Tuesday, August 30, 2011

RRR: The Divine Comedy, Vol. 1, The Inferno

I finished reading volume one of Dante's Divine ComedyThe Inferno, about a month ago and was very delayed in posting this, though I wrote most of it at the time.

I was about three-fourths of the way through the book, when my husband asked me how I liked it. I responded, “I'm looking forward to getting out of hell” without thinking. This led to a number of jokes throughout the remainder of the book – “Only 34 pages of hell left” etc....

The Inferno was not “hell” to read, but at the same time, I am looking forward to Dante's portrayal of purgatory and heaven. I enjoyed and was challenged by this version, translated from the Italian with ample contextual notes by Mark Musa.

The Pilgrim (symbolic of Everyman) and his guide, Virgil (human reason), travel deeper and deeper into the realms of hell, from one category of sin to the next. I truly appreciate the symbol of Virgil as the Pilgrim's guide, revealing the limits of human reason. Human reason can explain and direct the Pilgrim though hell, but alone, can not be the bridge to the divine.

Virgil and the Pilgrim meet figures of Greek and Roman legend, of the Bible, of Italian history and Florentine politics. Dante's selection of figures to represent various sins and to warn the Pilgrim (and thus the reader) is artful – intertwining myth, history, politics, and religion to get his point across. Clearly he had some fun poking at contemporary rivals also.

I could not have read through the The Inferno without Musa's notes, reminding me of the stories of mythological figures I had forgotten, and explaining the figures and politics of Florence that are referenced throughout.

Yes, despite a bit of perseverance needed, I enjoyed “hell” but am happy to move onwards to purgatory and paradise. But I have a number of books on my reading list in between...

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