“You Have Seven Mountains to Climb to Find Your True Self”

“When I think of life as climbing mountains, the Purgatorio of Dante Alighieri comes to mind, the second part of the Divine Comedy.

In grand poetic style, Dante says the struggle a person faces to find his true self involves not one but seven mountains. And each mountain represents a type of suffering we must go through to rid ourselves of the sin, vices, peccadillos, the falsity that keeps us confined.

Like the Desert Fathers, he called those barriers-to-selfhood ‘seven deadly sins,’ each an attitude-cum-behavior that turns us against ourselves.

Among them are: being envious of what other people have or do (envy); acting with rage in our interactions with others (wrath); seeking more than we need in life (greed); and using power like a god to protect our possessions (pride).

[. . .]

And Dante said that, when a person faces up to the transformations purgatory exacts, he becomes a spiritual being, that is, he lives with an equanimity close to happiness.

And ‘spiritual’ does not mean something wispy and ethereal but the life of a body grounded in purpose, a body in communion with others, when political and economic realities align with justice.

In the third part of his trilogy, the Paradiso, Dante says no one gets to heaven who’s at odds with himself; heaven is for those who answer their calling. Such people treat others like they want to be treated, what Christians call being ‘Christ-like.'”    –Dennis Sullivan, The Altamont Enterprise, July 2, 2020

Dante, Fullmetal Alchemist (2003)

“Dante (ダンテ, Dante) is the central antagonist of the Fullmetal Alchemist 2003 anime series, first introduced in Episode 32. She is a heartless elderly woman and a formidable alchemist herself. Posing as the master and the benefactor of the Homunculi, Dante is responsible for setting in motion the events of the series and the challenges its protagonists must face along the way, and orchestrates her agenda within the shadows of the Amestrian government and military.

[. . .]

She may be named after the Italian poet, Dante Alighieri, famous for writing the Divine Comedy, a three-part poem with the first chapter, Inferno, taking place in the Nine Circles of Hell. In fact in the Italian dub of the episode title ‘Dante of the Deep Forest’ was translated to ‘Dante Della Selva Oscura’ (lit. ‘Dante of Dark Forest’ [sic]), a reference to the beginning of Alighieri’s poem.”    —Fullmetal Alchemist Wiki, February 24, 2020

Learn more about the Fullmetal Alchemist series here.

Contributed by Andrea Beauvais (Luther College)

Originally posted January 26, 2010. Post updated September 4, 2020.

“Dante Knows Where Trump Can Go”

“I used to be a Dante scholar, so I’m accustomed to answering questions about the poet no one asked. Here’s one: Were he alive today, to which circle of hell would Dante consign President Donald Trump? Trump’s sins are many, so Dante would have options: there’s the second circle, which punishes the lustful, or the third, for bloated gluttons. Trump could also be at home in circle four (avarice and prodigality) and five (anger and acedia, or laziness). So much then for crimes of passion, or, in Dante’s Aristotelian framework, offenses that involve only the will. The penalties in those circles seem too lenient. So what about circles reserved for more cold-blooded transgressions, which require the intellect? Circles seven (violence), eight (simple fraud, including flattery, thievery, and barratry, or selling political office), and nine (treacherous fraud, reserved for the most serious felons, who betray relatives, country, guests, and benefactors) all seem viable. But sending Trump there is contingent on him demonstrating the conscious use of his intellect, which, of course, would be difficult. That leaves just circle six: heretics and atheists.”    –Griffin Oleynick, Commonweal, June 4, 2020

American Horror Story: Dante’s Inferno Theory Explained”

“Ryan Murphy’s long-running horror anthology series, American Horror Story, has no shortage of fan theories surrounding it; one suggests that the first nine seasons correspond with the nine circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno.

[. . .]

Inferno is part of a 14th century epic poem by Dante Alighieri, the first part of the Divine Comedy. The concept of nine circles – or layers – of hell has been utilized many times throughout horror’s cinematic history, as it addresses sin, purgatory, and serves as a journey into the dark underworld. This theory surfaced long before all nine seasons of American Horror Story aired, and clever fans have been able to make each circle work to correspond with a different season of the show. While there are theories as to which season best suits a specific circle, they are all represented by Inferno in some way; everything is neatly accounted for.

In 2014, the theory surfaced, and in 2017, Murphy posted a list on Instagram that brought the theory back to life; he assigned seven of the nine seasons to specific circles, which has become the accepted ‘norm’. Since then, seasons 8 (Apocalypse) and 9 (1984) have aired; they also fit the remaining two circles, interestingly enough. The nine circles of hell discussed in Dante’s Inferno are: limbo, lust, gluttony, greed, anger, heresy, violence, fraud, and treachery. While these are listed in order, the seasons do not correspond with each circle sequentially. The commonly-accepted connections are: Murder House (limbo), Asylum (fraud), Coven (treachery), Freak Show (greed), Hotel (gluttony)Roanoke (anger), Cult (heresy), Apocalypse (violence), and 1984 (lust).”    –Jack Wilhelmi, Screen Rant, June 2, 2020

In Dante Veritas, Vasily Klyukin

In Dante Veritas is a large scale, immersive multimedia exhibition by Russian sculptor Vasily Klyukin. It represents a narrative that recreates the nine circles of hell, and includes over 100 multimedia elements, such as sculpture, installation, digital art, audio and light boxes. The exhibitions includes sculptural works, most of which represent negative human traits such as Anger, Gluttony and Betrayal.

“The most prominent sculptural pieces are the Four Horsemen of the Modern Apocalypse. The artist has translated the traditional Horsemen (plague, war, hunger and death) into a modern day version: Overpopulation, Misinformation, Extermination and Pollution.

[. . .]

“The immersive exhibition encourages visitors to examine the sculptures with an audio guide narrated in the style of Dante’s poems. The sculptures of human sins also portray the punishment that comes with the sin. For instance, Gluttony is incredibly obese and Temptation has no limbs.

“The exhibition also includes a ‘prison’ room, further embodying the topic of sin. Famous criminals such as Stalin, Pablo Escobar and Bokassa are imprisoned here. The prison has a dungeon room – Betrayal – which represents Hell. Visitors are encouraged to leave notes on the wall, allowing them to name people who have betrayed them, or to write a message of forgiveness.

“The exhibition ends on a positive note. The Heart of Hope is a large sculpture of a heart at the centre of the exhibition, which was also displayed at the Burning Man festival in 2017. It symbolises the ability to stop all the negative traits and sins. Visitors are given a bracelet which transmits a signal to the statue, which then beats in the rhythm of the bracelet wearer’s heartbeat.”    —Elucid Magazine

The 9 Circles of Beaumont Hell – and Who You’ll Meet There

“The Italian poet Dante Alighieri was kind of a twisted dude. His 14th-century opus, the Divine Comedy, led readers into the depths of a nine-layer hell filled with flaming tombs, rivers of boiling blood and giant worm-monsters. He spent plenty of time in the Inferno, the first part of the Divine Comedy, outlining all the sins that can get you a one-way ticket to Satan’s inner circle. But by 2014, a lot of those sins feel pretty out-of-date — we stopped burning heretics at the stake a while back, and I’m not even sure that simony is still a thing.

“With Dante’s colorful imagery in mind, I updated and localized his nine circles of hell as a reminder to Southeast Texans that if you’re not going to be polite because it’s the right thing to do, at least be polite to avoid retribution in the afterlife.” […]    –Beth Rankin, Beaumont Enterprise, December 6, 2014

The Social Media of Hell

“People, especially people’s troubles, are not fit entertainment, but can be entertaining. That’s not good. We need justice, but doing justice is not so we can make a Netflix series and gaze slack jawed at the bad guys and marvel at their talk.

“A Christian is called to love his enemies and that’s hard to do if they are providing your amusement for the evening. Social media can send a swarm of us after the latest example of someone breaking down or being taken down on Twitter.

“When I participate, I am going down to Hell and listening to the endless natter, the continuous stream of accusations, justifications, and whines that mark the damned or so Dante’s Inferno would suggest. There Dante gets stuck in a dangerous place, because he wishes to hear the social media stream of damnation.” […]    –John Mark N. Reynolds, Patheos, April 2, 2019

Dante to College Administrators: On Debt

“I do not know if then I was too bold when I answered him in just this strain: ‘Please tell me, how much treasure did our Lord insist on from Saint Peter before He gave the keys into his keeping? Surely He asked no more than ‘Follow me.’

“So says Dante to Pope Nicholas. The pontiff is in torment in Dante’s hell for simony: profiting from selling church offices for money. Others will join him soon and he is only the latest of many before he came. Dante shows him upside down, feet in the air, because this false shepherd has loved money more than God or God’s people. He has turned the non-profit work of the church to profit and so inverted the calling of the church.

“Only a master as great as Dante can combine beautiful poetry with a jeremiad against the church that was so true, good, and lovely that Christians called his comedy divine.” […]    –John Mark N. Reynolds, Patheos, March 30, 2019

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

School Zones Belong Inside Dante’s Inferno

“Those important pieces of classical writing that I read in college are a little fuzzy these days. That’s what happens when the music you listened to in college has been on classic rock stations for the past five years.

“But I need to reread Dante’s Inferno because I only remember (with the aid of Google) nine circles of hell in the poem.

“But I’m sure there is a 10th.

“The 10 circles of hell have to be limbo, lust, gluttony, greed, anger, heresy, violence, fraud, treachery and school parking lots during pick-up/drop-off time.” […]    –Dale Miller, The Independent, September 9, 2018