At the gates of Hell

THEhe country which welcomes me alive from day to day is deteriorating a little more and seems doomed to collapse ”, he laments (Purg XXIV 79-81). The country he crosses, wherever the roaming of his exile takes him, is a dark forest whose “The right way [est] lost “. This forest of sin and carelessness, “So bitter that death is hardly more” (Enf I, 7), Dante will tame it by taking the first steps of his work. His path is engulfed in the wake of his guide and admired master, Virgil, on the night of Thursday to Good Friday in the year 1300. It is the beginning of his literary journey, entering the depths of Hell.

Under the comic pen of François Rabelais, the character of Epistemon, who has come back to life after being beheaded for a while, recounts his own funeral walk: “He had seen the devils, had spoken to Lucifer familiarly, and had made dear in Hell, and in the middle of the Champs Elysees. And he assured everyone that the devils were good companions. For the damned, he said he was very sorry that Panurge had brought him back to life so early. Because I took, he said, a singular pleasure to see them. “

Briton Lewis Carroll also describes fanciful journeys through a strange world where our own truths are reflected: “Oh Kitty, now we come to the right hall”Alice said, setting off with her cat to explore the mirror house. “We can barely get a glimpse of what the hallway of the mirror house is, if we leave the door to our living room wide open; what we see is very similar to our hallway, to us. “

It is neither a kitten nor a white rabbit with a pocket watch that welcomes the Florentine poet, who has become a character in his story, on the edge of Hell, but three more frightening animals. There emerge a panther, a lion and a she-wolf, symbols of lust, pride and lust, who immediately came to tempt him. The poet Virgil then intervenes, sent by Beatrice to lead Dante to her in Paradise. This guide warns him: “I will be your mentor: in the hellish world I will take you; you will hear there the cries of despair, you will see the old painful spirits, each one attesting to the second death; you will see there those who in the fire are happy, because they have the hope of going at the right time to the blessed. Then, if you want to go up near these, you will have more worthy than me to teach: to this soul when leaving I will entrust you ” (Enf I, 112-123).

In the seventh circle of Hell, Dante crosses paths with three Florentines for whom Virgil asks for his compassion. The black faces, the stinging wounds covering their bodies, all three inquire about the fate of Tuscany since their death. The poet can only shower their hopes, informing them: “The new kind and the too sudden gains have engendered pride and excess, Florence, in you, and you are already crying about it” (Inf XVI, 73-75).

A little further, in Purgatory, Dante meets Marc le Lombard, an honest man of the court who shares his convictions and draws the same observation of a mismanagement: “If the present world is led astray, the cause is within yourselves, you must seek within you. “ And the friend to further detail his disarming observations on the gangrene of corruption and the tensions between the papacy and the Empire: in Florence then new social categories emerge, but money governs, and this prosperity leads people astray.


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