I was in a shadowed forest and as I am trying to find my way , I keep seeing this Victoria Secrets model blocking my way but she keeps disappearing when I try to get close , a proud New York banker who keeps chasing me wanting to invest with him and a creature that looks like Caligula , Hitler and Stalin had a love child. Fortunately a man dressed in 13th century Italian garb approached me and said in a thick Italian accent “Escuzze me , come with me if you want to live?” . I was grateful to find another normal human being even if he spoke like “The Terminator” or had time traveled 7 centuries or come back from a Halloween party. He proceeded ” My name is Dante Alighieri and I am hier to show you the errors of your ways” . I was dumb struck , “Dante ?? like the dude who wrote the Divine Comedy ? ” Dante looked askance at me and his eyes lit up as he replied “Commedia , si si”. Authority has a powerful effect on me so it never occurred to me to ask him as to what he meant by error of my ways and just followed him like a love struck puppy. And of course I was glad to be rid of the freaks!!
We proceeded through and I see a inscription on the gate “Abandon all hope , all who enter here” . I wonder if I was entering Hotel California , I don’t particularly like The Eagles , listening to their songs and entering their world would be fitting punishment for me. But it was not to be so , instead it was a cacophony mingled with screams and I was informed that these were people who were defeated by their pain , these were the folks who refused to make choices , be original in their thoughts , were cowardly in their ways , in short were never alive . Beyond them lay a great river , and a boat came to the shore with a horrible old man who glared at us with glowing embers for eyes . He looked as though was probably expecting coins but Dante whispered to him and he promptly took us across . This was the boatman , Charon who ferries the dead in Greek mythology, looks like he has been repurposed here.
Dante informed me that this was the first circle of hell or Limbo (not to be confused with the Limbo of Inception) and lo and behold we find Homer , Euclid , Aristotle , Plato , Xeno , Virgil (who gives a knowing nod to Dante) and hordes of other philosophers and great men including Einstein , Feynman , Bohr , Chandrashekhar were discussing Unified Field theories and Freud , who looked at me closely and diagnosed me with a horde of psychological issues at a glance . Dante informed me that this was Limbo and this is where all who had not been baptized end up .This is where all the Buddhists , Hindus , Muslims , Jews , Parsis end up . I wonder if Protestants end up here as well!! More importantly is this where I go ??? but Dante moves on before I can pose that question
We entered the second circle and this is where the Lustful are imprisoned , I happened to see some very eminent politicians (no surprise there!!!), judges , actors , artists ,war heroes and surprise , surprise , several popes and other religious leaders. Some of them tried to approach me to tell their story but Dante seemed disinterested so I followed him onwards to the third circle
It is freezing cold and being battered with cold heavy rain and I see with great astonishment ,a three headed dog snarling , could it be Cerberus , the guardian of Greek hell?? Has he been reassigned to this hell? or did Herakles bring him here.But my ADD comes to my rescue and I start looking at the people here , mostly obese and still stuffing their face . I did not need to be told that was where the gluttons were being sent . I wonder if I can back off and head back but Dante is relentless
As I enter the next circle (4th in case you are not counting) , I see multitudes pushing weights with their chests complaining about hoarding and squandering . Personally I am confused , I see a binary world , either one hoards or one squanders . Is that not true for all of us , are all of us destined to this useless task ? Dante seemed to read my thoughts as he proceeded to enlighten me that it was hoarding of material wealth and the incessant squandering of wealth and time that bought upon this wretched condition . I wondered if this was a good time to mention that the Bhagwad Gita mentions the same thing. “Let us move to greater sorrows” says my guide and I reluctantly follow to the next circle.
This time around we have to cross a river , strangely the name of the river is Styx, the same name that separates the underworld from Earth . The color of the stream is a deep purple and I see faces around me , angry , sullen , various states of apoplexy , glaring at me , I suppose that if looks could kill , I would be turning in my grave or more accurately might be in the first circle. I am guessing this is where one comes in when one is overcome with wrath. I see the city of Dis with its great Citadels and fires which imparts a reddish glow to all around . Dante hurries through , this time I am more than eager to follow him and get out of this hell and onto the next circle.
To my horror , I find Epicurus in this circle. Though most of us believe that he started the belief that we have one life so we might as well enjoy it to the fullest. The emphasis was placed on pleasures of the mind rather than on physical pleasures.But today Epicurean means indulging of the physical senses rather than what he advocated. I look around , everybody is enclosed in burning sepulchers . Dante looks at me knowingly and states that this is where heretics are sent. I suppose this is where I will end up if I don’t end up in the first. Dante goes on “As they thought it was so important to live in the present , God has denied them knowledge of the present . They are acutely aware of the past and they can see the future but have no awareness of the present” . I was silent , it is a horribly contrived and grotesque punishment .
Dante is in contemplation as we go to the next circle and then he looks me in the eye and says “These are crimes against God. The violent take this circle, violence against others in the first ring , violence against self in the second ring and violence against god in the third ring. Frauds are lower , suffering more” . I see a Minotaur and several centaurs guarding Hitler , Stalin , Attila , Henry VIII , Julius Caesar , Caligula in a river of boiling blood in the first ring. I see Ajax the great, Sylvia Plath and some I know in the second ring transformed into strange trees .
A hideous creature with the body of a snake and the tail of a scorpion comes down and we ride that creature to the next circle . It had 8 pouches . I recognized Casanova and the Marquis De Sade in the first pouch , I don’t recognize people in the following pouches but I see to my horror , a Pope that Dante tells me is Pope Nicholas III . I see astrologers , diviners , tarot card readers , I see Charles Ponzi, John Law . And then to my surprise and horror , I see Odysseus and Diomedes . Odysseus tells us that he ignored his duties towards his wife , his parents and his son in order to indulge his curiosity and that is what brought him here . I listened , stunned . If Odysseus had not done what he did, we would never have the Odyssey. As I walk on , still puzzled , I encounter two Arabic looking men whom Dante introduces as Mohammed and Ali. They are wounded by a demon constantly. I have to wonder now , is this the coup de grace for Dante? As I proceed , I find chemists, Marie Curie , Pierre Curie , Fredric Joliot and Irene Joliot-Curie , I suppose they are the ones who did solve the mystery of the philosopher’s stone , transmuted one metal into another , the modern day chemists are the equivalent of the ancient alchemists.
Moving on , I see a frozen river and finally catching the glimpse of a horrible creature that Dante introduces as Satan , the emperor of Pain . The face is grotesque and I see claws , big claws ….
I woke up with a start as my cat sank his claws into my lap .The TV was playing the movie ‘Seven’ starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman and I see a copy of Dante’s Inferno , the first installment of the Divine Comedy, open face down my lap. What a horrid dream!!!