Enjoy Opus? Become a subscriber today.

Bernie Madoff vs. Dante

Philip Eaton looks to Dante’s Inferno to make sense of Bernie Madoff:

In Dante’s great work, written in the early 14th Century, those who betrayed the trust of others were located down in the Ninth Circle of hell, down ​“at the bottom of the universe.” By the time we get down to the Ninth Circle, we have already passed those consumed with lust (where they are now endlessly tossed about by wind), down past the gluttons, the angry ones, the heretics, even the violent.

Down there ​“beyond all others ill-begot,” the Ninth Circle is the eternal home for the betrayers. The betrayers are encased in ice; only their eyes are visible above the surface. Chilling indeed.

Betrayal is the ultimate denial of our humanity, Dante believed, the deepest violation of God’s notion of human flourishing. Here we find Cain and Brutus and, worst of all, Judas. The head of Judas is lodged between the fangs of Lucifer. Lucifer’s claws ​“sliced/​And tore the skin until his back was stripped.” This goes on daily, eternally. This is the fate of the betrayers.


Read more about Bernie Madoff, Dante, and Philip Eaton.

Enjoy Opus? Become a subscriber today.