In Dante’s frightful underworld, sinners face a descending funnel of worsening torments keyed to their sins. The lustful are blown about in a whirlwind; the violent boil in a river of blood. But betrayers, alone at the bottom, are savaged by the one called emperor of the realm of grief, in person.
“You’re buried in ice, because you’ve buried yourself in ice,” Mr. Pinsky, the nation’s poet laureate from 1997 to 2000 and a Dante scholar, said in an interview on Thursday.
Poetic justice, indeed.
It is fitting, Mr. Pinsky says. Betrayal destroys the trust that binds humanity, and with it, the betrayer himself. Dante was consumed by the sadness and mystery of sin ”” and what it did to the sinner:
How is it that we choose to sin and wither?
Like waves above Charybdis, each crashing apart
Against the one it rushes to meet …
“It’s not a poem about ”˜you did this, you get this,’ ” Mr. Pinsky says. “It’s about the mystery of how you hurt yourself. It’s like the Talmud says: the evils others do to me are as nothing compared to the evils I do to myself.”
Read it all.