Brief Thoughts on Dante

In Dante’s Inferno there are nine levels of hell and the more serious the crime, the lower down one is placed.

The worst of them all is Level Nine, reserved for traitors, considered by the great Italian poet to be the most heinous sin imaginable.

It’s depicted as a huge frozen waste where sinners are entombed in ice in various ways depending upon whom or what they are deemed to have betrayed.

Some are frozen up to their chins, others lie on their backs with all but their faces covered by the ice and some are completely trapped, their bodies twisted into hideous shapes.

I’m not interested here in the workings of the medieval mind or in analysing why exactly treason should be the worst imaginable offence and not, say, mass murder or torturing little fluffy animals.

I am however very interested in the workings of the punishment and its relationship to depression.

Depression is sometimes called an illness of loss because sufferers acutely feel they have lost something other than the obvious sense of having lost one’s sense of happiness or zest for life.

People often feel as though they have lost touch with themselves, the things which once made them happy and with their fellow man.

What has this to do with Dante?  The answer is isolation. There is a reason why his final-level frozen wastes resonate with us even after 700 years and isolation is the key.

Think about it. What is worse than being in pain? Answer – being in pain and being alone in your pain. No-one to help you or even to offer you comfort or support. That’s why I liken depression to the wretches entombed in the ice. Depression you see, is fundamentally an illness of loneliness. Among the many lies the monster whispers in your ear is the belief that you are alone.

It will tell you nobody really cares and if they do, they’re just being nice or making conversation. After all, why would anybody really care about you?

However convincingly told this lie may be, it is still a lie. And while depression has a nice silky tone and can pose as your friend or best buddy, the fact is, it remains a filthy, stinking liar which uses and abuses you just when you are in the most need of friendly help and advice.

So the next time you find yourself turned into a human popsicle by your misbehaving psyche I urge you to reach out. I know it’s hard. Believe me, I’ve been there. But reach out, connect with someone. Go out even if you don’t feel like it. Call a friend. Better still, invite one over. And if you are called upon to be that friend for someone else – well, you don’t need me to tell you what to do, right?

Dante must have viewed his ninth level of hell as impregnable. But as far as depression is concerned I say fuck that. Now give me my ice-pick and pass the drinks.


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