I feel like this week is a week for books I’ve read that I recognize I need to reread: first Blake, and now Dante. But isn’t that point of reading the classic masterpieces by magnificent writers like Blake and Dante, that you know you miss something magnificent and will enjoy it all the more on reread?
I had attempted reading Dante in the summer of 2010 and quickly stalled. There were so many footnotes full of unfamiliar details: it was overwhelming. Besides, it hot and sunny outside and medieval poetry was just not sinking in.
Reading Dante’s Inferno (as translated by Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander) this fall went much better. The poetry is amazingly readable, and I found myself reading the footnotes after each canto with interest: rather than trying to grasp the meaning and symbolism behind each person, action, and setting, I just let it wash over me. In one ear and out the other. As such, I missed a lot, but I enjoyed my first full experience with Dante, and now I want to revisit it with more careful reading and understanding at another point, maybe in conjunction with some criticism and explanations.
Dante’s story begins when he’s lost on a hill in a wood. Robert Hollander suggests in the notes that possibly Dante had been suicidal at that point, searching for his place on earth and the purpose of his life. As he flees a lion that blocks his path, the poet Virgil arrives to take him on a special tour of the afterworld. It seems to me that this tour is to give him hope and direction for his own life. As he descends in to hell, he sees the suffering that is the result of wickedness on earth. Life in the Inferno is varied, but all are suffering some gruesome punishment. Because it’s the RIP challenge season (I also read Inferno for Allie’s readalong), it was perfectly morbid. I think I’ll have to revisit Inferno during another fall.
Inferno is the first of the three parts of The Divine Comedy. I have a hard time imagining I’ll read the other two parts before I revisit this one. I want to get it a little more. I even feel a bit silly clicking “post” to this simply because I haven’t told you very much. But, all I feel like I can say now is that I liked it and I want to understand it. Someday I hope I can explain it to myself a little better too.