Posts Tagged ‘The Divine Comedy’
October 21, 2013 | by Alexander Aciman
I am writing this from the lobby of the Ace Hotel in New York; as I ascend from the basement with Dante under my arm, I see the following text printed on the stairs: EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT. This inscription offers an appropriate contrast to the opening of the third canto, which gives us the famous line written above the gates of hell, a line so famous that many know it well without knowing exactly who wrote it: ABANDON ALL HOPE, YOU WHO ENTER HERE. And just like the inscription in hell, these words too are written in the hotel’s neo-Victorian “dark hue.” But whether or not Dante knows it, he and I are essentially reading the same sentence—as chilling as the inscription is, the words in canto 3 ultimately do not apply to the man who travels beside Virgil.
Canto 3 is our first real contact with hell. As Dante approaches, he is accosted by the sounds of sinners waiting to cross the Acheron—the river that acts as a sort of foyer to the inferno. Charon, the ferryman, refuses at first to take Dante across. Virgil insists, and offers Dante little comfort or advice as they cross over. Read More »
October 14, 2013 | by Alexander Aciman
It’s called a remix. That’s how this segment begins. It’s a living pastiche, a breathing exercise in allusion and homage. Every scholar seems to agree that the opening lines of this canto are Virgilian, but none know exactly which passage Dante is imitating. And that’s probably because Dante isn’t imitating a particular passage, but is simply borrowing his style; it’s Virgil re-invented—Virgil’s flow, but freestyle and on the fly, and in a completely different language. The simple fact that Dante can invoke Virgil so effortlessly not only points to a certain aptitude for getting into Virgil’s bones, but even suggests that Dante knows Virgil’s poetry better than Virgil probably knew it himself.
This canto is all about due diligence. Dante uses it to make sure that any leftover confusion from the first is settled. Virgil still has a lot of explaining to do, and so while nothing really happens to advance the story, it’s an important episode for the benefit of the story. We learn about Dante’s apprehensions about going through Hell (Won’t it be really, really scary? Will there be monsters?), and we are explained what the hell exactly Virgil (who died basically like a bajillion years before this story is set) is doing in the same forest as Dante. In this passage, you also get a crash course in Aeneas’s family tree, and realize that if you’ve ever read Joyce before Dante, you were very unprepared. Read More »