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Friday, June 20, 2008

Dante’s Inferno – A Trip to Hell with Two Poets

Somehow I woke up one morning with the inexplicable desire to read Christian allegories. I think this is a continuation of my compulsion to read books that people like to pretend they’ve read and use as sources for pseudo-intellectual references.

I’ve completed Hell, part one of the Divine Comedy, and I’m working my way through Part 2, Purgatory. Since this book has been notated, analyzed and PHD Dissertated to death, I thought I’d focus on my personal reactions and reflections. After all, it’s all about me. Right?

My reading has been coached via email by a Yale Italian Literature Professor who happens to contribute to some bulletin board discussions I frequent. Finding her was a stroke of luck, although I suspect she thinks I am a shallow moron. I look at this writing like Science Fiction and political discourse in verse, while she finds a rich source of universal truths. Alas. I have also found Dorothy L. Sayers’s notes to be a big help. A lot of the action and important conversations hinge on late 13th and early 14th Century Italian politics, as well as the characters in Virgil’s works, especially the Troy-boys of the Aeneid. This takes some help to understand. And, yes I speak of the same Dorothy Sayers who wrote “The Nine Tailors”.

What the Hell?

Hell is divided into nine levels, not seven levels as I thought I had heard. The levels are not organized on the basis of the Seven Deadly Sins, although some levels do correspond to the old PLACESG (Pride, Lust, Anger, Covetousness, Envy, Sloth, and Gluttony). The penguin sisters from Cork made Kathleen memorize these in school, and I guess she taught me the list. I think the source of confusion is that Purgatory is organized according to the deadly sins. Rest assured, there are far more than seven ways to earn an eternity in Hell.

I found several of the punishments to be amusing (almost as funny as when demons tried to suffocate Homer Simpson with donuts) and actually fitting to the crimes, in a humongous exaggerated way. Shit!, I’ve just committed the sin of Envy by thinking and typing that. On the subject of my eternal soul’s well-being, I was disappointed that post-Jesus Jews did not receive any special treatment. We probably burn in our tombs with the rest of the heretics, unless our punishment is too grisly even for Dante to share.

What’s so great about Hell, anyway?

Of course the Gate of Hell’s inscription, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”.

Cheron ferries the damned souls (Dante calls them shades) across the river Acheron. He uses oars to power the ferry, when he’s not using the oars to beat his passengers sensless. There is no shortage of blows to the head in Hell. This was the first of several times I had to stop and ask myself, “Is this a Christian or ancient Greek allegory?”

The lustful are blown around by winds, while, one level lower, the gluttonous wallow in a mire. Gluttons need to keep low in the muck, since Cerberus (a three headed dog) roves the joint looking for sinners to chew on. I was surprised that adultery gets a relatively minor penalty when compared to taking too many second helpings. Perjaps they were anticipating Martin Luther?

Those who committed violence against their neighbors hang out in a river of boiling blood. Sounds like a recipe for czerninia, eh?

Flatterers are thrown into a giant outhouse pit. Something about the obsequious in filth is wonderful. When an old acquaintance of Dante’s surfaces to talk, Dante is horrified by the dried crap caked on his face. I don’t know how Hell, Inc. does this, since no one eats in hell. They must import the waste from a feedlot.

Crooked popes are placed head down in holes while their feet constantly burn. If you keep the pointy hat on, you could probably use a drill to install them. That’d be cool, heh, heh.

Crooked public officials are dropped in a pit of boiling pitch. If they stick up their head, a demon picks them up with a hook and tosses them back in. Dante gets to see an old friend get that treatment.

Thieves turn into giant reptiles and live in a pit. Cool! Dinosaurs!

Dante comes to the sad realization that almost everyone he knew in positions of authority in his beloved Tuscany appears to be in Hell.

“Sowers of Discord” are constantly being cut to pieces with swords. Possibly George Washington would have fit into this category, since he sewed discord among formally loyal British subject. Maybe God doesn’t love America more than everyone else. Nah, couldn’t be.

Traitors are frozen up to the neck in ice. If you’re a traitor, you need to be careful, because if your hole is set too close to another hole, you may find your neighbor eating your brain. I hate when that happens. Dante didn’t find that too amusing either. Virgil didn’t seem to care. Actually Virgil doesn’t seem to care about much. Maybe 1,000 years in Limbo makes you mellow.

I am plodding through Purgatory, which seems richer in allegory but leaner in theatrical entertainment. I have “Paradise Lost” on order form Amazon, so the Christian allegorapalooza will continue.

Oh, I forgot to mention… I can’t even imagine how anyone believes this crap.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. And if you say otherwise, t’hell wittya.

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