Purgatory and Suicide

John Castlemaine, the main character in RotaryPug, experiences the first “insect-assisted suicide” in history (to the best of my knowledge). Instead of being summoned to Hell, he instead lands in a Purgatory-like realm for his “sin”. I know of one other fictional case when a character ends up in Purgatory for committing suicide …

Dante’s Purgatorio, the second book in his Divine Comedy trilogy, introduces Cato the Younger – a pagan Roman statesman who lived before Christ. Dante and Virgil, having just exited Hell, make their way toward the mountain of Purgatory, situated on an island. Cato the Younger committed suicide, but there is a place in the Inferno for suicides. How is it that he escaped Hell and is stationed here at the base of Mount Purgatory, overseeing the arrival of newcomers?

Cato the Younger was known as a brave and principled statesman, one who refused to participate in the rampant corruption of the dying Republican order. He resisted Julius Caesar’s ultimately successful attempt to overthrow the Republic and proclaim himself dictator. Seeing himself defeated and unwilling to collaborate with Caesar, Cato the Younger chose self-termination. What makes this suicide worthy of Purgatory rather than Hell? Is it because he died defending a cause rather than killing himself for selfish motives? Was it acceptable because he knew he would be killed anyway for resisting Caesar? It’s interesting how suicide has been viewed as either glorious or ignominious throughout the ages, but rarely elicits neutral opinions.

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