Loosened Tongues Employed by Anthony Esolen

Illuminations

Loosened Tongues Employed

When the pilgrim Dante and his guide Virgil are about to leave the circle of fraud, they come to a wide, cold plain, whose center drops precipitously to the very bottom of Hell, the icy sinkhole of all evil. In this plain they encounter giants, chained to stone wells, whence they tower from the waist up. Of the five who are named, four are Titans from Greek mythology: Ephialtes, Typhoeus, Briareus, and Antaeus. That last is the one who will, without a word, and rather grudgingly, serve as the elevator to take Dante and Virgil and set them down on the ice far below. The fifth, and the one who defines this strange place, is that mighty hunter before the Lord, Nimrod.

We are at the brink of unmeaning, approaching the Word-denier Satan himself, speechless at the center of Hell, frozen to his waist. That Titan is the moral and the efficient cause of his own imprisonment. He flaps his six bat-wings incessantly, like an automaton, raising the gale winds that freeze the River Cocytus and lock him and the rest of the traitors in the ice. Heave a rugged mountain to crash upon that ice, says Dante, and even the surface would hardly make a creak. Some of the cold-hearted souls can never speak even if they so desired, because they are submerged in the ice, kept fresh like flies in amber.

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Anthony Esolen is the author of over thirty books, including Real Music: A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church (Tan, with a CD), Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture (Regnery), and The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord (Ignatius). He has also translated Dante’s Divine Comedy (Random House). He and his wife Debra publish a web magazine, Word and Song (anthonyesolen.substack.com), on poetry, hymnody, language, classic films, and music. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

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