To the Editors:

In a recent review of my book In the Wake of the Plague by Eamon Duffy in your pages [NYR, May 23], Duffy scoffs at my statement that late-medieval Catholicism was an optimistic religion and consigned few people to hell. Duffy says this view would have surprised Dante. No it wouldn’t. A lot of souls in hell in The Divine Comedy is a literary device. Dante knew that the Church’s penitential system and the belief in purgatory avoided hell for the great majority of sinners. Dante’s hell was intended to be a shocking literary device. The Divine Comedy is not a work of theology or a spiritual treatise any more than James Joyce’s Ulysses is a sociological study of Dublin.

Norman F. Cantor
Hollywood, Florida

This Issue

October 10, 2002