In “The Divine Comedy,’’ Dante reserves the peaceful, first circle of Hell for virtuous pagans, historical figures of noble standing who, because of chronology or circumstance rather than choice, were not Christians. In it, he places thinkers such as Aristotle and artists such as Homer, granting them a reprieve from torment as reward for their good character and profound contributions to the world.
One of these elite shades, however, stands apart from the rest. He had devoted his life to driving Europeans out of the Holy Land, killed thousands of Christians, and even stole a relic of the True Cross. Despite this checkered resume, the great Muslim sultan Saladin was held in such high esteem by the very people he had fought against that Dante could not deny him a place of honor in the afterlife.