Friday, July 09, 2004

The Inferno - by Dante Alighieri, tr. John Ciardi

In which the blogger laments not being able to speak Italian

I guess it's time you all knew the truth. I admit it. I'm a tad ashamed, but this is the first time I have ever read Dante's Inferno. It's just that no one ever forced me to in all my academic career.

(paragraph two goes here)

And that's why I never learned Italian. So I feel ill-equipped to comment on Dante's greatness as a poet (second only to Shakespeare, from what I'm led to understand), since I don't understand the original language and didn't read it in the original anyway.

But I really like the format of the John Ciardi translation. It's easy to follow. I especially appreciate the summary of the action at the beginning of each canto. And the notes at the end of each chapter might have been useful, had I cared enough to consult them.

So I guess I have to comment about content. Right.

In a way, I feel like this might have been along the lines of a Michael Moore "documentary" when it was written. It takes special care to skewer family enemies, known criminals, and corrupt individuals within the Catholic church (kind of fun to have an "infallible" "vicar of Christ" suffering eternally in hell for his misdeeds). I bet everyone just had to have a copy to see what kind of torture Dante was meting out on the naughty neighbors in Florence. I'm certain that's why we have copies around to this very day.

It's also really bizarre to have such a mish-mash of ideas all in one book. The idea of an eternal hell, where God is actively torturing individuals throughout all eternity, is a staple of most "Christian" belief systems. And then Dante throws in a ton of ancient mythology with Minos and Cerberus and Styx, Medusa, and Hercules. Not really such good theology. But I guess I can understand it better if I see it as less of a theological work and more just playing off of the Weltanshauung of his local Florentines, using all of their reference points to present his gory tale.

Which brings me to the last part of my entry: Dante is gross. "Between his legs all of his red guts hung..." etc. I think Canto 28 is the worst. I suppose Dante just wanted to use the most powerful force to get his point across about the future consequences of the afterlife. And I suppose he did a good job.

I just find it unfortunate that all of this torment, gore, blood, abuse, torture (a thousand times worse than Abu Ghraib ever dreamt of being), and evil is ascribed to the hand of God as just judgment. I can't believe some "Christians" can actually think that about God. Amazing.

It's a classic. So I guess you should probably read the book... if you have to.

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