“Not if I had a hundred tongues, a hundred mouths,
a voice of iron, could I tell all the forms of wickedness
or spell out the names of every torment.”
– Virgil, The Aeneid, Book VI, II 625-627 (Circa 29 BCE)
“‘Let us go on, for the long way impels us.’
Thus he went in, and thus he made me enter
The foremost circle that surrounds the abyss…”
– Dante’s Divine Comedy, Inferno (Canto 4)
“Would thou hadst hearkened to my words, and stayed
With me, as I besought thee, when that strange
Desire of wandering, this unhappy morn,
I know not whence possessed thee!”
– John Milton, Paradise Lost: IX (par. 1134-1137)
It wasn’t until well into my 20s that I had a say in the major decisions in my life. On reflection, that is probably a good thing since, after all, it is generally accepted in the neuropsychological-scientific community that the brain does not fully develop until then, and my track record was not exemplary. One such decision I had no say in was where I was going to high school. My mom simply picked the one she went to. Of course, she had a list of reasons. Thankfully, she steered me that direction, although at the time it was met with much resistance. The name of the school reflected something I could only aspire to be: “Pius.” Piety was one of antiquity’s classic virtues, (admonishing us to do our duty to country, parents or higher power), and a characteristic of Rome’s mythological founding father, Aeneas, the protagonist of Virgil’s epic poem, The Aeneid.
The Aeneid tells the tale of Aeneas, son of mortal Anchises and goddess Aphrodite, who sailed from the ruins of Troy to land in Italy, where he became the purported patriarch of the Imperial House of Caesar. On his journey, an oracle helped him with some major life decisions, steering him just around the mouth of Tartarus – Grecian Hell – where, interestingly enough, the poem’s author would fictionally fathom its depths, along with Italian author Dante, in his Divine Comedy. The first quote above, from Aeneas’s oracle-guide as they strode by the gates of hell, is merely a “guesstimate” of the immeasurable suffering of hell’s deserving denizens. I am sure by now you have also drawn the comparison, as I think my mom must have had a similar list in mind had I gone to public high school. (The third quote above, from Milton – who knew a thing or two about heaven and hell – is a good reminder to pay attention to the wisdom of our elders!) I am certain one of the punishments awaiting us in the great beyond is negotiating for all eternity overreaching and onerous indemnity clauses with a client that always rejects our track changes.