The Divine Comedy (canto III): Limbo

The picture above pictures Dante and his guide Virgil conversing with Ovid, Homer and Horace before the castle of Limbo. Its seems that the first ring of hell (limbo) is not such a bad place. In the Christian view none of the horrific punishments to be dealt out in the subsequent circles of hell can hold a beeswax candle to not being in the presence of the lord. So the first ring of hell is actually quite a nice place environmentally; lots of green fields and a cool seven-sided castle, just no direct contact with the supreme being.

In Limbo we find virtuous pagans, unbaptized babies and everyone who lived and died before the birth of christ.* This includes the pictured philosophers above as well as Julius Caesar, Socrates, Aristotle, even Virgil himself. Apparently even in the 12th century there was a celebrity culture, but at least back then philosophers were valued more highly than NBA players or movie stars.

As far as the Circles of Hell are concerned, Limbo provides the best example of how historical interpretation determines the "truth" of contemporary doctrine. When I was growing up in a nominally catholic tradition, limbo was the place where unbaptized babies went, never to have the chance to enter heaven. Limbo, in this story, was not part of hell but rather some spiritual cul-de-sac. However, as we see in The Divine Comedy, Limbo is clearly in The Inferno but in a very balmy neighborhood, who knew? A few years back the catholic church decided that limbo didn't really exist because it was an "unduly restrictive view of salvation." Apparently the infallible teachings of about thirty or so popes was not exactly spot on and now the whole notion of limbo has been banished to ... well, limbo.

So just to be clear. There is an antechamber (wasps and hornets) to hell, which is not a waiting room because you never get in and the first ring of hell may not actually exist. Does this mean that unwitting new arrivals, jangled by the boat ride with an apparently argumentative Charon, might these newly condemned souls step into the void that once was limbo and plummet out of The Inferno into? Where exactly do you go when you are cast out of hell? Ponder that one until tomorrow.

Next time some real punishment in the Second Ring of Hell - Lust.

*Pondering the statement: everyone who lived and died before the birth of christ. I wondered just how crowded Limbo would be and tried to google an answer to the question: "Approximately how many people lived before Anno Domini?" Not surprisingly this depends on whether you are a old time religion person or an evolutionist. The numbers changed based on how many children families had in 2500 BCE and whether Noah lived to be 900 years old; and then there is the matter of the great flood, the drowning of nine billion and the near extinguishment of the human race. Anyways, Limbo is crowded but I hear they are adding an eighth side to the castle with condos overlooking the second circle of hell (lust), which actually might be a selling point; either that or they are moving the whole thing to Las Vegas and changing its name to City Center basically the same view.
photo credit: worldofdante.org