|James Joyce, 1904|
As I’ve been repacking books, I came across this passage marked in Joyce’s novel. Part of me has been feeling like it’s about time for me to read Dante again, and this has certainly whetted my appetite. What can I say? Fascination with horror and things that we’re afraid of is a very human inclination. Given the fact that Christmas is just around the corner and that Advent is actually a penitential season, dwelling on fire and brimstone for a few minutes isn’t such a bad idea. At this point in the novel, Stephen, who has been raised in Catholic Ireland, is on an Ignatian retreat. The retreat is led by conservative Jesuit priests, one of whom gives the following meditation:
Consider then what must be the foulness of the air of hell. Imagine some foul and putrid corpse that has lain rotting and decomposing in the grave, a jellylike mass of liquid corruption. Imagine such a corpse prey to flames, devoured by the fire of burning brimstone and giving off dense choking fumes of nauseous loathsome decomposition. And then imagine this sickening stench, multiplied a million fold and a million fold again from the millions upon millions of fetid carcasses massed together in the reeking darkness, a huge and rotting human fungus. Imagine all this and you will have some idea of the horror of the stench of hell.