Posts Tagged ‘The Divine Comedy’
February 24, 2014 | by Alexander Aciman
Canto 18 is perhaps the unsung workhorse of the Inferno—at only 136 lines, it is filled to the brim with political commentary, mythology, personal attacks, and feces. There’s a distinct energy in the way this canto is written; even the obligatory geographical descriptions feel alive, and Dante, when he sets the scene, uses the word new: new suffering, “new torments,” “new scourgers.” In short, this is a sort of broad-spectrum dis track that deals with two different kinds of sinners: the panderers/seducers and the flatterers.
After Dante and Virgil get off Geryon’s back, they end up in the eighth circle of hell. (The seventh really dragged on, didn’t it?) This is Malebolge, where sinners are made to run through a series of ditches; if they slow down, demons descend to flog them. As grim as this might sound—running naked through a ditch in hell, being whipped by demons—Dante uses the occasion to showcase his wit. “How they made them pick their heels up / at the first stroke! You may be certain no one waited for a second or a third.”
Dante meets Venedico of Bologna—a sinner, and as such, not exactly a model human being. (He sold off his sister.) Venedico identifies himself and his fellow Bolognese as those who use the word sipa to mean yes in their dialect. (Dante frequently uses this sort of indirect revelation, especially when it comes to hometowns. Francesca, for example, doesn’t say she is from Rimini, but she says she is from where the river Po slows down. Using a linguistic idiosyncrasy as a form of ID is classic Dante.) Venedico’s words suggest this is precisely the sort of thing one can expect from a Bolognese: “I’m not the only Bolognese here … this place is so crammed with them,” he says. Read More »
February 17, 2014 | by Alexander Aciman
A transcript from the Dante’s Inferno writers’ room.
Executive Producer: Did everyone get the canto 17 draft Dante sent around?
Writer One: Oh, where do I even start? It’s pretentious, it’s dry, it’s incomprehensible. When it opens, we’re in the third ring of the seventh circle. There’s a serpentine monster the guys meet, but instead of checking it out or slaying it or whatever, Dante forges ahead and talks to some usurer guy who’s wearing a giant bag under his chin. He’s not too chatty, so then the focus turns back to the monster—
Executive Producer: Does the monster have a name?
Writer Two: Geryon.
Executive Producer (mulling this over): That’s a good name.
Writer One: Yeah, but then it gets ridiculous. Virgil and Dante ride on the monster’s back like they’re in Disney World.
Writer Two: Well, they’re in hell. Pretty close. Maybe we can get marketing to pitch a Geryon ride somewhere. Read More »
February 3, 2014 | by Alexander Aciman
At this point in The Inferno, as Dante continues to test, stretch, and deplete Virgil’s patience, let us imagine for a moment what Virgil might say given the opportunity to write a performance review for the pilgrim.
Pilgrim name: Dante Alighieri
Occupation: Poet/expert stalker/political commentator (fascist?)
Age: Roughly halfway through the journey of his life
Dante has done well on this divine quest so far, especially considering the fact that I found him lost in a forest not long ago. When we reached the end of this most recent section of Hell, Dante confessed that he’d intended to use a belt to fight off the leopard I saved him from—it’s safe to say that he has made considerable progress since he first came on.
I still worry about him, however. He seems to listen to me almost blindly—I’m fairly certain that if I told him to jump off a bridge, he might actually do it. He can’t think for himself, and he’s not exactly a self-starter; he has middle management written all over him. He’d make a great lifelong employee, though I recommend putting him through purgatory before sending him up high. He still has a lot to learn. Read More »
January 13, 2014 | by Alexander Aciman
Once again we find ourselves lost in a dark wood. Dante notes that in this forest there is no actual greenery. (This is hell, after all. Where does he think he is, the New York Botanical Garden?)
As Dante and Virgil pass through the woods, the Roman tells his disciple that what they are about to witness is unthinkable. Virgil, seeing that Dante can hear screaming but cannot tell where the sounds are coming from, tells him to tear a twig from one of the thorny bushes; the moment in which Dante finally removes the twig is one of the most memorable in all of literature. Blood pours from the tree, and a pained, hissing voice cries: Perché mi schiante? Perché mi scerpi? Why do you break me, why do you tear me? The voice belongs to Pier delle Vigne, chancellor to Frederick II, the Holy Roman Emperor. Virgil asks Pier to tell his story so that Dante can “revive his fame” up in the living world. Pier’s story is as tragic as the moment in which he loses one of his twigs. He was loyal to Frederick, and was later accused of stealing from him. Not long after his imprisonment, Pier killed himself.
This ring in which Dante finds himself is the realm of the suicides, who, ungrateful for their bodies on earth, are deprived of flesh in hell. Read More »
January 6, 2014 | by Alexander Aciman
To whom it may concern:
For the last several months my child has been watching the program The Inferno. I’ve had concerns about the moral integrity of this show since the beginning, but a recent episode, “Canto 12: Dante with a Vengeance” is perhaps the worst of it. The episode, which I heard about from my son and then felt concerned enough to watch myself, begins as the two main characters meet a Minotaur. I’m not trying to have my son indoctrinated with pagan dogma. I mean, what is this? I’ll let my son watch a show about talking vegetables so long as they’re telling the stories of Christ, but there’s something so frighteningly glib about the mythological image of a Minotaur being placed in front of children. Is no one worried about the future of American youth? And while we’re on it, let’s talk about these Virgil and Dante fellows. There’s something going on there, and I can tell you exactly what: sin.
But it gets worse. As the two sodomites (let’s call them what they are) travel past the creature, they’re surrounded by a series of centaurs. And I’ll tell you the exact same thing I told the executives at Warner Brothers when the fifth Harry Potter film had a scene with centaurs. The centaur is obviously a product of sin. And animal cruelty.
Allow me to set my faith aside for a minute, because the worst of The Inferno is not in its hunger for blasphemy. This is the work of a very, very sick mind. “Canto 12” prominently features a river of boiling blood in which the sinners are confined. Should they pop their heads too high, the centaurs pelt them with arrows. The whole scene is very graphic, and the blood looks very real. How do you even come up with that? Read More »
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 »