Source: The Guardian
By Kenan Malik
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. So runs the inscription above the gates of hell in Dante’s Inferno. Through those gates walks Dante with his guide Virgil:
Now sighs, loud wailing, lamentation
Resounded through the starless air,
So that I too began to weep.
Unfamiliar tongues, horrendous accents,
Words of suffering, cries of rage, voices
Loud and faint, the sound of slapping hands…
Inferno is the first part, or canticle, of the Divine Comedy, Dante’s great triptych of journeys through hell, purgatory and heaven. Today, we read it as poetry, even if it is poetry that seems to have been touched by the divine. Seven hundred years ago, it was read as a glimpse of something far more real. Dante’s imaginative recreation of both the physical and the moral universe, and of the interlacing of the two, infused medieval culture and allowed Europeans to understand both their place in the physical architecture of the cosmos and their duties in the moral architecture of Christian society.
So far have we moved today from Dante’s reality that even the pope, if we are to believe the Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari, no longer acknowledges the existence of hell. Scalfari asked Pope Francis where “bad souls” go after death. Hell, Francis supposedly replied, “doesn’t exist”. “Sinning souls” simply “disappear”.