Dante’s Inferno . . . our grandson was reading it in school and
said it was “fun.” I’m always anxious to check off a book from all
the ‘good reading’ lists—so I checked it out of the library. I
received the Everyman’s Library edition.
I got lucky because not only was it a highly respected translation–by
Allen Mandelbaum, but the illustrations were a rollicking riot!
Yes, you read that correctly. The illustrations—they are probably
to blame for my never reading it before. I grew up with The Divine
Comedy on the bookshelf, but with those original illustrations by
Gustave Doré I was scared out of my wits to open the book!
With a little legwork–ok, fingerwork–I found out that there have
been three well-regarded artists to accompany editions of the book:
Gustave Doré, Salvador Dali, and Alessandro Botticelli—yes, the
same Botticelli as his masterpiece The Birth of Venus.
Here is Gustave Doré:
Here is Salvador Dali:
and here is Alessandro Botticelli:
(Click to enlarge and see the whimsical FUN
in this illustration—even though we’re talking
In this first section of The Divine Comedy written in the 14th
Century as an epic poem, Dante visits Hell as a Pilgrim, exploring
the innermost circles of the divisions of Hell. Here he sees the
‘rewards’ of lives spent in gluttony, lust, greed—all the baddy
traits and we are treated to what might become of us if we don’t
mend our ways!
Happily, he meets and is accompanied by the Roman poet, Virgil,
who knows his way around pretty well, and we feel a little bit
protected in our explorations.
The poem is divided into 34 Cantos which move our reading right
Yes, it’s a poem, but that rhyming sensation wears off early on and the
reading is carried by our own curiosity of what Hell might be like.
Frankly, I might not have persevered if it had not been for the
delightful illustrations by Botticelli.
But from the opening line: “When I had journeyed half of our life’s
way, I found myself within a shadowed forest, for I had lost the
path that does not stray . . .”
we find ourselves on our own journey of what might be the true
meaning of life—and after our strange exploration, we finish:
(last line) ” . . .we emerged, to see—once more—the stars.”
Three button review.