Monday, February 20, 2012

Dante's Inferno and Me

"In the midst of life's journey I found myself in a dark wood, for the right path was lost."-Dante's "Inferno".

Thus begins one man's journey through Hell. For those not familiar with the tale, Dante travels through Hell to save the soul of his beloved Beatrice while guided by the mentor soul of the Roman poet Virgil. As Dante stands at the gates to Hell he reads the words transcribed over the threshold, "Abandon all hope ye who enter." Much of our depictions of Hell come from Dante's imagery of demons, sins, and the condemned souls within each of the Nine Circles. It's a fascinating allegory for even a nonbeliever such as myself.

Now Dante did believe, as did most Medieval minds, that there was a Hell full of demons and Heaven full of angels. But he took that belief and crafted an epic allegorical poem about redemption, sacrifice, and love. Like reading Shakespeare, John Milton, or even a more contemporary author such as H.P. Lovecraft...the language can be daunting but well worth the journey.

Why wax poetic about Dante's Inferno on Facebook? Simple, it's what's on my mind. Demons and angels have always fascinated me. I don't believe in them any more than I believe in Valkyries or Harpies(though I've known a few women to make me wonder about the latter). Yet, I'm drawn to the mythology of them. I know, you can't call Catholic or Christian teaching as mythology but let's be honest, nothing in modern religion is any less mythological than what the Greeks, Egyptians, or even Norse believed. Men and monsters winged like birds and bats...but I digress.

Most of my writing has a touch of the demonic and celestial in that what each side promises is the duality of man. We are tempted by our demons and saved by our angels but in truth the Devil and God reside in our hearts as us. I write a lot about madness. Part of that is influenced by Poe and Lovecraft but it also stems from a deep fear of madness and slipping slowly into it. Exorcisms were performed on the insane who were believed to be possessed. They had their demons of the mind; we all do. What troubles me most about studying both angels and demons is how often they are one and the same. It was Lucifer who was cast down to Hell as Satan(which in Judaism, where the word originated, is simply a title like Darth or Pope) while many fellow angels were cast down to be demons. It gets even blurrier than that however. In many ancient texts angels were more feared than demons. They came from a bitter, petty, dominant God who cast them to earth for brutal judgments. If you saw an angel in Old Testament times, bad things were coming. Whether it was Gabriel, Michael,  Metatron(which sometimes is an angel, other times it's a title given to an angel such as Michael. To me it sounds like a Transformer), or any unnamed angel...misery followed. It wasn't until the New Testament that angels became guardians and the Devil's brood of demons were the only enemy. Thus began the war for Earth.

See why this fascinates me? There is a lot of rich background in these tales. Then when you stumble upon a gem such as Dante's Inferno, it piques the curiosity while making you ponder your own life.

In closing I will say this: Dante's journey begins in a shadowed woods for he got lost. We have all been lost. At times we all feel alone. Some turn to the Heavens. Others turn to sin. Yet how many would battle through the Nine Circles of Hell for love? There is hope even in the hopeless; there is redemption for those who have fallen the furthest. There is beauty and humanity in literature whether it be secular or faith based. There are angels and demons within each of us. Such is the dual nature of mankind.  We are poet and Pope, believer and atheist, reader and writer.

We are a beautiful allegory in the flesh.

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