I’ve been through hell several dozen times, and each time I go I want to take pictures and bring them back to show life-size on my living room wall with my $399 data projector from Microcenter in order to warn my family and friends. I find in the Gospel of Luke my folly in this daydream, for “if they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (16:31).
Oh, well. If people won’t heed warnings, the next best thing is to give them a list of 10 must-see attractions so that they’ll be able to spend their eternity in style. I checked Fodor’s Travel Guides to see what they had on this, and aside from a town in West Bay, Grand Cayman, there’s nothing resembling the hell through which Dante, Virgil and I have traveled so often. On with the list:
1. Public Transportation
The first thing to note in hell is the incredibly awesome public transportation system. Anyone who’s been to Disneyworld knows how people ought to be processed through one attraction to the next. If you want to get somewhere fast, there are boats that will get you across the great bodies of water – Charon and Phlegyas are the boatmen, and they work for tips – and centaurs you can ride across the river of blood (worth spending some time at to watch the target practice). To get from the 7th to the 8th circle, you want to take a helicopter down, like those that occasionally descend into the Grand Canyon, and to get from the 8th to the 9th, you want to get a lift from an unbound giant. The fastest way to get to where you want to go, though, is through something akin to the Star Trek transporter – just present yourself to a receptionist named Minos and name your favorite sin. He’ll zap you there in a few tail flicks.
2. The University
The University really needs to be your first stop. The entire first circle of hell, in fact, is a university town, populated with philosophy and fine arts majors. You could spend your whole eternity just in this place alone. Aside from the excellent classes taught by the ancient masters themselves, you get a chance to contribute to their works through pontificating on your own ideas and theories. There’s a press, too, but no one ever gets published. Also, no one ever graduates. The federal government has been investigating this phenomenon for some time because of all the federal financial aid dollars that are getting tied up here. This university, though, has a zero default rate for the loans it processes – other colleges can’t make the same boast, so it must be doing something right.
3. The City Night-life
For those of you who like a wild night-life, the second circle of hell rivals St. Pauli’s in Hamburg, Germany, after hours. The discos, alcohol and prostitutes (via quick shuttle to the first two bolgias of the 8th circle) make for a scenic evening, and, as you’d expect, there’s a complete lack of fecundity in it all. What happens in circle 2 stays in circle 2. Literally. It can’t get out. For this reason, it’s definitely not the kind of hotspot you want to take a date out on, and if you did, you’d lose interest in him or her real fast. If you’re just looking for a good time, though, with no relationships and no commitments, this circle of hell was made just for you. Of course, aside from the intoxicants, there’s nothing to eat here. You’ll have to wait till the next circle for your first restaurant – 2 stars only, though. You can do better with a different repast.
4. The Zoo
As we pass through upper hell, be sure to make note of the living zoo of interesting creatures, oddities, really, who populate the place. Like passing through Lion Country Safari or International Wildlife Park, you’ll see lots of fine animals. To list a few, there’s a lion, a she-wolf and a leopard in the Dark Wood just before you enter hell, a three-headed dog in the third circle (he likes the frozen snowballs, so if you see him, make one and throw it at him), and a Minotaur, Centaurs, and Harpies (oh, my). Note the one interesting thing about all of these critters once you get past the Gates of Hell is that they’re all half-human, half-beast. They actually represent something (did someone say mythological pagan creatures in a Christian hell?), and that’s the nature of the sinners they stand over. All of them have that one thing in common.
5. Historical Sites
Every vacation spot has its sites of historical interest. Often, when we visit a place we might just walk right on by the birthplace of a not-so-famous statesman or a not-so-interesting first public school house a town can boast. You really want to take some time out of you schedule, though, to check out the first national bank. Literally, this was the first Western double-digit banking system established following the Crusades. On display at the end of the 7th circle are all the money-lenders who grew rich off interest, reaping where they hadn’t sown, and making it possible for all those folks in the 4th circle who wasted or hoarded money to cultivate their vice. While the group isn’t talkative (and one would think they’d actually be quite loud since money talks), they do glitter and shine a bit. Again, it’s worth a passing glance, but if you’ve got a full day planned, don’t spend too much time here.
6. Dis, the Capital City
Speaking of Crusades, you may be impressed with the entire walled city of Dis, Hell’s capital city, replete with flaming mosques. In the time of our journey, the West looked upon Islam as just another Christian heresy that might one day be stamped out like Arianism or Nestorianism. Mohamed the Prophet, whom you’ll meet down in the 8th circle, they believed was just another schismatic who popularized the Christian Ebionite belief that Christ was the messiah but was not divine. All the flaming mosques represent the perversion of the True Faith – the City of Man rather than the City of God.
7. The Olympic Games
Lower in hell, you’ll want to make sure you look for the Olympic Games. The race in particular you’re looking for is one in which one of Dante’s old teachers is running. Please don’t take offense at the nature of the race – while it looks like a Gay Pride celebration, it’s really not. (After all, who are we to judge?) It’s a celebration of the lack of – what’s that word again, fecundity. Any sterile actions, sexual or otherwise, could cause someone to end up here, and many who might have ended up here we’ll meet in Purgatory and also in heaven. The reason is that at any given time, we can stop pursuing creation alone and start pursuing its Creator. While the contestants are here, though, they are indeed making great progress running around in circles.
8. Center of the 8th Circle
Those of you who’ve seen Bern, Switzerland, have seen the Bear Pit after which the city is named. Actually, I’ve always wondered if the bears came first and the city was so named, or if the bears came second to honor the name of the city. In any case, here in hell, you have got to see the tar pits in the middle of the 8th circle. If you’ve got an image in your head of what a demon looks like, with a tail and a pitchfork, it’s because of the way Dante grafted it here. This place is also the comic relief of Hell. If you weren’t laughing when you saw brown-nosers wallowing in excrement or fortune tellers with their heads turned backwards, you’ll die laughing at watching human souls ripped to pieces by demons while trying to bribe their way out of boiling pitch.
9. The Circus
A little further down, you’ll find a circus of sorts. You’ve heard from Matthew’s Gospel that he who loses his life will save it and he who finds his life will lose it (10:39), and you’ve heard “once bitten, twice shy,” but you haven’t heard that ‘he who steals will be stolen from.’ Here, our poet out-Ovids Ovid in the transformation of human souls to snakes and of snakes back into human souls. The trick these souls learn is to bite, when they’re a snake, the soul of someone who looks like he has a body. They steal the body and the other person turns into a snake. At least until he bites someone else. Thus is the circus played out in center ring.
10. Ice Skating Rink
Finally, and really I could have mentioned another dozen good places, is the ice skating rink down in the 9th and last circle with the local DJ at the center playing hip-hop music for all the souls on ice. The one thing you never get to ride on this kind of a rink is the Zamboni. You’d crush too many heads sticking up out of the ice if you weren’t careful. Even with skates, you’re likely to trip over someone’s head (the ice is so treacherous) unless you keep to the center of the rink. The DJ named Satan can’t really do anything to you since he’s also frozen in the ice, the symbol of total impotence and sterility, the nature of all of hell, really.
If you’re interested in learning more about Dante and the Divine Comedy, feel free to join us for an extended journey through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven this coming spring 2015 by signing up at https://www.hacsmooc.cc if you like. Also, if you found this review helpful, please give it a like. Like Charon, I get paid in the coin of the realm, and the coin of this realm is the like button on this post.