Reviews: The Divine Comedy

On the Inferno

Dante wrote a self insert Gary Stu Fix Fic in which he gets the girl he is obsessed with, meets his hero, and puts everyone he doesn't like for whatever reason in hell. That's it. That's the plot. It's like a RL fanfic.


The Divine Comedy is my favorite written work. I do not say that to be pretentious (I certainly don't look down on people with more contemporary tastes).

However I simply Enjoyed The Divine Comedy that much, it combined aspects of everything I love. It had history, poetry, mythology, philosophy, theology, astronomy, and so much more. I have always loved "Big" Subjects, subjects that operate on a grand universal scale, as opposed to the more mundane studies of specifics.

The Divine Comedy to me marks one of the biggest and more beautiful shifts in thought I have ever seen, from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It moves towards an individualistic sentiment, that one can place oneself at the center of the cosmos and recreate the entire world in one's image.

Can you imagine the nerve Dante must have had in the day. With the Christian Church the omnipresent power, he dared to reshape the Heavens and the Underworld to his likeness, he has the audacity to make a cosmos that had his ideals central. Can you even imagine the sheer shift in tone, the move from stories of Heroes and Saints to a story about the self, not from the Ideals to the Reality, but from the Ideal in Form to the Ideal in practice?

And this revolutionary who made the world anew in his image....what was tone of this world. It is both gloriously confident and humble, ruled by a Deity that is just and loving in equal infinite measures, a world in which Dante the poet expresses sentimentality unbound as we are today, a world in which the same cosmic forces that moves the celestial bodies work too on our humble human bodies and emotions, just as the final line of Paradiso says "Here powers failed my high imagination/But by now my desire and will were turned/Like a balanced wheel rotated evenly/By the Love that moves the sun and the other stars."

How truly divine, that the tiny world we live in is not irrelevant to the great cosmos, but a perfect echo of it, that our every day emotions and doings might hold so much dignity and truly speaks to an Omnipresent Glorious Deity.

I'm sorry if this review sounds pretentious, I really don't mean it to be. I just kept swept up in emotion. The Divine Comedy is my favorite work without question, because after I read it, I can say it changed me in a way no other written work has. After reading it, I felt my soul transmuted into the artist's soul, every little movement or object became imbued with wonder and majesty. Every virtue became so uplifting to my heart, every vice appalling and unforgivable. I have read it many times, and I look forward to reading it many more times in the years to come.

Not big on laughs

The Divine Comedy is a poem split into 3 parts (Inferno, Purgatio, Paradiso) describing the poet Dante's journey through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise respectively with God's permission. Ever place is split into numbered levels and Dante visits each level in turn, describes it a little bit, discusses the theology of the place with his guide and then talks with someone from classical mythology or medieval Italy about who they are and why they're there.

It's surprisingly readable for what it is, but it's still full of imagery, the theology can be surprisingly subtle and pop cultures references aren't that easy to follow when said pop culture is the Aenid and medieval italy.

So here is the tl;dr. Knowledge of medieval Italy, Christian theology, understanding of descriptive/allegorical texts. This is for you if you have three out of three. You can probably enjoy this and get a lot out of it with two out of three and learn a lot about the remaining one. One out of three you can get something from your specialist subject but a lot of it is going to go completely over your head (I was here). Zero, do not read this book.

The picture of hell isn't quite what we think the picture of hell should be in Dante's Inferno. There are mountains, forests, ridges, streams and not everything is burning. In fact there for some of the levels there isn't really much in the way of visceral punishment described. There was a strong undertone of compassion running through it, that was really pleasant to see. Dante when in power, banished his best friend and a favourite of the pope when they committed crimes deserving of punishment. He has a lot of love and mercy but he also has a very strong sense of injustice and the understanding that justice needs to be meted out, despite personal attachment. He rails against a Papacy that he sees as having become too corrupted and far from its purpose. He feels that God has chosen people to govern and chosen people to Shepard and that mixing the two causes problems.

I find that all the details are specific but the general attitude is very far seeing. He describes a loving but just God and some of the passages in heaven are inspiring.

Incidentally one line reads '..should be discerned through experiment which is the only source of your science' which is a nice harkening back to times without a silly divide.