Saturday, January 7, 2012

100 Books Every Woman Should Read - The Divine Comedy**

This work is toweringly beautiful and surprisingly deep. The punishments meted out in the inferno are shocking to modern ears but truly fascinating.

Well, first of all, since the library doesn't seem to understand this, I just want to clarify for everyone that this book is FICTION. Which, somewhat surprisingly, is actually something that I frequently had to remind myself of as I read it. This epic poem depicts Dante's symbolic representations of hell, purgatory, and heaven. The real things are probably nothing like what Dante describes.

If you are going to read this book I would suggest that you get a copy which includes an introduction to each Canto, so you know what's going on, and copious footnotes. I also suggest thtat you read these introductions and footnotes. For myself, I usually skip over such things and get right into the story. The problem with The Divine Comedy, however, is that you really can't understand it without these helpful additions.

T.S. Eliot once said "Dante and Shakespeare divide the world between them, there is no third." In other words, these are the greatest writers of all time. After reading both Shakespeare and Dante I have come to the conclusion that they are so, not because their stories are particularly good (though Shakespeare does have an occasional gem), but because their poetry is superb. Undoubtedly, Dante's writing is exquisite. However, his story is a chore to get through. Frankly, I don't think it's very good. Which is a little ridiculous since he is writing about the afterlife, I mean who would've thought that could be boring? The one thing I can say for his story is that the symbolism is superb. However, you'll never even know it's there if you don't read the footnotes. And interrupting the story every two lines to see what he's talking about makes the experience quite tedious. So if you're about to pick up this book be prepared for a long journey through the labyrinth of Dante's poetry.

In addition, I take theological issue with Dante on several points. Now, as I said before, this is fiction, so I have to give Dante a certain amount of artistic license. But there are certain points in which I think he went too far. For starters, I'm really not a fan of Dante putting actual people in hell. When it comes down to it, it really seems like his entire purpose in writing The Inferno was so that he could put people he didn't like there. Furthermore, I was very annoyed with a particular scenario in which Dante puts the soul of a still living person in hell. This completely contradicts God's mercy and reinforces the theory that Dante is simply writing this poem as revenge.

A few good quotes:

  • Speaking of Purgatory - "Next you shall see upon a burning mountain souls in fire and yet content in fire, knowing that whensoever it may be they yet will mount into the blessed choir."

  • "O Christians be more careful as ye move! And be not like a feather to the wind, Nor think that every water will absolve you! Ye have the Testament, both New and Old, The Shepherd of the Church to guide your steps: Let these suffice to lead you to salvation!"

  • "Christ did not say to His first company: 'Go forth, to preach vain stories to the world,' But for sure foundation gave them truth. So mighty did this truth sound from their mouths That in their battle to enkindle faith They made their shields and lances of the Gospel."

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