The Divine Comedy: Week 3, These Wretches, Who Had Never Truly Lived

In Canto 3 Virgil and the Pilgrim pass through the gates of hell--ABANDON ALL HOPE--and enter the outer "vestibule" of hell.

It's sort of like the lobby of hell.

Being the lobby, this place is hell but isn't hell. Here in this "nowhere" place we find the Indecisive, those who in life never took a stand for good or evil. These are souls whose lives were neither particularly praiseworthy nor condemnable.
And he [Virgil said] to me: "This wretched state of being
is the fate of those sad souls who lived a life
but lived it with no blame and with no praise."
The souls found here were "neither faithful nor unfaithful to their God." Consequently, heaven doesn't want these people, and neither does hell! You know it's bad when hell kicks you out. That's why these souls find themselves not in hell, but in the lobby.
Heaven, to keep its beauty, cast them out,
but even Hell itself would not receive them
The sin of these Indecisive souls is that they "stood but for themselves."

I don't know about you, but it seems like here in hell's lobby we find a perfect description for our time and place. Sure, here and there are people who are moral exemplars or very wicked. But most of us, we're just living for ourselves. We're not particularly good or virtuous, but neither are we depraved and evil. To quote from Revelation, we're neither hot nor cold. We're comfortably lukewarm.

As you likely know, in the Inferno the souls suffer a punishment that symbolizes their particular sin. The punishment for the Lukewarm and the Indecisive is to chase after a banner for all eternity that never takes a stand:
As so I looked and saw a kind of banner
rushing ahead, whirling with aimless speed
as though it would never take a stand;

behind it an interminable train
of souls pressed on...
You know what that sounds like? Capitalism and consumerism, our economy of desire, chasing after the next iPhone, weekend party, and beach vacation. Living from weekend to weekend. As I tell my students, there is more to life than waiting for the next Harry Potter movie, video game release, concert or party.

Stop chasing your desires, goddammit, and take a stand for something!

Why? Well, if you spend your life chasing the weekend or the next shiny new thing you're going to get to the end of your life and discover that you never really lived:
At once I understood, and I was sure
this was that sect of evil souls who were
hateful to God and to His enemies.

These wretches, who had never truly lived...

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply