The Hottest Places in Hell Are Reserved for Those Who in a Period of Moral Crisis Maintain Their Neutrality

Dante Alighieri? John F. Kennedy? John A. Hutton? Theodore Roosevelt? W. M. Vines? Henry Powell Spring? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Dante Alighieri composed the famous tripartite epic poem “The Divine Comedy”. The following statement was supposedly included in the first part called “Inferno”:

The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.

I have been unable to find this expression in any English translations of the poem. One webpage at Goodreads asserts that President John F. Kennedy attributed the remark to Dante. Another webpage at Goodreads claims that civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. made the ascription to Dante. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Dante’s poem does include a section describing the fate of individuals who were neutral between good and evil. Their experiences were gruesome, but they were not placed in a location that was scorching hot.

Dante placed Satan at the lowest part of Hell which was at the center of the Earth, but that location was also not hot. Instead, Satan was trapped with ice around his waist.

QI believes that the statement under investigation evolved in a multistep process from a changing and imperfect interpretation of Dante’s work. In 1915 Theodore Roosevelt accurately wrote that Dante had “reserved a special place of infamy” for neutral angels. In 1917 a religious orator named W. M. Vines incorrectly stated that Dante had placed neutral individuals “in the lowest place in hell”.

In 1944 the spiritual writer Henry Powell Spring penned a book of aphorisms that included a statement ascribed to Dante that closely matched the modern quotation. John F. Kennedy used the saying several times in speeches in the 1950s and later. Kennedy also attributed the remark to Dante.

The remainder of this article consists of two main sections. First, selected citations are used to trace the expression chronologically. Second, a group of citations presents examples of the proposed denizens of the “worst place in hell”, “the hottest place in hell”, and “the very heart of hell”.

Thanks to top researcher Barry Popik for his valuable pioneering exploration of this topic. 1

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  1. Website: The Big Apple, Article title: “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who…maintain their neutrality”, Date on website: November 21, 2009, Website description: Etymological dictionary with more than 10,000 entries. (Accessed barrypopik on January 14, 2015) link

An Eye for an Eye Will Make the Whole World Blind

Mohandas Gandhi? George Perry Graham? Louis Fischer? Henry Powell Spring? Martin Luther King?

Dear Quote Investigator: Mohandas Gandhi’s policy of non-violence was famously used during the campaign for independence in India.  There is a well-known quotation that helps to express the rationale for this non-retaliatory philosophy:

An eye for an eye will leave everyone blind.

I have read that Gandhi spoke this statement or something similar, but I haven’t yet found a precise citation for this. Could you find out when and where Gandhi said this?

Quote Investigator: One of the world’s top quotation experts, Fred R. Shapiro editor of the Yale Book of Quotations (YBQ), has examined this question. This is what the YBQ says [YQG]:

“An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind” is frequently attributed to M. K. Gandhi. The Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence states that the Gandhi family believes it is an authentic Gandhi quotation, but no example of its use by the Indian leader has ever been discovered.

The YBQ notes that an important biographer of Gandhi, Louis Fischer, used a version of the expression when he wrote about Gandhi’s approach to conflict. However, Fischer did not attribute the saying to Gandhi in his description of the leader’s life. Instead, Fischer used the expression himself as part of his explanation of Gandhi’s philosophy. QI thinks some readers may have been confused and may have decided to directly attribute the saying to Gandhi based on a misreading of Fischer’s works.

The epigram is a twist on a famous Biblical injunction in the Book of Exodus [21:24]: Eye for eye, tooth for tooth. These words appear in the King James English translation. There is a more elaborate version of the clever maxim based on these two phrases:

An eye-for-eye and tooth-for-tooth would lead to a world of the blind and toothless.

QI has located relevant variants for this longer expression in 1914 and 1944. Below are selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading An Eye for an Eye Will Make the Whole World Blind