Friday, August 20, 2010

Dante's Inferno

For the past several years I have taught excerpts from Dante's Inferno. By now it would seem logical that I would know this work inside and out; but, I have never read the entire piece. That makes me something of a fraud, I realize, but I guess that is one of the drawbacks of anthologies: We teach what someone else feels is important or significant. That is a post for another day.

As I read I realize that as with most classics, there are many ways to approach the Inferno - as poetry, as history, as religion, or as fantasy. Never one to dwell on poetic elements or devices in and of themselves, I read this as a historical approach to religion. (How is that for compromise!)

I do not remember much from my studies of European history so to examine the poem as a statement on the warring Florentine factions does not mean much to me. Rather, I was more impressed by the lasting influence Dante has had on religious interpretation and divine retribution! Dante had a frightening sense of "the punishment fits the crime." In the sixth circle of Hell Dante condemns the Heretics, those who spoke against God. Since they taught that there was no life after death they are comdemned to an eternal graveyard. As the war-makers wallowed in blood in their lives, they spend eternity in boiling blood (Circle Seven)

I read the Signet Classic edition of the Inferno translated by John Ciardi and the references come from that edition. I found this edition to be easy to read and while Ciardi made every effort to keep the poetry, his notes explained when it was necessary to stray.

I have no desire to read the Divine Comedy in its entirity at this time, but at least I am no longer an Inferno fraud. Reading this also satisfied a selection for the Casual Classic Challenge and I Wish I Had Read Challenge.

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