Martin Luther King, Jr., on “The hottest places in hell…” (April 15, 1967)

“I come to participate in this significant demonstration today because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join you in this mobilization because I cannot be a silent onlooker while evil rages. 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.‘ In these days of emotional tension, when the problems of the world are gigantic in extent and chaotic in detail, there is no greater need than for sober thinking, mature judgment, and creative dissent.” [. . .]  –Martin Luther King, Jr., Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam (April 15, 1967)

Read the full address here.

Images from the day of the address, including the image pictured at right, can be viewed here.

The frequently misattributed quotation was also cited multiple times in John F. Kennedy’s speeches (see here). You can see other examples filed under the tag “Hottest Places.”

“Dante, Trump and the moral cowardice of the G.O.P.”

“One of John F. Kennedy’s favorite quotes was something he thought came from Dante: ‘The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.’

“As it turns out, the quote is apocryphal. But what Dante did write was far better, and it came vividly to mind last week as Republicans failed to take a stand after President Trump’s racist tweets and chants of ‘Send her back,’ directed at Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who immigrated here from Somalia, at a Trump rally in North Carolina.

“In Dante’s Inferno, the moral cowards are not granted admission to Hell; they are consigned to the vestibule, where they are doomed to follow a rushing banner that is blown about by the wind. When Dante asks his guide, Virgil, who they are, he explains:

‘This miserable way is taken by sorry souls of those who lived without disgrace and without praise.

They now commingle with the coward angels, the company of those who were not rebels nor faithful to their God, but stood apart.’

“They are destined to be forgotten. ‘The world will let no fame of theirs endure,’ Virgil explains. ‘Let us not talk of them, but look and pass.’ Dante describes the vast horde who chase after the elusive banner that ‘raced on so quick that any respite seemed unsuited to it.’ Behind the banner, he writes, ‘trailed so long a file/ of people—I should never have believed/ that death could have unmade so many souls.’

“And to those ranks we can now add all the politicians, pundits and camp followers who refused to take a stand when they were confronted with this stark moral choice posed by Mr. Trump’s racist attacks on four minority freshmen Democratic women.” [. . .]    –Charles Sykes, America, the Jesuit Review, July 21, 2019.

Contributed by Martin Kavka, Florida State University

On JFK’s use of the misattributed quote, see here. For other examples, see the tag “Hottest Places.”

Jaipal Reddy — Congressman who quoted Dante, Kant & called politicians ‘wild animals’

“New Delhi: Think of a minister who can publicly say politicians are ‘wild animals’ who need to be kept in check. Probably none today, not after former union minister S. Jaipal Reddy passed away Sunday morning.

“Many of his colleagues remember his witty remarks — often blended with quotes ranging from Italian poet Dante and German philosopher Immanuel Kant to English playwright William Shakespeare and many more. But the cerebral politician was equally known for his convictions.” […]    –D.K. Singh, The Print, July 28, 2019

The 9 Rings of Donald Trump’s Administrative Hell

“In Inferno, the first part of Dante Alighieri’s epic poem Divine Comedy, the titular character is guided through the nine circles of hell. The darker your crimes, the lower the levels of hell you descend to until you meet up with Satan himself, trapped at the center of it all.

“At the top are crimes such as heresy and failure to believe; at the bottom, closer to the devil himself, are the rings of treachery and violence. Reflecting on a campaign season during which Donald Trump literally called Hillary Clinton the devil and threatened to put her in chains, you have to wonder whether he wasn’t subconsciously projecting, given the hellish landscape he has turned his early administration into. However, it’s not the nether regions that should concern most Americans but those condemned to the outer rings for lesser crimes.

“Trump may not actually be the vision of Satan portrayed in Inferno, even if he staffs his new administration like the rings of hell. Inferno describes Satan as a ghastly creature trapped by his own vanity with three faces: one red, one yellow and one black. The fact that Trump is now in a position that he has lusted after for years but is equally overwhelmed and unprepared for is strangely apropos.

“While Trump does not have leather wings, he is banishing those who dared not believe in him to limbo, and surrounding himself with white nationalists, terror sympathizers and warmongers. Anyone thinking that perhaps Trump’s own erratic tendencies would be balanced out by some sort of smart team of rivals should take note of the entryway to hell: “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” […]    –Jason Johnson, The Root, November 26, 2016

Cartoonist Steve Bell’s “Brexit Hell”

Steve-Bell-Brexit-Hell-Cartoons-TreacheryIn early December 2018 British cartoonist Steve Bell published a series of Dante-inspired images in his If… cartoon strip. Adapting Doré’s illustrations of Cocytus (with one addition from the Malebolge), Bell’s cartoons comment on the Parliamentary Debate over Brexit. Contributor Nick Havely glosses, “[the cartoons] depict Theresa May’s journey through ‘Brexit Hell’ accompanied by Arlene Foster (leader of the N. Ireland ultra-Protestant DUP on whom May is dependent for her majority). The Dantean sequence began on 29 November and seems to have culminated last Thursday [6 December] in an encounter with Trump as Lucifer.”

The If… cartoons can be viewed on The Guardian‘s website at the following links: Nov 29, Dec 3, Dec 4, Dec 5, and Dec 6.

Contributed by Nick Havely

“Just another day in Brexitland hell”

Covering the failed attempt to topple British PM Theresa May in a no-confidence vote on Dec. 12, 2018, John Crace compared the chaos over May’s Brexit deal to Dante’s hell. In the digital edition of the paper, the photo of the prime minister (below) was captioned: “Just another day in Brexitland hell for Theresa May.”

Theresa-May-Brexit-Hell-Tenth-Circle

At the end of the piece, Crace comments, “The reality was that nothing had changed. Nothing had changed. May’s Brexit deal was no more likely to get through the Commons than it had been before the vote. If anything positions had hardened. The EU would not be coming to her rescue. All the future offered was more deadlock, more division. Dante was wrong. There was a tenth circle of hell and we were in it. Government as mindless light entertainment.” — John Crace, “Tory headbangers save the Maybot – for the time being at least,” The Guardian, Dec. 12, 2018

Contributed by Nick Havely

The Bowery in NYC, 1913

theodore-roosevelt-1913“‘What infinite use Dante would have made of the Bowery!’ Theodore Roosevelt declared in 1913.” [. . .]    –Sam Roberts, The New York Times, April 17, 2013

President Roosevelt’s Acceptance Speech for Renomination for the Presidency, 1936

president-roosevelt-1936“. . .Governments can err, Presidents do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted in different scales.” [. . .]    –Roosevelt, 1936

Contributed by Patrick Molloy