First Published: c.1308-1321
Translation Published: 2006 (this translation)
Pages: 449 including notes and original Italian – plus introduction (Hardback)
Form: Epic Poetry
Series: The Divine Comedy #1
Dante’s epic in a new, sumptuous and delightful clothbound edition.
Describing Dante’s descent into Hell midway through his life with Virgil as a guide, Inferno depicts a cruel underworld in which desperate figures are condemned to eternal damnation for committing one or more of seven deadly sins. As he descends through nine concentric circles of increasingly agonising torture, Dante encounters doomed souls including the pagan Aeneas, the liar Odysseus, the suicide Cleopatra, and his own political enemies, damned for their deceit. Led by leering demons, the poet must ultimately journey with Virgil to the deepest level of all. For it is only by encountering Satan, in the heart of Hell, that he can truly understand the tragedy of sin.
A belated review for a poem I finished a few weeks ago. And a confession: somewhere around page LXXV of the CIV length introduction to the poem I gave up (I always read intros after the main book now, been spoiled too often). It wasn’t a bad introduction, it was actually very good – lots of interesting information – but it was all a bit much to absorb for me at the time, I’ll get back to it later, I’m sure – but it’s heavy going. Which, funnily enough, the text of the poem isn’t. It’s lively and funny and very, very vivid.
My favourite bit, predictably, was the fusion of both classical and biblical imagery and mythology – in Dante’s Hell centaurs and harpies and all sorts of beings from Greek and Roman myth all have their place, representing the wild and the pagan, among the more expected images of Satan and his devils from Christian theology. Then there’s the sinners and the very, very, detailed description’s of the ironic punishments inflicted on them for their crimes. It’s all so unrelentingly visual I kind of wish someone would make an animated version (well ok, somebody has but I wish someone would make one that looks good, using a single narrator simply reading the poem and a twisted, gothic, painterly type animation style or creepy stop-motion, something less determinedly bland and generic and that actually reflects the feel of the poem). Oh well, I have Gustave Dore’s wonderful black and white illustrations to admire and fawn over at least.
Of course, Dante’s Inferno is about more than showing a gloriously detailed vision of Hell and torture. It’s self promotion, political criticism, a lesson in morals, and an attack on anybody and everybody who Dante didn’t like. If I knew more about 13th Century Florence politics or if I had managed to finish the introduction I’m sure I would be able to discuss these elements a bit better, but I don’t and I didn’t. I got some of the themes and I looked up the reference in each Canto so I could probably bullshit a little analysis, but this isn’t school and I’d rather not sound like an arsehole pretending to know more than I really do. The themes were recognisably there, though anyone reading this will almost certainly want an edition with endnotes (mine were invaluable and very very interesting) but I still found it highly enjoyable despite being unable to fully appreciate all the nuances and references. I have a gut feeling though that Purgatorio and Paradiso will be harder to enjoy without detailed knowledge…but we’ll see. I think I’ll want to read that intro in full before embarking on them – I don’t have much faith in either being as easy or exciting to visualise as the tortures of hell, but then I’ve always been a bit mor
Though speaking of the second and third book in The Divine Comedy, I do have a bit of a grievance: Penguin only does them in their bog standard paperback classic cover designs so it’s impossible for me to get a matching set. I mean, what the fuck is the point of issuing book one of a trilogy in a beautiful clothbound edition if you’re not going to do the same for book two and three. Why would anybody do that? WHY? Ok, so realistically, I know that Inferno is probably the only one a lot of people are interested in, that ‘covers shouldn’t matter’ (bollocks), and that this is a fucking beautiful edition with that cover and it’s side by side Italian and English so it’s brattish to complain – but it’s still a dick move not to bring out clothbound versions of the others and I’ve never been scared of being a brat. I want a matching set, damnit!
Bah! At least this one’s a poem I will probably reread while I wait for Penguin to get its shit together, if only to pick up on the bits I missed first time through.