It is true that Robin Williams, a sad clown died yesterday. It would be apropos for the Dead Philosophers Society, whose moniker mimics the Dead Poet’s Society, a movie made popular by Williams’ starring role, to mention something in regard to the event.
When one thinks of a journey, involving both psyche and sin, lows and highs, Dante’s Divine Comedy comes to mind, especially for those who have experienced Dr. Mahfood’s MOOC on the Commedia. Not making light of his own addiction, Williams himself jested about his choice of a recent rehab location, saying that being in the wine country of California for rehab keeps all his options open. It’s like going to Columbia for detox..ha! He was doing what a comic (in the modern connotation does), and making the those around himself comfortable, i.e., lightening the mood. Well, Dante was not short on that type of comic relief for his readers when it was needed. In Canto XXI of the Inferno, Dante finds himself in a very dark place; it was as dark as “tar” we are told. In this darkness, they are looking for a bridge to get themselves out of a very terrifying situation. Told that they will be escorted to a safe crossing by some demons, provided they torment the sinners along the way, Dante relates to Virgil that he is distraught over this proposal. Why should he trust a demon?
Virgil reassures Dante they’re not the targets, and it is at this point the reader becomes apprehensive. It’s dark, there are hungry demons who happen to be their only guides to safety…really! Now enter the comic relief. As they begin their procession to safety, Dante writes, “They turned along the left bank in a line, but before they started, all of them together had stuck their pointed tongues out as a sign to their Captain that they wished permission to pass, and he had made a trumpet of his ass.”
I read that today and imagined one of Robin William’s famous improvs coming up with a similar ending to the Canto, as an offer of relief for those in a dark place but seek to arrive at a good place (in the traditional connotation of comedy). Requiem in pace Mr. Williams!
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