If we were to use modern colloquialisms and slang to describe Dante, then ‘baller’ and ‘straight up G’ would be awfully appropriate. Dante was born in 1265 and died in 1321 (we think), he studied theology and philosophy and was part of the lower-nobility class. He married a woman called Gemma but his muse was a woman called Bice Portinari, whom he called Beatrice. She was the catalyst that drove Dante to write the Divine Comedy, a rollicking ride that takes Dante through Hell, Purgatory and finally Paradise. Effectively, a man travels through the ethereal afterlife to join his one true love. Twilight eat your heart out.
Even if you’re not a fan of poetry, or people being endlessly tormented, or Christianity, The Inferno will have you engrossed from Dante being spooked off a hill by a she-wolf right up to meeting the Devil. The three-headed, multi-coloured, encased up to his waist in ice, whilst chewing on the three great betrayers Devil. Red face and a fiery fork? Pah! Dante’s Devil is pure nightmare fuel. Imagine some Lovecraftian creature or a Clive Barker demon with a heavy injection of Christian fear of the afterlife.
Every ring of Hell is as horrendous as the last. You can feel the pain of each damned soul. The Gluttonous condemned to lay in a mire whilst Cerberus, The Great Worm, rips at their flesh at regular intervals. The Lustful in a ceaseless tornado of flesh. The Violent being cut with a sword “see how I rend me” and of the course, the Flatterers wallowing in human excrement. I am not a religious man, but the imagery, the way Dante condemns these people, some of whom he knew, makes my brain do that, ‘you sure you don’t want to start going to Church?’ thing. It made me paranoid. It still does. Very few books have stayed with me in the way The Inferno has. Yes of course, the ending to Bank’s The Wasp Factory stills plays on the brain. As does Huxley’s Brave New World and that poor, poor savage. None, have however, made me reconsider my beliefs or lack thereof.
It’s not just the imagery, the narrative or the sheer enormity of The Divine Comedy that makes me love it. It’s the deliberateness of the words. Every syllable has purpose; every line and canto adds meaning and depth. No breath is wasted. The rhythm stays in pace of Dante and his companion and fluctuates or calms when they are witnessing some otherworldly horror defile a soul. The Inferno is damn near flawless, everyone needs to read it. Why? Because it has everything and more that any book should have. I simply cannot write or say or do enough to substantially convey how wonderful The Inferno and The Divine Comedy is. Just pick up a copy, finish it, go stare at some ducks on a pond, then go contemplate your own fragile mortality and eventual (but potential) eternal and everlasting afterlife.