I’ve never read Dante’s Divine Comedy before so as I thought I would blog my first experience of it. At the outset, I should warn you not to expect any serious literary analysis. These posts are likely to be more on the whimsical side than not. I want simply to enjoy what I read rather than look more deeply into it. Of course, if you have any comments to make along the way then do feel free to do so in the comments section.
I’m reading the Penguin Classics (2006) edition of Inferno (translated by Robin Kirkpatrick). When I took it out of the library yesterday, I read the first canto in a Knightsbridge pub. This is not my usual habit with new books. Yesterday (8th December) was the Solemnity of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, so I was there to have a beer and bite prior to crossing the road and attending Mass at the London Oratory.
In that pub, then, I sat at a confluence of realities: Advent, the Blessed Virgin Mary’s sinlessness and Dante’s version of hell.
Fortunately for Dante (and I hope this is so in [after]life as in the book) he is not alone. In canto 1, he meets the Roman poet Virgil who offers to guide him through hell. It’s true that before then, Dante finds himself in a rather alarming sounding wood (it is ‘a wilderness, savage, brute, harsh and wild’ l.5) and meets a hungry leopard but the pleasantness of my beer (St Edmund’s, brewed by Greene King) more than compensated for that.
The canto ends on a rather rum note. Virgil tells Dante that he’ll guide him through hell until they reach a place where ‘a soul will come [who is] far worthier than me.’ (l.122). The reason for Virgil’s unworthiness is that
Reigning on high, there is an Emperor
who, since I was a rebel to His law,
will not allow His city as my goal.
The Emperor is God. His city is heaven. It seems rather unfair that God takes exception to Virgil since he did die in 19 B.C., several years before Jesus was ever born let alone began His great mission. I don’t know a great deal about Virgil’s life; perhaps he was an unpleasant person by the standards of his time. Even so, though, there’s a good reason why the Church declares someone to be a saint and never in hell.