Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dante's Inferno (Translated by John Ciardi)

Nothing is more chilling to the bone than a story about one’s descent to hell and back. Dante’s Inferno is just that. Scary, riveting, revealing, intriguing, and appealing to the human condition, Dante takes the reader on a luxury tour of hell with the ancient poet Virgil as his [our] tour guide. He tells all about the gruesome and horrific punishments that lie ahead for the future damned. Each punishment has its own “ring” of hell. The rings, in order of least sinful to most sinful, are: Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Anger, Heresy, Violence, Fraud, and Treachery. What is interesting about each of these rings is the punishment is the most ironic thing that could be, not necessarily the most painful. For example, gluttons are forced to eating their own waste for eternity, where as the greedy are continually singed by molten gold they try to grab with their hands, etc… Although he shows the world how scary and ironic God can be, Dante’s main purpose in writing the novel lies in the portrayal of Dante’s modern day characters. Most of the characters Dante encounter in hell are either famous sinners, or politicians of the time that Dante did not particularly like. He displays them suffering the wrath of God and their own sins only to embarrass them. From Dante’s beautifully crafted word working (it is a poem, and not a novel after all) to his ironic hell, Dante’s Inferno is a great read and I recommend it to anyone and everyone who is willing and able to understand its literary value.

Discussion questions:

1. What sin do you believe should have the worst kind of punishments: sins of the flesh (physical sins, lust, gluttony, greed, violence), or the sacrilegious sins (sins against God, lying, working against the salvation of souls)?

2. What is the most ironic punishment you can think of for any of the nine rings of hell?

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