Book Review : Dante’s Inferno by Dante Alighieri

  • Review: The Inferno
  • Series: The Divine Comedy
  • Author: Dante Alighieri
  • No of Pages: 370
  • Release Date: 1314



Inferno opens on the evening of Good Friday in the year 1300. Traveling through a dark wood, Dante Alighieri has lost his path and now wanders fearfully through the forest. The sun shines down on a mountain above him, and he attempts to climb up to it but finds his way blocked by three beasts—a leopard, a lion, and a she-wolf. Frightened and helpless, Dante returns to the dark wood. Here he encounters the ghost of Virgil, the great Roman poet, who has come to guide Dante back to his path, to the top of the mountain. Virgil says that their path will take them through Hell and that they will eventually reach Heaven, where Dante’s beloved Beatrice awaits. He adds that it was Beatrice, along with two other holy women, who, seeing Dante lost in the wood, sent Virgil to guide him. — Spark Notes

Gustave Doré's illustration to Dante's Inferno...

The Inferno, the opening section of Dante Alighieri’s epic theological poem La Divina Commedia, is one of the indispensable works of the Western literary canon. The modern concept of hell and damnation owes everything to this work, and it is the rock upon which vernacular Italian was built. Its influence is woven into the very fabric of Western imagination, and poets, painters, scholars, and translators return to it endlessly. — The Inferno verse translation by Robert Hollander and Jena Hollander

Abandon all hope ye who enter here. With Virgil as his guide Dante enters the gates of hell and takes us through what he tells us are the nine layers. Each circle he finds atrocities that seem specific to that circle. Lust, gluttony, greed, anger, heresy, violence, fraud and treachery, some of the many ways to get yourself a ticket into one of the nine circles of hell. And in the very center of hell, he shows us Satan.

he had three faces: one in front bloodred; and then another two that, just above
the midpoint of each shoulder, joined the first;
and at the crown, all three were reattached;
the right looked somewhat yellow, somewhat white;
the left in its appearance was like those
who come from where the Nile, descending, flows.

My thoughts:

I feel like I just trudged through hell myself but maybe I’m being harsh.

I’m not saying that Dante’s Inferno was not quite interesting, he had quite the imagination, especially since this was written in 1300, where if you didn’t agree with the right politician you could be burned at the stake. He had to be a very courageous man to write what he did, knowing this could very well end his life. The circles of hell were quite interesting. The positioning for someone today would be quite different. What I think this book does is really show us how much times have changed.

And yet still I had to resign myself near the middle to finish, mainly because of all the hullabaloo but also because it was a part of my reading challenge. Yes, something that I brought upon myself. Was it over my

Rosa Celeste: Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the...

Rosa Celeste: Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the highest Heaven, The Empyrean (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

head? I would like to think, no. I understood everything and as eloquent as the writing was, hearing about 300 people that have been dead for god knows how long just isn’t interesting to me. My mind kept wandering about my chores tomorrow (laundry, exercise… really?!). But maybe it’s like when you are so looking forward to a movie (or book!) that you have heard about for the last few years and finally you get  in your seat, popcorn and soda at the ready, trailers have finally stopped and the film is ON! And then you find yourself thinking about chores. Sigh.  That’s truly what this feels like.

And yes, I know he’s brilliant, maybe I’ll have to go back when I have more time to study all the people he mentions. For now I do look forward to reading The Divine Comedy, but I’m going to put that off for awhile. Then again, like I said before, maybe I’m just being harsh. IF you take out the 300 people he meets along the way and imagine the (cough) hell they are going through, then yes this is quite the story. It was easy to read, just had to trudge through the names, but in reality I’m glad I don’t believe in hell! And actually imagine what he would write about today. Palm readers are not people we throw in the fire anymore, Mohammad being subjected to horrors, among many others that we accept today, so what do you think Dante … Can we change some of these circles?

Don’t get me wrong guys. I think the time spent reading this book was worth it. I think if you can take bits and pieces and not read it as a whole then it won’t come off so strange. You will still have to trudge through 300 or however many names of all of his enemies. But I think that’s what got me the most about this book. Isn’t religion (well some anyway) about forgiving your enemies. He has damned many people to an eternal existence of suffering. Seems a little harsh in my book. But they imprisoned him so turnabout is fair play right? Food for thought.


And, something interesting since I also love Physics…

Physics from Hell

5/5 to Galileo Galilei who was an absolute genius!

It was Galileo who conclusively swept away the idea that the sun revolved around the Earth, who dismantled the looming edifice of Aristotelian physics. Unlike others of the age, the Italian steadfastly refused to hammer the square pegs of discovery into the round holes of conventional wisdom. Through an unremitting dedication to observation and experiment, it was he who ushered in the age of modern science.

… that one of Galileo’s crucial contributions to physics came from measuring the hell of Dante’s Inferno. Or rather, from disproving its measurements. — the Boston Globe


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