What Are You Reading? – August 2014

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Welcome back to the What Are You Reading? Series! If you have no idea what’s going on feel free to take a look at the introductory post.  Don’t forget at the end of the post to let me know your own thoughts and interpretations of the book. [Please note that if you haven’t commented before I recommend reading the Commenting Guidelines.] 

And today’s book is……. *Drum roll*

Inferno

Author: Dante Alegheri

Genre: Religious Satire Poetry

Originally Published: 1308

This book has always been a required reading in both high schools and colleges, and if it isn’t then it is a required reading of life. At first it is difficult to understand, but this is my third read through and I think I’m beginning to understand things. For this I’m actually reading the entire Divine Comedy in order so at least you know what’s going to be read next month.

Summary:

The poem of Inferno follows Dante on his journey through Biblical Hell with his mentor Virgil. With each Canto he travels deeper and deeper, exploring each level of Hell and it’s occupants.

My First Thoughts:

When I first read through this, I read bits and pieces. It was in high school and remember really one thought about it, the same thought as 1984, my brain hurts. Back then I couldn’t read more than a few Cantos at a time and had to push through it. When I read it in college it sunk in a little deeper and was able to read more. I can understand how people want to believe that this is canon with the Christian theology for the fact that it is so vivid and well organized.

My Analysis:

The Divine Comedy, in its entirety,  is allegorical, this first portion is filled with Dante both passing judgement on the “wrongdoers of history” and his question of the sins [ie. how they are divided and their severity]. The latter being the case where he is entering the City of Dis in Canto XI. There is one case where Dante expresses sympathy upon one of the prisoners of hell and that is within the Forest of Suicides where he replaces the leaves of someone from his homeland. With so many of the population of Hell being members of the clergy or previous Popes, it’s hard not to see where the judgments are really pointed at.

The number three is very prevalent throughout the entire poem down to the structure of the terza rima. Each use of the number three creates a different meaning and may be an allusion to the Holy Trinity of the Christian Religion. This may be a stretch, but this may also allude to the phrase “as above, so below” in where Hell is the perversion of thing in Heaven. {Since I have yet to read Paradisio I’m not sure about this and if I am wrong I will update this post.}

With the poem being allegorical, symbolism runs rampant. For example the first Canto with the introduction of the She-Wolf, she is meant to represent Avarice but the fact that he uses the phrase “She-Wolf” rather than just “wolf” she may also represent Rome and it’s founding. The wolf is mentioned again in their meeting of Plutus the Roman god of wealth.

At first, Dante expresses that this is a vision, a journey within the mind and heart, and tries to use his hero Virgil as a sort of moral compass and creates the Mentor/Student character relationship. He continues to look to Virgil for answers as well as self-verification, since Dante believes that he is not worthy for the journey through Hell. With Virgil and Dante’s relationship, it fells like Dante is living a fantasy of his. He get’s to take a journey with his literary hero and mentor, so when Virgil fails to enter Dis Dante begins to doubt him. Once he begins to doubt, Dante asks to go back to the surface, going back to square one of his self-worth.

Though you see many of the heroes of ancient history through the first circles, you see more of the monsters from ancient mythology all with Dante’s own twist to them. Cerberus, the famous three-headed dog, is describe to have the dog heads but also the body of the man and called the Great Worm. Charon the ferryman of the underworld uses sarcasm, and sass. The Minotaur is the mascot of the circle of Violence. (Okay so maybe no change in that one.) I liked how Dante took the monsters of history and made them his own while still keeping them true to the stories.

And the Verdict is:

This is something that makes me question things about religion and morality. Knowing that is what Dante was going for, I know that this book achieves its purpose. Since I’ve already read it three times, it’s obvious that I will continue to return to this poem again and again and gain new insight with each reading.

Now it’s your turn. If you’ve read the book and want to give your opinion on it let me know in the comments. If you have a differing opinion, start up a discussion or debate. I would love to hear your perspective on this book, or maybe even Nabokov’s work in general. 🙂

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