“…The ancient and medieval Christians wouldn’t have had much to say about pure atheism, which is an 18th-century concept. Their closest analog would have been Epicureanism–the belief that worldly pleasure matters above all. In Christian-themed literature, at least, Epicureans were held in special contempt: Dante placed Epicurus and his followers in the sixth circle of hell, where their punishment for denying the immortality of the soul was to live out eternity in a fiery tomb. Honorable Muslims and pagans occupied Limbo, the relatively pleasant first circle of hell where the only punishment was the inability to ascend to paradise. A couple of pagans, including an obscure character from the Trojan War named Ripheus, even managed to make the improbable trip to paradise. Ripheus got there based on his strong belief in God’s providence, even though he couldn’t have accepted Christ during his lifetime. (The message of Ripheus is that God is unpredictable.) Dante had a particular dislike for the indecisive–those we might call agnostics. They wandered around the fringes of hell, and the poet wouldn’t even waste his time talking to them.” [. . .] –Brian Palmer, Slate, August 15, 2011
“Of course, the subtitle of Sarah Palin’s book is ‘An American Life.’ Because she is the lovely avatar of real Americans — ordinary, hard-working, God-fearing, common-sense, good, ordinary, real Americans. If you are not living an American life, you are, to use a Palin coinage, living ‘bass-ackwards.’. . .
I approached reading her book with trepidation, worried I might learn that I am not a real American, dang it, just another dreaded, jaded ‘enlightened elite.’
I was born and live in Washington, D.C., after all. Now you’d think that this would be a rather patriotic city to call home, but Palin paints it as a cross between Sodom and Dante’s Fifth Circle.” [. . .] –Maureen Dowd, The New York Times, November 17, 2009
“With modern presidencies, we have to watch the poignant tableau of such leaders realizing that they have squandered their chance for greatness even as they suffer the indignity of rejection by those who once sought their blessing.
These painful periods for W. and Bill Clinton, falling low after starting with such grand hopes, are recounted in two new books. . .
The pen-and-tell by Bush speechwriter Matt Latimer, ‘Speech-less,’ is being denounced by some former Bushies and Republican commentators as a ‘Devil Wears Prada’ betrayal. (Except, in this case, the Devil wears Crocs. Preparing to make a prime-time address explaining why the 2008 economic bailout wasn’t socialism–‘We got to make this understandable for the average cat,’ the president tells his speechwriters–W. pads around the White House in Crocs, an image that’s hard to get out of your head.)
‘The guy is a worm,’ Bill Bennett told Wolf Blitzer about Latimer, adding: ‘He needs to read his Dante. He probably hasn’t read The Inferno. The lowest circles of hell are for people who are disloyal in the way this guy is disloyal, and at the very lowest point Satan chews on their bodies.'” [. . .] –Maureen Dowd, The New York Times, September 26, 2009
“I welcome every opinion based on scientific criticism. As to the prejudices of so-called public opinion, to which I have never made concessions, now, as ever, my maxim is that of the great Florentine: ‘Segui il tuo corso, e lascia dire le genti.'” –Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, trans. Ben Fowkes, ed. David Fernbach, Fowkes, and Ernest Mandel (New York: Penguin Classics, 1976), p. 93.
As the editors note, Marx actually altered Dante’s words for his own purposes. The original line, Purgatorio V 13, is as follows: “Vien dietro a me, a lasica dir le genti.”
Seen in the Edward Sorel illustration are three tiers of political sinners: “Politicians Who Promised to Cut Taxes,” “Politicians Who Promised to Balance the Budget,” and finally (and most egregiously) “Politicians Who Promised to Cut Taxes and Balance the Budget” (detail shown below).