BOOK REVIEW: Inferno by Dante Alighieri
December 24, 2014
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Imagine that feeling, when you are reading a book and by the end it makes you feel complete. We all have observed that by one or the other book(s). Dante’s Divine Comedy: Inferno is one of them. Written almost 700 years ago, it still has the mesmerizing capacity to capture a human’s attention. It’s iconic for a literary work to survive a 700 years and Dante’s work has reached that status: most people at least know of the Inferno, even if they haven’t read it.
Dante’s Inferno, the first third of what has come to be known as the Divine Comedy. Dante himself only referred to it as a Comedy and the “Divine” characterisation was added later. A long poem whose narrative describes what amounts to the poet’s tour of the afterlife. The whole poem is divided into 100 cantos, the Inferno (Hell) has 34, the other two parts– Purgatorio (Purgatory) and Paradiso (Paradise) each have 33. Each canto is written in a form referred to as terza rima, where every three lines rhymes. Getting that rhyming scheme from Italian into English has been one of the major challenges of every translator of the work. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow‘s translation is reasonable to some extent.
The first book, the Inferno, is the beginning of Dante’s spiritual odyssey. He wakes one day in the middle of his life to discover that he is lost in a dark forest and surrounded by mortal dangers. Against all hope, rescue comes in the form of the ancient poet Virgil, who has been commissioned by Heaven to lead Dante back to the true path. Virgil, to whom Dante often refers as his master in the text, must lead Dante down through the nine circles of Hell where he will begin to learn the wisdom that leads back to life, which will ultimately be found only in Christ. Each circle in Hell is the final resting place of souls who have died in their sins, the punishments at each level being perfectly suited to the sin that defined the earthly life of the soul.
The tortures of Hell are graphically described by Dante in his words. The description of each circle is unique and imaginative yet gruesome. Each punishment truly portrays the sin such as the instances of the fortune tellers seeing only behind them forever, of those who killed in anger boiling in a river of blood, and of Judas and Brutus both been chewed by the Satan, himself.
Longfellow’s translation is more or less good and tries to capture the complexity of the original text which is essential for a reader to have a better and a deep understanding. I can honestly say I haven’t found a better overall volume for reading and understanding the Inferno.