Finished the Divine Comedy

Every so often I’ll see a little clip or summary of some work that will evoke some sort of deep interest in me, and not merely grab my attention. Somehow from that small bit of information I know this will be a work I’ll appreciate, and I am usually right. Such was the case for the Divine Comedy by Dante. As soon as I learned what it was about I pretty much had to read it someday.

It’s really tough reading, however, and I didn’t finish my first couple attempts at it. I finally got a good verse translation (I can’t stand prose translations) to read on my Amazon Kindle (John Ciardi), which is not to say it was any easier reading. But this time I pushed through. (This was facilitated, in part, by my car being out of order for three months. I had plenty of reading time busing to work every day.)

I don’t think the overall style of the poem could match me better. Pretty much everything in it was something I enjoyed. The structured, well-thought-out hierarchy of the world, the breadth of cultural allusions (although all the Florentine allusions were a bit too much), the allusions to science and astronomy, the fantastic imagery, and a lot of deep symbolism (about half of which I missed, and the other half I was only alerted to by footnotes). It lacked some of the annoyances many poems have, like wailing self-pity (except for one small part in Earthly Paradise).

But my favorite aspect of the poem was Dante’s willingness to break form. In fact, it seemed like he broke form an optimal number of times, just enough so that one couldn’t make any sort of sweeping generalizations. Every location he went was like the other locations, yet unique in its own way. This gave the poem an uncanny aura of realism in spite of the fantastic setting.

My favorite such diversion happened in Purgatorio, on the terrace where the Saved souls did their pennance for Sloth. Throughout the poem, Dante and his guide (Virgil or Beatrice) would stop to talk with the people wherever they went, and those people generally had a lot to say. But when Dante arrived at the Terrace of Sloth, the souls didn’t stay to talk, since their pennance was to run around the terrance non-stop. The souls would only run by, identify themselves, and run off. So, Dante and Virgil spent their time on that terrance talking between themselves. Dante the Poet wasn’t afraid to break the form of his story, even though talking to people in the next world was one of the most important aspects of the story.

All in all a very good read. If you’re in a mood for some really tough reading I highly recommend it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Frontier Theme