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Advice from Strangers

This Week's Guest

14th-Century poet Dante Alighieri,
author of The Divine Comedy

Dear Dante,

I'm trying to impress this girl in my algebra class, but she doesn't seem to know I exist. How can I get her to go out with me?

Timid in Toledo

Dear Timid,

First, Timid, realize that those who give in to their lust end up spending all Eternity chained to the object of their desire, but blown round and round by a heavy wind in the upper reaches of Hell, never able to stop for even a second to enjoy the companionship of their beloved. Since I'm sure you don't want to do that, I recommend you follow my example and focus your attention on some lovely, utterly unattainable underage girl who is likely to die young. That way, you'll not only save your immortal soul, but you might just be able to produce a literary masterpiece out of your sorrow.

Happy to help,

Dear Dante,

I'm in trouble. Seems I've gotten rich by screwing my employees and shareholders. Unfortunately, my energy-trading conglomerate has gone down in flames. Now, I'm trying to hang onto my money and stay out of jail while avoiding anybody I used to work with, because there's a whole bunch of them who'd like to see me dead. You've been through Hell -- any advice?

Ken from Houston

Dear Ken,

You think you're screwed now? You don't know the half of it! Down in the very bottom of Hell is the frozen lake of the Treacherous, where I'd bet ol' Satan has a special little corner all ready for you, buddy. The lowest place of all is for those who betray their benefactors -- you know, like the people who helped you get rich. Stockholders. Employees. My memory, which does not fail, recalls old Ruggieri the Archbishop, upon whose head Count Ugolino still gnaws -- both frozen in the same spot for all time, for doing no more evil than you. My advice: Sell all that you have, give the money to the poor, then, unarmed, try to convert the Saracen Lord of the Moors to Christ, because nothing beats a good solid martyrdom for wiping the slate clean. Or you could dress warmly, for all the good that'll do you. Your choice.


Dear Dante,

I just can't decide: It seems unlikely that there is a God, and, even if there were, He might not care a whit what a person like me does with his life. What if I forgo all this heavy virtue stuff and just try to keep my nose clean? You know, not too bad, not too good, kind of covering all the bases. What do you think?

Ambivalent in Ann Arbor

Dear Am,

Sure, you can try that, and end up like the vast legions of the Undecided, who for all eternity chase ever-shifting banners across the plain before the Gates of Hell, getting stung by hornets and feeding the worms with their tears. Frankly -- and this is just one man's opinion -- if I were you, I'd go ahead and get me some serious tail, and figure on getting blown around inside the doors with the Lustful, rather than being sort of indifferent and getting blown around outside with that loser Undecided crowd. The blown-around part is a given -- it's all a matter of whether or not you get any before you cash in your chips. But, hey, that's your call.

Hope that helps,

(Transcribed by Ishmael Alighieri)

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