The relevance of Dante's hell to contemporary society in the western world could be said to be visible from the very first Canto. Here Dante is lost and unable to find his way back to the right road. "Midway this way of life we're bound upon, I wake to find myself in a dark wood" (Dante, 1949, p71). This could be said to be a representation of the psychological torment of many people who become depressed or unsure of their place in life. Many people are forced to go on a journey within themselves in order face and overcome the fears and dark thoughts that are affecting their lives. To many it is a journey of self-discovery, not always a pleasant one. Often it is difficult for someone to leave the dark underworld within themselves and they can be pushed back again and again "Back to that place wherein the sun is mute" (Dante, 1949, p73). Dante was forced to go through the circles of hell and face all the horrors so that he could safely leave the dark wood. Dante was fortunate in that he had Virgil to guide him on his way. Many do not have the good fortune to have such a guide to help them during their darkest hours. For some the journey through darkness and despair must be faced and endured alone. Dante's journey is one in which he faced and described what he perceived to be the sins of the world.
It is in the vestibule of hell that Dante met some of the unfortunates who were on the edge of hell. These people who were not actually in hell itself were the ones who were considered too tepid, dull or stupid to have made much of a difference to life, their own or anybody else's. These people were constantly running futiley in circles unable to make a choice. They were so inept and insignificant that they were not considered good enough even for hell. " No reputation in the world it has, Mercy and doom hold it alike in scorn" (Dante, 1949, p86) Some would argue that this sort of person can be seen in society today. These people are too weak or inept to make an effort to turn their lives around and become useful citizens of society. If this type of person works they often resent having to do what they are doing but are unable to choose to change their job, they do not have the gumption or willpower to change. These people are incapable of making a decision. They are so inept that even if making a decision would improve their circumstances, they can't make that decision for fear they might miss another better opportunity. They are fence sitters. It could be said that some of the unemployed people today are of this type. They curse and winge and blame everybody else for their misfortune. These people are common in society today. They create their own hell, living on the fringes of life and "it's blind life trails on so low and crass that every other life it envieth" (Dante, 1949, p86).
The first circle of hell - the "Limbo where the Unbaptised and the Virtuous Pagans dwell" (Dante, 1949, p90), may be an area where perhaps some may think there is not much relevance for contemporary society. I beg to differ. It must be remembered that there are still those around who hold the belief that to be saved and go to heaven one must recognise and accept God. Even today Missionaries are still going to places such as India and Africa with the sole purpose of converting the people of those countries to Christianity. World wide it is possible to see cultures and civilizations that have been destroyed by the efforts of missionaries and others to civilise and christianise those that were considered pagans.
These indigenous people lived a good life obeying their own laws and following their own religious practices. Their only "sin" was not to be baptised and to practice what was considered by Christians to be pagan beliefs. "They sinned not; yet their merit lacked its chiefest Fulfilment, lacking baptism."(Dante, 1949, p92). Although attitudes and values are changing the indigenous people are still suffering from the attitudes and values...
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