Home  »  Respectfully Quoted  »  John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917–63)

Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations. 1989.

NUMBER: 1211
AUTHOR: John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917–63)
QUOTATION: Dante once said that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality.
ATTRIBUTION: President JOHN F. KENNEDY, remarks in Bonn, West Germany, at the signing of a charter establishing the German Peace Corps, June 24, 1963.—Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1963, p. 503.

This remark may have been inspired by the passage from Dante Alighieri’s La Comedia Divina, trans. Geoffrey L. Bickersteth, “Inferno,” canto 3, lines 35–42 (1972):
by those disbodied wretches who were loth
when living, to be either blamed or praised.
… … … … … …
Fear to lose beauty caused the heavens to expel
these caitiffs; nor, lest to the damned they then
gave cause to boast, receives them the deep hell.

A more modern-sounding translation: “They are mixed with that repulsive choir of angels … undecided in neutrality. Heaven, to keep its beauty, cast them out, but even Hell itself would not receive them for fear the wicked there might glory over them.”—Dante’s Inferno, trans. Mark Musa, p. 21 (1971).
SUBJECTS: Morality