Inferno by Dante Alighieri
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Dante catalogs sins and sinners from biblical, Greco-Roman, and his own times, all in epic poem format. Virgil guides him through the nine circles of hell.
At first we see those only mildly deprived of joy, like famous Greek philosophers who didn't know of Christ. The seven deadly sins feature prominently in the catalog as we are taken through each successive circle. This means a ranking of these sins, as the punishment worsens the further down you go. Lust, avarice and gluttony are first, so the least bad, while discord, divination and treachery are the worst.
Dante often puts political figures from his time in hell, as a warning to his readers not to follow their example while they yet live. He does not exempt even popes! My favorite is when he sees a guy he thought was still alive. Turns out he died years ago, and a demon was inhabiting his body on earth! Talk about harsh criticism.
Besides the political punditry built in, Dante makes important, sobering and biblical assertions. Sin will be punished with poetic justice. Remorse isn't alleviated by moving on in life. The affects of sin continue into eternity for the unforgiven. There is no mercy. In the lowest circle, the first figure he meets of the heretics and treacherous is Mohammed (Dante wrote in 1300).
Dante is hard to read. I don't know if I'm losing my edge, or the translation was clunky, or it was all the contemporary references I didn't have a clue about, but he's hard to follow. Here were a few gems, though.
On his hometown of Florence
"An upstart multitude and sudden gains, pride and excess, O Florence, have in thee engendered, so that now in tears thou mourn'st!"
"How brief, how vain, the goods committed into Fortune's hands, for which the human race keep such a coil! Not all the gold that is beneath the moon, or ever hath been, of these toil-worn souls might purchase rest for one."
"If he were beautiful as he is hideous now, and yet did dare to scowl upon his Maker, well from him may all our misery flow."
View all my reviews