INFERNO 17 - Welcome to My Woven Words

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INFERNO 17

THE MORNING SUN had fully risen now, casting long shadows down the narrow canyons that snaked between the buildings of old Florence. Shopkeepers had begun throwing open the metal grates that protected their shops and bars, and the air was heavy with the aromas of morning espresso and freshly baked cornetti.
      Despite      a     gnawing      hunger,
Langdon kept moving. I’ve got to find the mask … and see what’s hidden on the back.
As Langdon led Sienna northward along the slender Via dei Leoni, he was having a hard time getting used to the sight of her bald head. Her radically altered appearance reminded him that he barely knew her. They were moving in the direction of Piazza del Duomo—the square where Ignazio Busoni had been found dead after placing his final phone call.
Robert, Ignazio had managed to say, breathless. What you seek is safely hidden. The gates are open to you, but you must hurry. Paradise Twenty-five. Godspeed.
Paradise Twenty-five,             Langdon
repeated to himself, still puzzled that Ignazio Busoni had recalled Dante’s text well enough to reference a specific canto off the top of his head. Something about that canto was apparently memorable to Busoni. Whatever it was, Langdon knew he would find out soon enough, as soon as he laid his hands on a copy of the text, which he could easily do at any number of locations up ahead.
His shoulder-length wig was beginning to itch now, and though he felt somewhat ridiculous in his disguise, he had to admit that Sienna’s impromptu styling had been an effective ruse. Nobody had given them a second look, not even the police reinforcements who had just rushed past them en route to the Palazzo Vecchio.
Sienna had been walking in total silence beside him for several minutes, and Langdon glanced over to make sure she was okay. She seemed miles away, probably trying to accept the fact that she had just killed the woman who had been chasing them.
“Lira for your thoughts,” he ventured lightly, hoping to pull her mind from the image of the spikehaired woman lying dead on the palazzo floor.
Sienna emerged slowly from her contemplations. “I was thinking of Zobrist,” she said slowly. “Trying to recall anything else I might know about him.”
“And?”
She shrugged. “Most of what I know is from a controversial essay he wrote a few years ago. It really stayed with me. Among the medical community, it instantly went viral.” She winced. “Sorry, bad choice of words.”
Langdon gave a grim chuckle. “Go on.”
“His essay essentially declared that the human race was on the brink of extinction, and that unless we had a catastrophic event that precipitously decreased global population growth, our species would not survive another hundred years.”
Langdon turned and stared at her.
“A single century?”
“It was a pretty stark thesis. The predicted time frame was substantially shorter than previous estimates, but it was supported by some very potent scientific data. He made a lot of enemies by declaring that all doctors should stop practicing medicine because extending the human life span was only exacerbating the population
problem.”
Langdon now understood why the article spread wildly through the medical community.
     “Not        surprisingly,”          Sienna
continued, “Zobrist was immediately attacked from all sides—politicians, clergy, the World Health Organization —all of whom derided him as a doomsayer lunatic who was simply trying to cause panic. They took particular umbrage at his statement that today’s youth, if they chose to reproduce, would have offspring that literally would witness the end of the human race. Zobrist illustrated his point with a ‘Doomsday Clock,’ which showed that if the entire span of
human life on earth were compressed into a single hour … we
are now in its final seconds.”
“I’ve actually seen that clock online,” Langdon said.
“Yes, well, it’s his, and it caused quite an uproar. The biggest backlash against Zobrist, however, came when he declared that his advances in genetic engineering would be far more helpful to mankind if they were used not to cure disease,
but rather to create it.”
“What?!”
“Yes, he argued that his technology should be used to limit population growth by creating hybrid strains of disease that our modern medicine would be unable to cure.”
Langdon felt a rising dread as his mind conjured images of strange, hybrid “designer viruses” that, once released, were totally unstoppable.
“Over a few short years,” Sienna said, “Zobrist went from being the toast of the medical world to being a total outcast. An anathema.” She paused, a look of compassion crossing her face. “It’s really no wonder he snapped and killed
himself. Even sadder because his thesis is probably correct.”
Langdon almost fell over. “I’m sorry—you think he’s right?!”
Sienna gave him a solemn shrug. “Robert, speaking from a purely scientific standpoint—all logic, no heart—I can tell you without a doubt that without some kind of drastic change, the end of our species is coming. And it’s coming fast. It won’t be fire, brimstone, apocalypse, or nuclear war … it will be total collapse due to the number of people on the planet. The mathematics is
indisputable.”
Langdon stiffened.
“I’ve studied a fair amount of biology,” she said, “and it’s quite normal for a species to go extinct simply as a result of overpopulating its environment. Picture a colony of surface algae living in a tiny pond in the forest, enjoying the pond’s perfect balance of nutrients. Unchecked, they reproduce so wildly that they quickly cover the pond’s entire surface, blotting out the sun and thereby preventing the growth of the nutrients in the pond. Having sapped everything possible from their environment, the algae quickly die and disappear without a trace.” She gave a heavy sigh. “A similar fate could easily await mankind. Far sooner and faster than any of us imagine.”
Langdon felt deeply unsettled. “But
… that seems impossible.”
“Not impossible, Robert, just unthinkable. The human mind has a primitive ego defense mechanism that negates all realities that produce too much stress for the brain to
handle. It’s called denial.”
“I’ve heard of denial,” Langdon quipped blithely, “but I don’t think it exists.”
Sienna rolled her eyes. “Cute, but believe me, it’s very real. Denial is a critical part of the human coping mechanism. Without it, we would all wake up terrified every morning about all the ways we could die. Instead, our minds block out our existential fears by focusing on stresses we can handle—like getting to work on time or paying our taxes. If we have wider, existential fears, we jettison them very quickly,
refocusing on simple tasks and daily trivialities.”
Langdon recalled a recent Webtracking study of students at some Ivy League universities which revealed that even highly intellectual u s e r s displayed an instinctual tendency toward denial. According to the study, the vast majority of university students, after clicking on a depressing news article about arctic ice melt or species extinction, would quickly exit that page in favor of something trivial that purged their minds of fear; favorite choices included sports highlights, funny cat videos, and celebrity gossip.
“In ancient mythology,” Langdon offered, “a hero in denial is the ultimate manifestation of hubris and pride. No man is more prideful than he who believes himself immune to the dangers of the world. Dante clearly agreed, denouncing pride as the worst of the seven deadly sins …
and punished the prideful in the deepest ring of the inferno.”
Sienna reflected a moment and then continued. “Zobrist’s article accused many of the world’s leaders of being in extreme denial … putting their heads in the sand. He was particularly critical of the World Health Organization.”
“I bet that went over well.”
“They reacted by equating him with a religious zealot on a street corner holding a sign that says ‘The
End Is Near.’ ”
“Harvard Square has a couple of those.”
“Yes, and we all ignore them because none of us can imagine it will happen. But believe me, just because the human mind can’t imagine something happening … doesn’t mean it won’t.”
“You almost sound like you’re a fan of Zobrist’s.”
“I’m a fan of the truth,” she replied forcefully, “even if it’s painfully hard to accept.”
Langdon fell silent, again feeling strangely isolated from Sienna at the moment, trying to understand her bizarre combination of passion and detachment.
Sienna glanced over at him, her face softening. “Robert, look, I’m not saying Zobrist is correct that a plague that kills half the world’s people is the answer to overpopulation. Nor am I saying we should stop curing the sick. What I am saying is that our current path is a pretty simple formula for destruction. Population growth is an exponential progression occurring within a system of finite space and limited resources. The end will arrive very abruptly. Our experience will not be that of slowly running out of gas … it will be more like driving off a cliff.”
Langdon exhaled, trying to process everything he had just heard.
“Speaking of which,” she added, somberly pointing up in the air to their right, “I’m pretty sure that’s where Zobrist jumped.”
Langdon glanced up and saw that they were just passing the austere stone facade of the Bargello Museum to their right. Behind it, the tapered spire of the Badia tower rose above the surrounding structures. He stared at the top of the tower, wondering why Zobrist had jumped and hoped to hell it wasn’t because the man had done something terrible and hadn’t wanted to face what was coming.
“Critics of Zobrist,” Sienna said, “like to point out how paradoxical it is that many of the genetic technologies he developed are now extending life expectancy
dramatically.”
     “Which     only     compounds      the
population problem.”
“Exactly. Zobrist once said publicly that he wished he could put the genie back in the bottle and erase some of his contributions to human longevity. I suppose that makes sense ideologically. The longer we live, the more our resources go to supporting the elderly and ailing.”
Langdon nodded. “I’ve read that in the U.S. some sixty percent of health care costs go to support patients during the last six months of their lives.”
“True, and while our brains say, ‘This is insane,’ our hearts say, ‘Keep
Grandma alive as long as we can.’ ” Langdon nodded. “It’s the conflict between Apollo and Dionysus—a famous dilemma in mythology. It’s the age-old battle between mind and heart, which seldom want the same thing.”
The mythological reference, Langdon had heard, was now being used in AA meetings to describe the alcoholic who stares at a glass of alcohol, his brain knowing it will harm him, but his heart craving the comfort it will provide. The message apparently was: Don’t feel alone— even the gods were conflicted.
“Who needs agathusia?” Sienna whispered suddenly.
“I’m sorry?”
Sienna glanced up. “I finally remembered the name of Zobrist’s essay. It was called: ‘Who Needs
Agathusia?’ ”
Langdon had never heard the word agathusia, but took his best guess based on its Greek roots—agathos and thusia. “Agathusia … would be a
‘good sacrifice’?”
“Almost. Its actual meaning is ‘a self-sacrifice for the common good.’ ” She paused. “Otherwise known as benevolent suicide.”
Langdon had indeed heard this term before—once in relation to a bankrupt father who killed himself so his family could collect his life insurance, and a second time to describe a remorseful serial killer who ended his life fearing he couldn’t control his impulse to kill.
The most chilling example Langdon recalled, however, was in the 1967 novel Logan’s Run, which depicted a future society in which everyone gladly agreed to commit suicide at age twenty-one—thus fully enjoying their youth while not letting their numbers or old age stress the planet’s limited resources. If Langdon recalled correctly, the movie version o f Logan’s Run had increased the “termination age” from twenty-one to thirty, no doubt in an attempt to make the film more palatable to the box office’s crucial eighteen-totwenty-five demographic.
“So, Zobrist’s essay …” Langdon said. “I’m not sure I understand the title. ‘Who Needs Agathusia?’ Was he saying it sarcastically? As in who needs benevolent suicide … we all do?”
“Actually no, the title is a pun.”
Langdon shook his head, not seeing it.
“Who needs suicide—as in the WH-O—the World Health Organization. In his essay, Zobrist railed against the director of the WHO—Dr. Elizabeth Sinskey—who has been there forever and, according to Zobrist, is not taking population control seriously. His article was saying that the WHO would be better
off if Director Sinskey killed herself.”
“Compassionate guy.”
“The perils of being a genius, I guess. Oftentimes, those special brains, the ones that are capable of focusing more intently than others, do so at the expense of emotional maturity.”
Langdon pictured the articles he had seen about the young Sienna, the child prodigy with the 208 IQ and off-the-chart intellectual function. Langdon wondered if, in talking about Zobrist, she was also, on some level, talking about herself; he also wondered how long she would choose to keep her secret.
Up ahead, Langdon spotted the landmark he had been looking for. After crossing the Via dei Leoni, Langdon led her to the intersection of an exceptionally narrow street—more of an alleyway. The sign overhead read VIA DANTE ALIGHIERI.
“It sounds like you know a lot about the human brain,” Langdon said. “Was that your area of
concentration in medical school?”
“No, but when I was a kid, I read a lot. I became interested in brain science because I had some …
medical issues.”
Langdon shot her a curious look, hoping she would continue.
“My brain …” Sienna said quietly.
“It grew differently from most kids’, and it caused some … problems. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what was wrong with me, and in the process I learned a lot about neuroscience.” She caught Langdon’s eye. “And yes, my baldness is related to my medical condition.”
Langdon averted his eyes, embarrassed he’d asked.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said.
“I’ve learned to live with it.”
As they moved into the cold air of the shadowed alleyway, Langdon considered everything he had just learned about Zobrist and his alarming philosophical positions.
A recurring question nagged at him. “These soldiers,” Langdon began. “The ones trying to kill us. Who are they? It makes no sense. If Zobrist has put a potential plague out there, wouldn’t everyone be on the same side, working to stop its release?”
“Not necessarily. Zobrist may be a pariah in the medical community, but he probably has a legion of devout fans of his ideology—people who agree that a culling is a necessary evil to save the planet. For all we know, these soldiers are trying to
ensure       that   Zobrist’s     vision        is realized.”
Zobrist’s own private army of disciples? Langdon considered the
possibility. Admittedly, history was full of zealots and cults who killed themselves because of all kinds of crazy notions—a belief that their leader is the Messiah, a belief that a spaceship is waiting for them behind the moon, a belief that Judgment Day is imminent. The speculation about population control was at least grounded in science, and yet something about these soldiers still didn’t feel right to Langdon.
“I just can’t believe that a bunch of trained soldiers would knowingly agree to kill innocent masses … all the while fearing they might get sick and die themselves.”
Sienna shot him a puzzled look. “Robert, what do you think soldiers do when they go to war? They kill innocent people and risk their own death. Anything is possible when
people believe in a cause.”
“A cause? Releasing a plague?”
Sienna glanced at him, her brown eyes probing. “Robert, the cause is not releasing a plague … it’s saving the world.” She paused. “One of the passages in Bertrand Zobrist’s essay that got a lot of people talking was a very pointed hypothetical question. I want you to answer it.”
“What’s the question?”
“Zobrist asked the following: If you could throw a switch and randomly kill half the population on earth, would you do it?”
“Of course not.”
“Okay. But what if you were told that if you didn’t throw that switch right now, the human race would be extinct in the next hundred years?” She paused. “Would you throw it then? Even if it meant you might murder friends, family, and possibly even yourself?”
“Sienna, I can’t possibly—”
“It’s a hypothetical question,” she said. “Would you kill half the population today in order to save our species from extinction?”
Langdon felt deeply disturbed by the macabre subject they were discussing, and so he was grateful to see a familiar red banner hanging on the side of a stone building just ahead.
“Look,” he announced, pointing.
“We’re here.”
Sienna shook her head. “Like I said. Denial.”

THE CASA DI Dante is located on the Via Santa Margherita and is easily identified by the large banner suspended from the stone facade partway up the alleyway: MUSEO CASA
DI DANTE.
Sienna eyed the banner with
uncertainty. “We’re going to Dante’s
house?”
“Not exactly,” Langdon said. “Dante lived around the corner. This is more of a Dante … museum.” Langdon had ventured inside the place once, curious about the art collection, which turned out to be no more than reproductions of famous Dante-related works from around the world, and yet it was interesting to see them all gathered together under one roof.
Sienna looked suddenly hopeful. “And you think they have an ancient
copy of The Divine Comedy on display?”
Langdon chuckled. “No, but I know they have a gift shop that sells huge posters with the entire text of Dante’s Divine Comedy printed in microscopic type.”
She gave him a slightly appalled glance.
“I know. But it’s better than nothing. The only problem is that my eyes are going, so you’ll have to read the fine print.”
“È chiusa,” an old man called out, seeing them approach the door. “È il
giorno di riposo.”
Closed for the Sabbath? Langdon felt suddenly disoriented again. He looked at Sienna. “Isn’t today …
Monday?”
She nodded. “Florentines prefer a Monday Sabbath.”
     Langdon       groaned,        suddenly
recalling the city’s unusual weekly calendar. Because tourist dollars flowed most heavily on weekends, many Florentine merchants chose to move the Christian “day of rest” from Sunday to Monday to prevent the Sabbath from cutting too deeply into their bottom line.
Unfortunately, Langdon realized, this probably also ruled out his other option: the Paperback Exchange— one of Langdon’s favorite Florentine bookshops—which would definitely have had copies of The Divine Comedy on hand.
“Any other ideas?” Sienna said.
Langdon thought a long moment and finally nodded. “There’s a site just around the corner where Dante enthusiasts gather. I bet someone there has a copy we can borrow.”
“It’s probably closed, too,” Sienna warned. “Almost every place in town moves the Sabbath away from
Sunday.”
“This place wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing,” Langdon replied with a smile. “It’s a church.”
Fifty yards behind them, lurking among the crowd, the man with the skin rash and gold earring leaned on a wall, savoring this chance to catch his breath. His breathing was not getting any better, and the rash on his face was nearly impossible to ignore, especially the sensitive skin just above his eyes. He took off his
Plume Paris glasses and gently rubbed his sleeve across his eye sockets, trying not to break the skin. When he replaced his glasses, he could see his quarry moving on. Forcing himself to follow, he continued after them, breathing as gently as possible.
Several blocks behind Langdon and Sienna, inside the Hall of the Five Hundred, Agent Brüder stood over the broken body of the all-toofamiliar spike-haired woman who was now lying sprawled out on the floor. He knelt down and retrieved her handgun, carefully removing the clip for safety before handing it off to one of his men.
     The           pregnant           museum
administrator, Marta Alvarez, stood off to one side. She had just relayed to Brüder a brief but startling account of what had transpired with Robert Langdon since the previous night … including a single piece of information that Brüder was still trying to process.
Langdon claims to have amnesia.
Brüder pulled out his phone and dialed. The line at the other end rang three times before his boss answered, sounding distant and unsteady.
“Yes, Agent Brüder? Go ahead.”
Brüder spoke slowly to ensure that his every word was understood. “We are still trying to locate Langdon and the girl, but there’s been another development.” Brüder paused. “And if it’s true … it changes everything.”
The provost paced his office, fighting the temptation to pour himself another Scotch, forcing himself to face this growing crisis head-on.
Never in his career had he betrayed a client or failed to keep an agreement, and he most certainly had no intention of starting now. At the same time he suspected that he might have gotten himself tangled up in a scenario whose purpose diverged from         what he     had   originally imagined.
     One     year     ago,     the      famous
geneticist Bertrand Zobrist had come a b o a r d The Mendacium and requested a safe haven in which to work. At that time the provost imagined that Zobrist was planning to develop a secret medical procedure whose patenting would increase Zobrist’s vast fortune. It would not be the first time the Consortium had been hired by paranoid scientists and engineers who preferred working in extreme isolation to prevent their valuable ideas from being stolen.
With that in mind, the provost accepted the client and was not surprised when he learned that the people at the World Health
Organization had begun searching for him. Nor did he give it a second thought when the director of the WHO herself—Dr. Elizabeth Sinskey— seemed to make it her personal mission to locate their client.
The Consortium has always faced powerful adversaries.
As agreed, the Consortium carried out their agreement with Zobrist, no questions asked, thwarting Sinskey’s efforts to find him for the entire length of the scientist’s contract.
Almost the entire length.
Less than a week before the contract was to expire, Sinskey had somehow located Zobrist in Florence and moved in, harassing and chasing him until he committed suicide. For the first time in his career, the provost had failed to provide the protection he had agreed to, and it haunted him … along with the bizarre circumstances of Zobrist’s death.
He committed suicide … rather than being captured?
What the hell was Zobrist protecting?
In the aftermath of his death,
Sinskey had confiscated an item from Zobrist’s safe-deposit box, and now the Consortium was locked in a headto-head battle with Sinskey in Florence—a high-stakes treasure hunt to find …
To find what?
The provost felt himself glance instinctively toward the bookshelf and the heavy tome given to him two weeks ago by the wild-eyed Zobrist.
The Divine Comedy.
The provost retrieved the book and carried it back to his desk, where he dropped it with a heavy thud. With unsteady fingers, he opened the cover to the first page and again read the inscription.
My dear friend, thank you for helping me find the path.
The world thanks you, too.
First off, the provost thought, you and I were never friends.
He read the inscription three more times. Then he turned his eyes to the bright red circle his client had scrawled on his calendar, highlighting tomorrow’s date.
The world thanks you?
He turned and gazed out at the horizon a long moment.
In the silence, he thought about the video and heard the voice of facilitator Knowlton from his earlier phone call. I thought you might want to preview it before upload … the content is quite disturbing.
The call still puzzled the provost.
Knowlton was one of his best facilitators, and making such a request was entirely out of character. He knew better than to suggest an override of the compartmentalization protocol.
After replacing The Divine Comedy on the shelf, the provost walked to the Scotch bottle and poured himself half a glass.
He had a very difficult decision to make.

KNOWN AS THE Church of Dante, the sanctuary of Chiesa di Santa Margherita dei Cerchi is more of a chapel than a church. The tiny, oneroom house of worship is a popular destination for devotees of Dante who revere it as the sacred ground on which transpired two pivotal moments in the great poet’s life.
According to lore, it was here at this church, at the age of nine, that Dante first laid eyes on Beatrice Portinari—the woman with whom he fell in love at first sight, and for whom his heart ached his entire life. To Dante’s great anguish, Beatrice married another man, and then died at the youthful age of twenty-four.
It was also in this church, some years later, that Dante married Gemma Donati—a woman who, even by the account of the great writer and poet Boccaccio, was a poor choice of wife for Dante. Despite having children, the couple showed little signs of affection for each other, and after Dante’s exile, neither spouse seemed eager to see the other ever again.
The love of Dante’s life had always been and would always remain the departed Beatrice Portinari, whom Dante had scarcely known, and yet whose memory was so overpowering for him that her ghost became the muse that inspired his greatest works.
Dante’s celebrated volume of poetry La Vita Nuova overflows with flattering verses about “the blessed Beatrice.” More worshipful still, The Divine Comedy casts Beatrice as none other than the savior who guides Dante through paradise. In both works, Dante longs for his unattainable lady.
Nowadays, the Church of Dante has become a shrine for the brokenhearted who suffer from unrequited love. The tomb of young Beatrice herself is inside the church, and her simple sepulchre has become a pilgrimage destination for both Dante fans and heartsick lovers alike.
This morning, as Langdon and
Sienna wound their way through old Florence toward the church, the streets continued to narrow until they became little more than glorified pedestrian walkways. An occasional local car appeared, inching through the maze and forcing pedestrians to flatten themselves against the buildings as it passed.
“The church is just around the corner,” Langdon told Sienna, hopeful that one of the tourists inside would be able to help them. He knew their chances of finding a good Samaritan were better now that Sienna had taken back her wig in exchange for Langdon’s jacket, and both had reverted to their normal selves, transforming from rocker and skinhead … to college professor and clean-cut young woman.
Langdon was relieved once again to feel like himself.
As they strode into an even tighter alleyway—the Via del Presto— Langdon scanned the various doorways. The entrance of the church was always tricky to locate because the building itself was very small, unadorned, and wedged tightly between two other buildings.
One could easily walk past it without even noticing. Oddly, it was often easier to locate this church using not one’s eyes … but one’s ears.
One of the peculiarities of La Chiesa di Santa Margherita dei Cerchi was that it hosted frequent concerts, and when no concert was scheduled, the church piped in recordings of those concerts so visitors could enjoy the music at any time.
As anticipated, as they advanced down the alleyway, Langdon began to hear the thin strains of recorded music, which grew steadily louder, until he and Sienna were standing before the inconspicuous entrance. The only indication that this was indeed the correct location was a tiny sign—the antithesis of the bright red banner at the Museo Casa di Dante— that humbly announced that this was the church of Dante and Beatrice.
When Langdon and Sienna stepped off the street into the dark confines of the church, the air grew cooler and the music grew louder. The interior was stark and simple … smaller than Langdon recalled. There was only a handful of tourists, mingling, writing in journals, sitting quietly in the pews enjoying the music, or examining the curious collection of artwork.
With the exception of the Madonna-themed altarpiece by Neri di Bicci, almost all of the original art in this chapel had been replaced with contemporary pieces representing the two celebrities—Dante and Beatrice—the reasons most visitors sought out this tiny chapel. Most of the paintings depicted Dante’s longing gaze during his famous first encounter with Beatrice, during which the poet, by his own account, instantly fell in love. The paintings were of widely varying quality, and most, to Langdon’s taste, seemed kitschy and out of place. In one such rendering, Dante’s iconic red cap with earflaps looked like something Dante had stolen from Santa Claus.
Nonetheless, the recurring theme of the poet’s yearning gaze at his muse, Beatrice, left no doubt that this was a church of painful love—unfulfilled, unrequited, and unattained.
Langdon turned instinctively to his left and gazed upon the modest tomb of Beatrice Portinari. This was the primary reason people visited this church, although not so much to see the tomb itself as to see the famous object that sat beside it.
A wicker basket.
This morning, as always, the simple wicker basket sat beside Beatrice’s tomb. And this morning, as always, it was overflowing with folded slips of paper—each a handwritten letter from a visitor, written to Beatrice herself.
Beatrice Portinari had become something of a patron saint of starcrossed lovers, and according to long-standing tradition, handwritten prayers to Beatrice could be deposited in the basket in the hope that she would intervene on the writer’s behalf—perhaps inspiring someone to love them more, or helping them find their true love, or even giving them the strength to forget a love who had passed away.
Langdon, many years ago, while in the throes of researching a book on art history, had paused in this church to leave a note in the basket, entreating Dante’s muse not to grant him true love, but to shed on him some of the inspiration that had enabled Dante to write his massive tome.
Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story …
The opening line of Homer’s Odyssey had seemed a worthy supplication, and Langdon secretly believed his message had indeed sparked Beatrice’s divine inspiration, for upon his return home, he had written the book with unusual ease.
“Scusate!” Sienna’s voice boomed suddenly. “Potete ascoltarmi tutti?” Everyone?
Langdon spun to see Sienna loudly addressing the scattering of tourists, all of whom now glanced over at her, looking somewhat alarmed.
Sienna smiled sweetly at everyone and asked in Italian if anyone happened to have a copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy. After some strange looks and shakes of the head, she tried the question in English, without any more success.
An older woman who was sweeping the altar hissed sharply at Sienna and held up a finger to her lips for silence.
Sienna turned back to Langdon and frowned, as if to say, “Now what?”
Sienna’s calling-all-cars solicitation was not quite what Langdon had had in mind, but he had to admit he’d anticipated a better response than she’d received. On previous visits, Langdon had seen no shortage of tourists reading The Divine Comedy in this hallowed space, apparently enjoying a total immersion in the Dante experience.
Not so today.
Langdon set his sights on an elderly couple seated near the front of the church. The old man’s bald head was dipped forward, chin to chest; clearly he was stealing a nap. The woman beside him seemed very much awake, with a pair of white earbud cables dangling from beneath her gray hair.
A glimmer of promise, Langdon thought, making his way up the aisle until he was even with the couple. As Langdon had hoped, the woman’s telltale white earbuds snaked down to an iPhone in her lap. Sensing she was being watched, she looked up and pulled the earbuds from her ears.
Langdon had no idea what language the woman spoke, but the global proliferation of iPhones, iPads, and iPods had resulted in a vocabulary as universally understood as the male/female symbols that graced restrooms around the world.
“iPhone?” Langdon asked, admiring her device.
The old woman brightened at
once, nodding proudly. “Such a clever little toy,” she whispered in a British accent. “My son got it for me. I’m listening to my e-mail. Can you believe it—listening to my e-mail? This little treasure actually reads it for me. With my old eyes, it’s such a help.”
“I have one, too,” Langdon said with a smile as he sat down beside her, careful not to wake up her
sleeping husband. “But somehow I
lost it last night.”
“Oh, tragedy! Did you try the ‘find your iPhone’ feature? My son says—”
“Stupid me, I never activated that feature.” Langdon gave her a sheepish look and ventured
hesitantly, “If it’s not too much of an intrusion, would you mind terribly if I borrowed yours for just a moment? I need to look up something online. It would be a big help to me.”
“Of course!” She pulled out the earbuds and thrust the device into his hands. “No problem at all! Poor dear.”
Langdon thanked her and took the phone. While she prattled on beside him about how terrible she would feel if she lost her iPhone, Langdon pulled up Google’s search window and pressed the microphone button. When the phone beeped once,
Langdon articulated his search string.
“Dante, Divine Comedy, Paradise, Canto Twenty-five.”
The woman looked amazed, apparently having yet to learn about this feature. As the search results began to materialize on the tiny screen, Langdon stole a quick glance back at Sienna, who was thumbing through some printed material near the basket of letters to Beatrice.
Not far from where Sienna stood, a man in a necktie was kneeling in the shadows, praying intently, his head bowed low. Langdon couldn’t see his face, but he felt a pang of sadness for the solitary man, who had probably lost his loved one and had come here for comfort.
Langdon returned his focus to the iPhone, and within seconds was able to pull up a link to a digital offering o f The Divine Comedy— freely accessible because it was in the public domain. When the page opened precisely to Canto 25, he had to admit he was impressed with the technology. I’ve got to stop being such a snob about leather-bound books, he reminded himself. E-books do have their moments.
As the elderly woman looked on, showing a bit of concern and saying something about the high data rates for surfing the Internet abroad, Langdon sensed that his window of opportunity would be brief, and he focused intently on the Web page before him.
The text was small, but the dim lighting in the chapel made the illuminated screen more legible. Langdon was pleased to see he had randomly stumbled into the Mandelbaum translation—a popular modern rendition by the late American professor Allen Mandelbaum. For his dazzling translation, Mandelbaum had
received Italy’s highest honor, the Presidential Cross of the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity. While admittedly less overtly poetic than Longfellow’s version, Mandelbaum’s translation tended to be far more comprehensible.
Today I’ll take clarity over poesy,
Langdon thought, hoping to quickly spot in the text a reference to a specific location in Florence—the location where Ignazio hid the Dante death mask.
The iPhone’s tiny screen displayed only six lines of text at a time, and as Langdon began to read, he recalled the passage. In the opening of Canto 25, Dante referenced The Divine Comedy itself, the physical toll its writing had taken on him, and the aching hope that perhaps his heavenly poem could overcome the wolfish brutality of the exile that kept him from his fair Florence.
CANTO XXV
If it should happen … if this sacred
poem—
this work so shared by heaven and by earth
that it has made me lean through
these long years—
can ever overcome the cruelty that bars me from the fair fold where I slept,
a lamb opposed to wolves that war on it …
While the passage was a reminder that fair Florence was the home for which Dante longed while writing The Divine Comedy, Langdon saw no reference to any specific location in the city.
“What do you know about data charges?” the woman interrupted, eyeing her iPhone with sudden concern. “I just remembered my son
told me to be careful about Web surfing abroad.”
Langdon assured her he would be only a minute and offered to reimburse her, but even so, he sensed she would never let him read all one hundred lines of Canto 25.
He quickly scrolled down to the next six lines and continued reading.
By then with other voice, with other fleece,
I shall return as poet and put on, at my baptismal font, the laurel crown;
for there I first found entry to that faith
which makes souls welcome unto God, and then,
for that faith, Peter garlanded my brow.
Langdon loosely recalled this passage, too—an oblique reference to a political deal offered to Dante by his enemies. According to history, the “wolves” who banished Dante from Florence had told him he could return to the city only if he agreed to endure a public shaming—that of standing before an entire congregation, alone at his baptismal font, wearing only sackcloth as an admission of his guilt.
In the passage Langdon had just read, Dante, having declined the deal, proclaims that if he ever returns to his baptismal font, he will be wearing not the sackcloth of a guilty man but the laurel crown of a poet.
Langdon raised his index finger to scroll farther, but the woman suddenly protested, holding out her hand for the iPhone, apparently having reconsidered her loan.
Langdon barely heard her. In the split second before he had touched the screen, his eye had glossed over a line of text … seeing it a second time.
I shall return as poet and put on, at my baptismal font, the laurel crown;
Langdon stared at the words, sensing that in his eagerness to find mention of a specific location, he’d almost missed a glowing prospect in the very opening lines.
at my baptismal font …
Florence was home to one of the world’s most celebrated baptismal fonts, which for more than seven hundred years had been used to purify and christen young Florentines —among them, Dante Alighieri.
Langdon immediately conjured an image of the building containing the font. It was a spectacular, octagonal edifice that in many ways was more heavenly than the Duomo itself. He now wondered if perhaps he’d read all he needed to read.
Could this building be the place Ignazio was referring to?
A ray of golden light blazed now in Langdon’s mind as a beautiful image materialized—a spectacular set of bronze doors—radiant and glistening in the morning sun.
I know what Ignazio was trying to tell me!
Any lingering doubts evaporated an instant later when he realized that Ignazio Busoni was one of the only people in Florence who could possibly unlock those doors.
Robert, the gates are open to you, but you must hurry.
Langdon handed the iPhone back to the old woman and thanked her profusely.
He rushed over to Sienna and whispered excitedly, “I know what gates Ignazio was talking about! The Gates of Paradise!”
Sienna looked dubious. “The gates of paradise? Aren’t those … in heaven?”
“Actually,” Langdon said, giving her a wry smile and heading for the door, “if you know where to look, Florence is heaven.”

I SHALL RETURN as poet … at my baptismal font.
Dante’s words echoed repeatedly in Langdon’s mind as he led Sienna northward along the narrow passageway known as Via dello Studio. Their destination lay ahead, and with every step Langdon was feeling more confident that they were on the right course and had left their pursuers behind.
The gates are open to you, but you must hurry.
As they neared the end of the chasmlike alleyway, Langdon could already hear the low thrum of activity ahead. Abruptly the cavern on either side of them gave way, spilling them out into a sprawling expanse.
The Piazza del Duomo.
This enormous plaza with its complex network of structures was the ancient religious center of Florence. More of a tourist center nowadays, the piazza was already bustling with tour buses and throngs of visitors crowding around Florence’s famed cathedral.
Having arrived on the south side of the piazza, Langdon and Sienna were now facing the side of the cathedral with its dazzling exterior of green, pink, and white marble. As breathtaking in its size as it was in the artistry that had gone into its construction, the cathedral stretched off in both directions to seemingly impossible distances, its full length nearly equal to that of the Washington Monument laid on its side.
Despite its abandonment of traditional monochromatic stone filigree in favor of an unusually flamboyant mix of colors, the structure was pure Gothic—classic, robust, and enduring. Admittedly, Langdon, on his first trip to Florence, had found the architecture almost gaudy. On subsequent trips, however, he found himself studying the structure for hours at a time, strangely captivated by its unusual aesthetic effects, and finally appreciating its spectacular beauty.
Il Duomo—or, more formally, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore— in addition to providing a nickname for Ignazio Busoni, had long provided not only a spiritual heart to Florence but centuries of drama and intrigue. The building’s volatile past ranged from long and vicious debates over Vasari’s much-despised fresco of The
Last Judgment on the dome’s interior … to the hotly disputed competition to select the architect to finish the dome itself.
Filippo Brunelleschi had eventually secured the lucrative contract and completed the dome—the largest of its kind at the time—and to this day Brunelleschi himself can be seen in sculpture, seated outside the Palazzo dei Canonici, staring contentedly up at his masterpiece.
This morning, as Langdon raised his eyes skyward to the famed redtiled dome that had been an architectural feat of its era, he recalled the time he had foolishly decided to ascend the dome only to discover that its narrow, touristcrammed staircases were as distressing as any of the claustrophobic spaces he’d ever encountered. Even so, Langdon was grateful for the ordeal he’d endured while climbing “Brunelleschi’s Dome,” since it had encouraged him to read an entertaining Ross King book of the same name.
“Robert?” Sienna said. “Are you coming?”
Langdon lowered his gaze from the dome, realizing he had stopped in his tracks to admire the architecture. “Sorry about that.”
They continued moving, hugging the perimeter of the square. The cathedral was on their right now, and Langdon noted that tourists were already flowing out of its side exits, checking the site off their to-see lists.
Up ahead rose the unmistakable shape of a campanile—the second of the three structures in the cathedral complex. Commonly known as
Giotto’s bell tower, the campanile left no doubt that it belonged with the cathedral beside it. Adorned in the identical pink, green, and white facing stones, the square spire climbed skyward to a dizzying height of nearly three hundred feet. Langdon had always found it amazing that this slender structure could remain standing all these centuries, through earthquakes and bad weather, especially knowing how top-heavy it was, with its apex belfry supporting more than twenty thousand pounds of bells.
Sienna walked briskly beside him, her eyes nervously scanning the skies beyond the campanile, clearly searching for the drone, but it was nowhere to be seen. The crowd was fairly dense, even at this early hour, and Langdon made a point of staying in the thick of it.
As they approached the campanile, they passed a line of caricature artists standing at their easels sketching garish cartoons of tourists
—a teenage boy grinding on a skateboard, a horse-toothed girl wielding a lacrosse stick, a pair of honeymooners kissing on a unicorn. Langdon found it amusing somehow that this activity was permitted on the same sacred cobbles where Michelangelo had set up his own easel as a boy.
Continuing quickly around the base of Giotto’s bell tower, Langdon and Sienna turned right, moving out across the open square directly in front of the cathedral. Here the crowds were thickest, with tourists from around the world aiming camera phones and video cameras upward at the colorful main facade.
Langdon barely glanced up, having already set his sights on a much smaller building that had just come into view. Positioned directly opposite the front entrance of the cathedral stood the third and final structure in the cathedral complex.
It was also Langdon’s favorite.
The Baptistry of San Giovanni.
Adorned in the same polychromatic facing stones and striped pilasters as the cathedral, the baptistry distinguished itself from the larger building by its striking shape—a perfect octagon. Resembling a layer cake, some had claimed, the eightsided structure consisted of three distinct tiers that ascended to a shallow white roof.
Langdon knew the octagonal shape had nothing to do with aesthetics and everything to do with symbolism. In Christianity, the number eight represented rebirth and re-creation. The octagon served as a visual reminder of the six days of God’s creation of heaven and earth, the one day of Sabbath, and the eighth day, upon which Christians were “reborn” or “re-created” through baptism. Octagons had become a common shape for baptistries around the world.
While Langdon considered the baptistry one of Florence’s most striking buildings, he always found the choice of its location a bit unfair. This baptistry, nearly anywhere else on earth, would be the center of attention. Here, however, in the shadow of its two colossal siblings, the baptistry gave the impression of being the runt of the litter.
Until you step inside, Langdon reminded himself, picturing the mindboggling mosaic work of the interior, which was so spectacular that early admirers claimed the baptistry ceiling resembled heaven itself. If you know
where to look, Langdon had wryly told Sienna, Florence is heaven.
For centuries, this eight-sided sanctuary had hosted the baptisms of countless notable figures—Dante among them.
I shall return as poet … at my baptismal font.
Because of his exile, Dante had never been permitted to return to this sacred site—the place of his baptism—although Langdon felt a rising hope that Dante’s death mask, through the unlikely series of events that had occurred last night, had finally found its way back in his stead.
The baptistry, Langdon thought. This has to be where Ignazio hid the mask before he died. He recalled Ignazio’s desperate phone message, and for a chilling moment, Langdon pictured the corpulent man clutching his chest, lurching across the piazza into an alley, and making his final phone call after leaving the mask safely inside the baptistry.
The gates are open to you.
Langdon’s eyes remained fixed on the baptistry as he and Sienna snaked through the crowd. Sienna was moving now with such nimble eagerness that Langdon nearly had to jog to keep up. Even at a distance, he could see the baptistry’s massive main doors glistening in the sun.
Crafted of gilded bronze and over fifteen feet tall, the doors had taken Lorenzo Ghiberti more than twenty years to complete. They were adorned with ten intricate panels of delicate biblical figures of such quality that Giorgio Vasari had called the doors “undeniably perfect in every way and … the finest
masterpiece ever created.”
     It      had      been       Michelangelo,
however, whose gushing testimonial had provided the doors with a nickname that endured even today. Michelangelo had proclaimed them so beautiful as to be fit for use … as the Gates of Paradise.

By Dan Brown


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