Choose Two Characters From Dante’s Inferno Who You Believe Would be Helped by Receiving a Second Chance in Life
There is something about predators that fascinates people. Most nature programming seems to focus on animals such as wolves, lions, and alligators.Each of these creatures makes a living by preying on relatively harmless beings. Wolves devour elk and other vegetarians. Lions will devour zebras. Alligators will attack anything that disturbs the water in which they lie waiting for victims.
Why are we so drawn to killers? Yes, we find bunny rabbits, little lambs, and strutting chickens cute. We love to watch ducks waddle. We also enjoy eating them. But you won’t find their carcasses stuffed and hung up on any hunter’s wall. That says that, while we adore the gentle creatures of the forest, our respect is reserved for the beasts that make killing and devouring their business.
Perhaps this is because the predators have qualities that we prize in ourselves, ones that are absent in the more benevolent denizens of nature. It is an amazing thing to watch a tiger stalking its prey. The way its sharp eyes detect a vulnerable creature, the near silence it exhibits as it crouches, and the lightning fast reflexes it displays as it makes its death charge are terrible things, but they are also magnificent.
Predators have a greatness about them, something that makes them rise above common creatures. We sense in them a potential, a burning desire to advance and achieve, to live life on one’s own terms. We see in them what we wish we could be.
Alexander the Great was an accomplished predator. He slaughtered thousands, over turned peaceful, stable governments, then wept when he could find no more worlds to conquer. When asked who he wished his empire to go to after he passed away, he said, “To the strongest!” He was a man of war to the center of his being. He also spread the benefits of Greek thought to lands that may never have benefitted from it otherwise.
Dante has Alexander suffering in the seventh circle of Hell for his brutalities. But the conqueror was a product of his times and of his upbringing. Take such a man and give him other outlets for his ambitions and abilities, and what might you have? Possibly he would be a visionary business leader, who founds corporations that employ tens of thousands and makes world class products. He could also be a brilliant physician who discovers a cure for cancer or another dread disease.
He might also remain in the military service. But instead of destroying peace he might guard it against tyrants and their armies. He might follow in the steps of King Leonidas of the Spartans, and save western civilization from being forever lost. He could fulfill his destiny in the image of President Eisenhower or General Douglas MacArthur, protecting a great democracy from being enslaved. Or he might lead a SEAL team into a Pakistani mansion to kill a notorious terrorist. In any event, a man with such enormous potential for good certainly deserves another chance at life.
Dante clearly loved imperial Rome, or at least the image he held of that ancient regime.
This is reflected in his choice of the poet Virgil as guide through Hell. It is also illustrated in the sinners he reserves for the most horrific punishments of all. Brutus, Cassius, and Judas each are eternally imprisoned in one of Lucifer’s three mouths. Clearly Dante has a problem with disloyalty. But in Cassius’ case he has misunderstood the man.
Rome was an early example of a republic, the form of government that is the most well regarded and emulated in the western world. It was the Roman Republic that inspired the founding fathers of the United States. It was this republic that serves as a basis for modern codes of law. It is the civilization that is remembered in modern buildings built in the classic style.
Rome was a republic for nearly five hundred years. It only became an empire when personal ambition began to outweigh devotion to the ancient ideal of rule by the people. Julius Caesar, while not officially the first emperor, did more than any other man to undermine and destroy the democratic principles that had guided the city-state for nearly five centuries.
Cassius, a true Roman, did not like kings or dictators. He was committed to Rome as it was before Julius Caesar began his quest for ultimate power. Because of this, he conspired with other senators to slay the man before he could wipe every trace of freedom from their civilization. That is why they set upon him with knives on the Ides of March in 44 BC.
Dante, having lived in the 14th century, doesn’t appreciate these facts. A lifelong subject of monarchs, he lived too early to see the American Revolution, its French counterpart, or the long series of political reforms that would hand the reins of power in Europe over to the electorate. Were this not the case, he may not have seen fit to consign Cassius and his brother Brutus to the jaws of Satan.
Cassius was an early prototype of George Washington. He understood the dark shadow that was falling over Rome and did his best to forestall it. He wasn’t a traitor, he was a patriot, and certainly worthy of another chance at life. In today’s world he might be a civil rights attorney, fighting laws that discriminate against a particular group of people. He may also be a CIA operative, quietly performing some of the nasty deeds that must be done from time to time to keep the world safe from tyrants.
Alexander and Cassius, two figures whom Dante condemned to Hell, might very well turn out to be benefactors of humanity if they were granted second lives. That is why I would give them that chance.