In the ninth circle of his Inferno Dante envisioned sinners guilty of treachery against those to whom they were bound by special ties. One round of the circle is named Caina, after Cain, and is reserved for those who have betrayed their blood kin; another is named Antenora, after the Trojan Antenor, who is supposed to have betrayed his homeland to the Greeks. “Whereat I turned and saw beneath my feet / and stretching out ahead, a lake so frozen / it seemed to be made of glass,” Dante tells the reader. Frozen up to their necks are the traitors, heads “bowed toward the ice,” as “each of them testifies / to the cold with his chattering mouth, to his heart’s grief / with tears that flood forever from his eyes.”
What can be drawn from this? For one thing, it is plain that Dante took kin and country very seriously. For another, we recall that Dante hardly pulled this vision out of a hat. To the contrary, his cosmography is inspired in part by the philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church, who identified man’s obligations to kin and country as second only to those obligations directly pertaining to God Himself (see Summa Theologica, Secunda Secundae Partis, Q. 101, Art. 1). It is striking indeed to contrast the Dantean belief that disloyalty is a grave evil with the sensibilities of moderns, including even many modern Catholics. Today’s college-educated man will more likely as not see it as a mark of highest virtue to stand at an aloof, critical distance from his own people, culture and country.
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