Posts Tagged ‘The Inferno’
March 10, 2014 | by Alexander Aciman
Dante: I’ve never seen anything like it. The moment we entered the domain of the diviners, I knew right away something was very wrong. Some sick bastard went to town on them. Their bodies were contorted, their heads were twisted back 180 degrees so their tears fell down their asses. It’s the sort of thing nobody should see once. You spend the rest of your career trying to avoid anything like it again. I was almost ruined after that. But Virgil, he was fascinated.
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Virgil: A man in hell surprises even himself. You go down there waiting to get hit with a rush of pity, but it never arrives. No. The first thing that hits you is the great irony of divination. You wonder, are these sinners being punished for lying—for creating the illusion that somehow they were graced with the power of premonition? Or maybe they’re down there because they saw something and decided to reveal whatever improbable truth nobody was supposed to know about until it actually happened? If that’s the case, then they already know what’s going to happen to them. You see, an ordinary sinner holds out in ignorance, thinking that something might change ten, one hundred years down the line. But the diviners know that they can’t leave hell. Is that why they’re weeping? Wouldn’t you weep if suddenly you felt the silence of God and knew He wasn’t going to return?
* * *
Dante: I can’t remember whom we spoke to first. There were a few Thebans, but none of them had anything useful to say. One old man, Amphiaraus, kept giving us some line about how he was sucked down into the earth and dragged to hell when he tried to delay his own death. We figured out pretty quickly that these Thebans were all part of the same cult of seers, led by a blind man named Tiresias.
* * *
Virgil: Tiresias was a distraction, you see. That wasn’t the real story. You hear a big name like Tiresias, and you assume it’s going to tie back to him, but then we found a woman named Manto. Read More »
March 3, 2014 | by Alexander Aciman
By now, you have seen excerpts from last night’s episode of Mr. Alighieri’s The Inferno, Canto 19, in which Dante visits the ditch that punishes simony. We have filed a defamation suit and sent a cease and desist to Dante’s attorney, but there will undoubtedly be a public reaction. Rest assured: our lawyers are going to crucify this guy.
For those of you who are not aware, the segment focuses on Dante and Virgil’s descent through the eighth circle of hell, where Dante enters the realm of simony—which, more or less, covers any form of buying or selling powers or positions in the Church. At this point, we feel it is important to remind you all that any rumors of simony were supposed to have been snuffed out for good this last quarter. It has come to our attention that Dante must be getting his information from within our offices. At this time, any higher-ranking members of the church who happen to be White Guelphs are our prime suspects. We’ve launched an internal investigation, but please be at high alert and keep all information on a need-to-know basis until we have resolved this problem.
As the canto goes on, Dante sees a bunch of feet in the air—sinners buried head-first in the ground, the soles of their feet covered in fire as they are slowly ingested by hell. As he approaches, one buried sinner, Pope Nicholas III, mistakes Dante for another pope, Boniface VIII. Dante then listens to Nicholas confess to simony and describe the way he lined his pockets. Clearly Dante is not our most subtle critic, but we cannot stand idly by as he implies that all our popes are simonists. It’s bad for business. Short of having a pope curse in public, nothing could be more damning. Read More »
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 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 27, 2014 | by Alexander Aciman
As Dante continues to descend through hell, guided by Virgil, I too read with a guide of my own—Robert Hollander, whose annotated edition of the Inferno I’ve been using to write about Dante every week. I’ve read the Hollanders’ notes on Canto 15 many times over, but I still find myself getting lost in it—Dante’s encounter here is unlike any other.
Pulling at the pilgrim’s hem is a scorched, unrecognizable sinner. After a few moments, Dante realizes the man is his old teacher Brunetto Latini, who is now among the sodomites. Siete voi qui, ser Brunetto? Dante asks. Are you here, ser Brunetto? This warm, perhaps even affectionate question is underscored, Hollander explains, by something else: “I think he is also asking ‘Are you, wonderful man, down here among the scum?’” It seems, at first, a tender scene: Dante asks if Brunetto will sit with him, and for the first time we see Dante speaking to a sinner about himself and his journey, not standing idly by as a sinner tells his story. It even seems as if the two are catching up. For this reason, Hollander says, readers and critics are often charmed by this scene, but they never examine the relationship between Dante and Brunetto as carefully as they should. Dante’s treatment of Brunetto is colder than it appears. Read More »
January 20, 2014 | by Alexander Aciman
I’ve received your manuscript for Canto 14 of the Inferno, and I have quite a few notes. The language and poetry of this passage is absolutely magical; a few passages in particular caught my attention, such as “The gloomy forest rings it like a garland,” (line ten), which is such a beautiful way of phrasing it. And the expression “scorn for fire,” on line forty-six, sounds like the title of a Philip Roth novel. You have a good ear for lyricism and your poem is a unique, fascinating glimpse into theology, history, literature, even love. You’re really carving out a niche for yourself in the Italian canon—kudos!
That said, certain parts left me wanting more, and they confused me enough to wonder if you were really trying your hardest. On line forty-three, Dante addresses Virgil by saying, “Master, you who overcome all things—all but the obstinate fiends who sallied forth against us at the threshold of the gate.” This really threw me off. For the whole poem, Dante has been meek, eager to be with Virgil, and here it almost seems as if he’s mocking Virgil. It doesn’t really fit in with the reader’s impression of Dante—which, I hasten to mention, you have spent the last thirteen cantos crafting expertly.
This canto focuses on those who have sinned against God. Their punishment is to have flakes of fire slowly rained down on them (nice touch, by the way—very Sodom and Gomorrah). Our attention is drawn to one sinner who is sitting in the corner brooding, almost without regard for the flakes of fire falling over him; it’s such a magnificent image that I almost expect him to be Hector or Achilles, but instead it’s a small-timer named Capaneus, who goes on to talk about Thebes for a few lines. From what I understand, Capaneus is in hell because after his victory at Thebes, he scorned Jupiter, who in an instant struck him with lightning for blasphemy. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: you need to find a readership and speak to it. Nobody will know who Capaneus is, Dante. You already told the story of an unknown historical figure in the last canto; now it’s time to make a splash. If you want to talk about Thebes, let’s tag in Oedipus himself. Read More »