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What Would Dante Do - with colossal liars ?

Updated: Feb 10


This bronze statue of Dante holding a relief is in the Badia in Florence. The relief shows Dante himself walking through the dark wood- the opening scene of his poem.

Wondering what the Italian Poet Dante Alligheri (1265-1321) would do with the falsifiers of our age has been speculated upon by myself more than once. Dante, in his opus, The Divine Comedy. he has a hierarchy or low-archy for transgressors, called the malbolges or ditches. His conception of Hell is that of an inverted cone with sinners placed in ever deeper levels. Dante's idea of sin may seem arcane and irrelvant on some occasions, entirerly prescient on others or just just plain vindictive. Some have opined that his writing of the Inferno was just a way to get revenge on his enemies. Others say the entire book is just a billboard for the Catholic Church.


Let's start with something of a lighter fair, as this essay will eventually deal with new levels of repugnancy occurring today that I believe would leave Dante gasping and wondering how the future could hold transgressors that leave those of his era cringing -in Florence of the 13th century.


Making chicken soup with spices was a potential sin that could send one straight to hell in the minds of some of Dante's contemporaries. This is because adding condiments to food was seen as a violation of nature by Dante. Perhaps this is why Florentines to this day do not put salt in their bread. The apparent idea here is that altering anything to disguise its nature is equivalent to falsifying and misrepresenting nature and thereby an offense to God. This would fall under the category of blasphemers for Dante, or those who are violating God and nature. Hmm, well culinary caprices that alter the taste of dishes certainly seems benign enough to most of us today. But we think of dishes like "mock chicken" in a Chinese restaurant of tofu taking on other flavors as hardly warranting divine intervention or retribution.


Above- A still life painting by the author, featuring a small bust of Dane with other objects.


Working our way down in Dante's scheme of things there is another violation that was serious business in Florence of medieval times, that being the offense of usury. Not a term bandied about today or even on the radar of most, I would suspect. Yet usury, or making money at interest was a serious offense. It weighed heavily on the minds of many in Itlay of Dante's time. So much so that great works of art and architecture were created to appease the almighty and assuage the concience of the transgressors. It was especially of interest to the Medici and other banking families of Florence and elsewhere in Europe. How could one do one's financial job and avoid the dark night of soul was a dilemma not easily sidestepped.


The answer, or partial solution was to become a benefactor of higher learning, found monasteries, as Cosimo de Medici did by bankrolling the San Marco Benectine Monastery in Florence. Even more to the point, would be Scrovegni in Padua. A member of this Scrobegni family led a particularly vile life and to make ammends he financed Giotto to paint one of the most famous fresco cycles, which is in the Scrovegni Chapel. I've visited this hallowed church, aslo called the Arena Chapel as it is near an ancient Roman arena. It is indeed a miracle to behold- a major work at the burgeoning of the Renaissance. So maybe there is a mechanism in the universe for balancing the scales at the end of ones life.


Now to more serious stuff today and to get to the question of this essay's title. What would Dante do with the likes of Alex Jones, the opportunist cum-laude who has thought it his mission in life to make millions of dollars off the vile lies he has perpetuated. He is infamous in the extreme, and better to put him out of our minds. Yet his making money from the perpetuation of lies about the massacre of children at Sandy Hook Elementary school is just simply beyond the pale. And Dante's categories in hell have no place for such a fellow and his brand of hyper falsehoods. Imagine having your child shot to death and then being hounded publicly by Jones and his followers. Jones and his minons think the entire Sandy Hook tragedy to be a hoax. This type of conflation of transgressions combines something akin to usury - but instead of making money off from others' money- he was profitting from the tragedy of others. Dante or the church of his day had not imagined just how bad things could get in the 21st century.


Even though Jones was ordered to pay $1.4 billion to the families of the victims, he is by most reports unrepentant. He says things like, they will never silence me. Hmm, justice to some degree, yes, but no glimmer of seeing any sort of closure. This again brings Dante's transgressors who are in hell to mind. Like the famous Francesca, who was stabbed by her husband, while she was in bed with his brother in an adulterous compromise, blames Arthurian Romances for her predicament. Like Jones, no sense of responsibility or concern with the deleterious effects of their decisions.


There is no shortage of new examples of twisted transgressors. Take Fox News for example. This supposed news organization was recently found guilty of perpetuating falsehoods on a grand scale and knowingly misleading their viewers. This was in regards to their stories about the Dominion voting machines causing Trump's election loss to Biden. And when they fessed up or said that Biden was the winner, their audience left in droves- because they were not being told what they wanted to hear. This comes in Dante's cosmology as falsifiers. This is the category for those who purposely mislead or sow discord. In Dante's retribution these fellows are punished in the eighth pit for fomenting scandal. And to make profit while your at it, as did Fox news and Alex Jones- then you're going even beyond Dante in slithiring into a ditch not conceived of in the Inferno.


Then there is the liar to top all liars- that being Mr. D.T.- whom some have said he lies like the rest of us breathe- without so much as a thought or with any connection to reality. It goes on from year to year and only gets worse as time unfolds. Whew- where would Dante go with this character? He has special places in hell for Popes, like Boniface the VIII. So Dante speaks truth to power- and we would hope that this same verve would apply if Dante were to return and find new fodder for his poem. This Pope betrayed Dante and was responsible for Dante and his family and his political party, the White Guelfs, being kicked out of Florence. Pope Boniface's main sin was, again rather arcane by today's reference, that of Simony. This is a magician-like perversion made famous by Simon the Magus. Dante's creative inversion is to have these fellows put in hell with only their feet sticking out - and on fire too. This is an inversion as it is opposite of the cooling waters of the batismal font.

And the D.T. being one who purposively sows discord is right up there as a candiate for some creative afterlife inversion.


We can speculate on the D.T. for underminning democracy at the most profound and far-reaching levels. What would be commensurate to this selling of the national dream at the hands of a snake oil huckster? Maybe to be perptually in a carnival sideshow as other hucksters continually bark lies across the rubber ducks? Nothing quite seems the right scenario for the D.T's final resting place. To see our country perverted and the democracy flooded under a tide of falsehoods is not unlike the Roman republic's slow dissolution at the hands of opportunists.


Sowing discord is at the ninth level of the inferno or next to last, as it is viewed with such disdain. The perpertrators are disembowled or in another memorable image, one is holding his own severed head. The returbution Dante doles out is again somehow reversely commensurate. In this case, as the transgressors parted and divided people while alive, their payment in hell is be eternally separated- in this case head from torso.


We can we see now see even with members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, the right wing perpetrators of the storming of the capitol get huge sentences for their part in the January 6th storming of the U.S. Capitol. So there may be seem accounting or consequences for sedition and fomenting insurection by perpetuating baltant lies as Trump has. The sobering reality is that vast numbers of Americans still feel the election was stolen and these follow are being unjustly singled out.



Above- A bust of Dante in the Tuscan village, Poppi- where the poet stayed for a short period after he was exiled from Florence.


If blatant lying is not bad enough, there are special categories of bending truth or muddying the waters that Trump has often used. These might be called slippery slope deceptions or the decay of veracity. His examples come up in infamous cases like the KKK riots in Charlottesville, VA. He asserted that there were some very good people in the KKK. Arnold Schwarzenegger responded appropriately with livid emotion- that there is no good side to bigotry. Well said! Trump would say that there is responsibility to be had for both Ukraine and Russia for the horrible war. His assertions are thinly veiled lies that do nothing to further understanding or to bring the real perpetrators to justice. Does anyone really think that the Russian invasion and years long bombardment of Ukraine is the doing of the people of Ukraine? In short, this is a sleazy tactic just this side of legally punishable. Trump would do this repeatedly in his rhetoric.


Then, we have the assertions of fake news- the DT would malign and cast aspersions upon anything he found insufficiently praisworthy. Attacking the freedom of the press is a favorite tactic of his and also of fascists in Nazi Germany.


One could go on and on, as there are no shortage of examples and variations today. Suffice it to say that a current manifestation vying for top honor of lying would be from the New York republican representative to Congress George Santos. Calling him a career or congenital liar on a grand scale just begins to broach a description of this fellow.


Dante could not have foreseen the internet and other technologies in his 14th century enclaves, nor could the author and social philosopher, Marshall McLuhan. Yet McLuhan's idea of circa 1962, the Global Village was indeed prescient. Yet to see and conceive was thought of as a hopeful sign of untoppable democracy and a free flow of information- has instead, in many instances been diverted into a way to spread ignorance, disinformation and conspiracy theories.



In this plein air painting of Piazza Santa Croce in Florence by Brian Keeler- a large statue of Dante looks toward the sunset. Over the past 700 years or so, the ideas of transgressions have altered, How would the poet view current events is the central speculation of this essay.



Ok, well lies and liars and have been around since time immemorial. Still, we can only wonder at the level of falsifiers today. And perhaps take heart that the pendulum will swing back again. Like Dante with his guide Virgil and later in the poem, with Beatrice- we can hope for wiser heads to prevail someday- if not allowing for some wisdom of higher sources.


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