Whether you have ever picked up a copy of The Divine Comedy or not, it is one of those books, where the ideas have been referenced so much in literature and down through to popular culture that most people are familiar with the nine circles of hell etc, even if they know nothing more about the book. For something so prevalent it seems odd that I hadn’t read it.
So I did. Some call it the greatest poem of the middle ages, some the fifth gospel, either way it is one of the central pieces of literature in Western culture. Significant then, is understating it a bit.
The poem is a ‘spiritual autobiography’ of Dante’s travels (guided by poet Virgil, he of the Aenied fame) through hell, purgatory and finally heaven to see his dead lady Beatrice, whilst on the way discoursing on Earthly morals and God’s love for humanity.
Not the most fun read I have to admit, that is unless you are a fan of Northern Italian politics circa 1300 AD and you also happen to agree with Dante’s politics. Of course all his political opponents are consigned to hell as is anyone of note from history who has had similar ideas etc. The constant footnoting of these people is annoying and slows down the pacing of the whole book, where as the Greek, Roman, Religious references etc add weight to what is an epic but the constant sniping at his enemies and the political backdrop are redundant these days.
Inferno is the most tightly written of the three parts (and is perhaps worth a look if you can find anything appealing in the above paragraphs) , the other two tending to be a bit sparse. It’s a shame that after all the references and what amounts to literary hype, I was left somewhat cold overall with the feeling that perhaps I had missed some nuances in the text although I expect I didn’t, but it could have just been the translation, as there are numerous differing versions. The next constantly referenced thing I haven’t read is Don Quixote, when I get around to it I shall approach with trepidation.