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Dante’s Forgotten Sub-Circle of Hell

The Vexed Man, Franz Messerschmidt,

“The Vexed Man” of L.A.’s Getty Museum was likely just one of the city’s countless freeway drivers.

As Phlegyas labored us over the fell river Styx I spied a tributary that ran still deeper into the abyss. Its ashen waters, gurgling with the voices of sullen spirits imprisoned within its murky depths, licked the high walls and turrets guarding the city of Dis. Never did it enter there nor ever did it end, yet vessels still relentlessly crowded its dusky waves from bank to bank and from bow to stern. Each craft, piloted by a lone figure made grotesque by fits of rage, roiled on that foul water but moved not forward. And I, who stood intent to gaze, saw vile serpents with ruthless fangs and rubber necks spring from the dead channel to torment all who sought passage beyond the gates of steel and stone that marked this dismal stream 405.

I turned me to the Sea of All Wisdom and asked “Were doth that path lead?” Virgil, long he pondered that rough and rutted way, said to me “Souls caught ceaselessly between anger and violence travel that hateful road. It leads everywhere and goes nowhere, except on to others like itself. That way we can not go if ever we hope to leave this place. ”

– Lost stanzas from Canto VIII of The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri

 

Six hundred years after Dante prophesied the I-405 freeway, Dorothy Parker described Los Angeles as “72 suburbs in search of a city.” Had she lived today Dorothy might demote her assessment of L.A. to something like “four million motorists in search of an exit.”

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