way through the journey of our lives,
Life - The Divine
I came to myself in a dark
wood and found that I had lost the true way."
This such a wonderful line.
Immediate. Everyone has been in that dark wood at one point or another.
Found themselves alone. Lost.
Odd to think that these words
were written by a man who lived 8 centuries ago, in another language, another
country, another world.
Dante Aligheri began writing
the Comedia (Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradisio) a decade or so into the
1300s. It is the epic of the personal. An adventure as a mortal man journeys
through hell and towards spiritual understanding in Purgatory and finally
It is Dante's brilliance
that he writes himself as his own main character guided through Hell and
Purgatory by the Poet Virgil. This is no straight forward medieval allegory.
Oh, look lady Fortune is speaking with Lady Charity. Blah, blah...Dante
mixes real people with figures from legend with vivid poetry.
All of this is a tangential
sort of way of saying, for the last several months, Karen and I have been
working our way through Inferno, the first book of the Comedia.
Every week we would read a few cantos and then discuss them. The language,
the meaning, the imagery. A reading group of two.
started back a few months ago after going to see Hannibal,
which isn't as odd
as it might seem. In the movie, Hannibal quotes the poem of the burning
heart from Dante's Vita Nuova. It's a wonderfully romantic and vivid poem.
So, we sat around one night and read the Vita Nuova. And then we thought,
well why stop. Why not take on the Comedia.
On Easter afternoon, we emerged
from Hell to "once again see the stars."
How to describe Inferno. Eight
centuries of critical thinking hasn't been able to sum it up.
Brilliant imagery that shines
even in translation.
As the sails
swollen with the wind fall in a heap when the mast snaps, so fell the cruel
beast to the ground. Canto VII
Or the most famous,
No green leaves, but of
dusky hue; no smooth boughs, but knotted and warped; no fruits were there,
but poisonous thorns. Canto XIII
Through me the
way into the woeful city,
Inferno tends to be people's
favourite, which I suppose says something about people. Personally, I favour
Purgatorio (saved sinners are a little more fun). But that's the next book.
Through me the way to
the eternal pain,
Through me the way among
the lost people.
Justice moved my Maker
Divine Power made me
and Supreme Wisdom and Primal Love;
Before me nothing was
created but eternal things and I endure eternally.
Abandon every hope, ye
that enter. Canto III
is a brilliant combination of Ancient and Christian theology woven into
a cohesive whole. Which makes it sound rather dull doesn't it. But it isn't.
Dante meets demons and centaurs and furies and all the kinds of the damned.
He faces adventure, damnation, and flying demons with savage hooks and
And through it all he learns
to face fear and how to deal with evil.
And as Dante learns, we get
our own lessons. I haven't really settled on my final philosophical, theological
beliefs, but I love the richness of Dante's vision of hell. For all that
we sympathize with the sinners in hell, largely (well there is limbo) they
deserve to be there. I love the idea that it is the intent of the sin itself
that counts. That tests are a gift. And that gifts are a test. That life
is good and rich and wonderful and that the price of the goodness, and
the riches, and the wonder is love.
No wonder I love Dante. He
Purgatory here I come.