Dante’s Book Review (#2)

OK, so this is going to be a tough year. Some of the books I review this year will be “cheating,” that is to say, they will be very short. I’ve assembled around 20-30 books to read and will be keeping my eyes open for other good books. Today, I will try my hand at writing an appropriate review of Dante’s Inferno. This book is out of my comfort zone, so to speak. It is written as a collection of poems (I think). This particular version contains summaries by John Ciardi before each poem (which serve as chapters, or “Cantos”).

The story starts with Dante awakening on the outskirts of Hell (capitalized as it is in the book). Basically, the book is his adventure with one or two guides through to the center of Hell, which is broken up into 9 circles, with Satan in the middle. I think the point is that the worst crimes against God are closest to the center, but that hardly makes sense. For example, warlords are in the seventh circle, along with those who committed suicide (and actually, suicides are closer to Satan), while Brutus is in Satan’s mouth (ninth circle). It hardly seems fair that a guy that murdered a tyrant should be tortured more than Atilla the Hun. Speaking of which, Atilla is the only non-European our hero meets in his passage through Hell (don’t quote that, but the point is that he meets a very limited number of people, mostly from Italy or Greece, I guess that’s where all the sinners are from).

The outer layer of Hell, if it can be called the outer layer, is made up of people that were basically good. They did no wrong throughout their lives but died before Jesus was born (or perhaps were good for the “wrong reasons”), so that hardly seems fair; withheld from eternal bliss because they were born at the wrong time. Also in this area are unbaptized children; in Hell strictly because they weren’t old enough to not go to Hell. So, we get through the opening of the book where mostly (or completely) good people are being sort of tortured and make our way to the people who were bad. In Hell, the punishments “fit the crimes” in that they are somewhat ironic; for example,  fortune tellers (those that proclaimed to see into the future) had their heads twisted around and walked forever backward (never able to see ahead of themselves). Also in Hell are the titans. Which guard the 9th circle, a giant frozen lake with Satan chewing on Judas, Brutus, and Cassius.

The big let down of this journey through Hell is the ending, as I find often to be the case. In the beginning of the book, it felt as though Dante was meant to be travelling to Heaven, but the book ends with his ascent out of Hell (which is in the center of the Earth). It also is a bit of a letdown that we don’t get to see what Dante does with all the information he learned in Hell; there are several times where he promises to give fame to someone in Hell in exchange for information from those tortured. Another sort of bizarre aspect of this book is that Dante is kind of a jerk. On more than one occasion he is rude to, lies to, or physically assaults someone being tortured.

Overall, I’m glad I took the time to read Dante’s Inferno, but would not recommend it generally. I fell asleep four separate times during the book, so if you are looking for something to put you to sleep, this might be your ticket (I can’t say it won’t give you nightmares, though). My final thought is that this would be an amazing story to bring to life in a virtual reality simulator (like Google Daydream). Alright, see you next time internet!

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