Blogs » J.Q. Tomanek of Victoria » Out with the new and in with the old


Yesterday I was commenting on an article here at the Advocate website and consistent commentator in the combox mentioned a classic that I will need to be reading in the near future. I have a stack of books I want to read and sometimes a new one comes along and jumps ahead of the line. Sometimes an ancient one is mentioned, jumps the line, and this is the case with “Aesop’s Fables.” This is a classic; I mean this in the way that it is usually found in the list of books that have shaped Western Civilization or has shaped the authors of those considered classics. This collection of books is usually referred to as “The Great Books.”

Given the weather, I will write about the memorable scene in Dante’s Inferno. The scene is the center of hell. Often we are given a picture of hell as being hot and smoldering. There are scenes in the Inferno that fit this description, but Dante reserves the center of hell as ice cold, in fact frozen.

Satan is half incased in ice from his mid-section down. The top part of his body was frozen still because movement would create more cold wind. From the image of Satan, his eternal suffering was done tearless for tears would force the ice block to creep higher.

Dante’s image of Satan included three mouths. The center of hell was reserved for what Dante considered the worst of the worst of human sins, betrayal. He figured there were three types of betrayal which included betrayal of: countrymen, friend, and God. The image is startling, the Gospels show Jesus asking the children to come to Him, the crippled seeking His healing touch, etc. and so Dante has Satan also touching these figures of betrayal and instead of placing his healing hand on their wounds, Satan has his mouth fixed on their body. Instead of man consuming the Body of Christ, Satan is consuming the body of man. Striking image.

Who were the figures of betrayal? They were three figures pretty well known. The figure that turned his back on his countrymen was Cassius. He was the conspirer that plotted the assassination of Julius Caesar. The second figure was Brutus, a friend of Caesar who stabbed his friend in the back and so we have the example of betraying a friend. Lastly, the consumption of Judas Iscariot is found in hell. Here, Judas is a little different for he is consumed head first. Of course, Judas betrayed Christ as is found in the Gospels.

Although the Divine Comedy has a literal interpretation, Dante writes the whole poem on many different levels. “Did Dante really believe hell was like this?” I doubt it; it was a literary agent to make a point. A person does not need to be Christian or a believer in any religion to read Dante. Many people from all walks of life have read him. It is a piece of art that has been handed down through the generations that speaks of many different things. As all classics, it is important to read so as to get a handle on those writings that influenced a lot of our culture today.

Other authors found in the “Great Books” are Aristotle, Herodotus, Shakespeare, Voltaire, Euclid, Kant, and Adam Smith to name a few. There are many more, I am only hoping I have the time to read them before I pass this earthly life.