance.

“But as soon as Dante expresses his zero-sum analysis of marketplace economics, Virgil – who acts as Dante’s divinely appointed guide throughout his journey down into the Inferno and during his wonderful ascent of the Purgatorio – immediately upbraids him and provides the correct alternative, an unabashed free-market perspective. In Dante’s poem, this perspective is a reflection of the divine perspective of God. Let’s now examine the text itself.” [. . .]    –Lawrence M. Ludlow, Strike The Root, May 14, 2013.

The Sin of Silence

“In the Inferno, Dante Alighieri, a critic in his day of Church leadership, famously put the souls of at least three popes in hell, as well as countless other clerics who go nameless, their faces blackened beyond recognition. However, one cleric he does meet along the way is Ruggieri degli Ubaldini (d. 1295), the archbishop of Pisa, who notoriously arrested the city’s strongman, Ugolino della Gherardesca (1220-1289), along with several members of his family, and starved them to death in a tower.

“Dante’s fantastical encounter with Ruggieri and Ugolino in the Inferno takes place on a vast lake of ice near the bottom of hell. Here, frozen for eternity, are the souls of sinners condemned for treason: some for betraying their city or country, and others for betraying their kinsmen. Dante is not far from the bottom of the pit, where he will soon come face to face with Satan, a giant demon, frozen in ice to his waist, who eternally chews on the bodies of three of history’s most infamous traitors, Brutus and Cassius, who betrayed Julius Caesar, and Judas Iscariot. Three pairs of legs dangle from the demon’s mouth.

“As Dante pushes on across the lake, he sees two souls frozen in the same hole. They are encased in ice up to their necks. One of them is repeatedly sinking his teeth into the skull of the other, like a dog gnawing a bone. He is startled by Dante’s presence. He takes his mouth from his “savage meal” and wipes his lips on the other’s hair. He introduces himself as Count Ugolino. ‘And this,’ he says of the other, ‘is the Archbishop Ruggieri.’

“Ugolino and Ruggieri were Dante’s contemporaries. Both where partisans in a conflict between two armed factions that roiled much of Italy in the thirteenth century, and both were accused of treason, Ugolino, Pisa’s podestà or political leader, for switching sides in the conflict, and Ruggieri, a sometime ally of Ugolino’s, for rising up against him and for capturing him by deception. Dante knew the story, which, when passed through his poetic imagination, comes down to us as one the most disturbing passages in the Inferno.” […]    –James Soriano, Crisis Magazine, October 8, 2018