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.

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.