The Inferno by Dante Alighieri
Translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Introduction and Notes by Peter Bondanella
Genre: Epic Poetry
Written between 1308 and 1321 this Barnes and Noble Classics edition published in 2003
Recommended Age Group: Adult
Summary: Dante goes for a walk in a forest and gets lost then is blocked by various animals. Virgil meets him in the forest and tells Dante that he is going to be his tour guide through Hell. Dante’s hell is divided into nine circles with a few subsets in the last three. It is shaped like an upside-down cone with the center being Lucifer and thus the most evil the center is located in the center of the earth. There are also four rivers, an abyss, a city, and a well.
In the First circle Dante puts those who lived a basically good life but who were not baptized. Included in the circle are Homer, Virgil, and other classic poets that Dante admires. The second circle is for those who committed Lust; third for gluttony; fourth for avarice and prodigality; fifth for wrath; sixth for heresy; and the seventh for violence against others, self, or God. The eighth circle is called Malebolge and is divided into ten chambers and deals with those who committed fraud. In this circle Dante places Pope Nicholas the Fifth and writes about the sins he and other pontiffs committed. Ulysses is also placed in the eighth circle of hell. The ninth and final circle of Hell is for those who are guilty of Treachery against kin, country, guest, or benefactor. This is the circle for Judas Iscariot and those like him. Dante and Virgil leave Hell by a secret passage way and end up on the other side of the world able to once again view the stars.
Personal Notes: I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I wonder what that says about me that I liked a book about hell and suffering but it was really good. The language was a big hard to get into. It is epic poetry so long and a bit obscure but more than that it’s translated so it doesn’t read like English prose anyway. After I got past auto-correcting the sentence structure I had a great experience. Dante is so imaginative in his writing and the punishments that he comes up with for people. It was also interesting to see whom he put in hell.
This edition was amazingly helpful. The introduction, although too long to read in one sitting, was so good that I went back to it again and again for help. It had information about the life of Dante, where he got ideas for The Divine Comedy, summaries of the cantos, and a map of hell. The notes in the back where also helpful at explaining things that were obscure to me.
Not being Catholic I was unaware how much of this was based on beliefs that Dante learned from church. The introduction by Peter Bondanella says, “Church Doctrine in Dante’s time (as today) holds that Hell’s function is to punish for eternity human souls who died in mortal sin without a sincere confession of their faults that expresses repentance for their misdeeds. These miscreants do not qualify for the purifying punishments of Purgatory, where souls who do not die in mortal sin escape eternal damnation and suffer temporary expiation before receiving their blissful reward in Paradise.” So this means that the basic idea of Dante’s Hell is in accordance with doctrine but he takes it beyond what the church has stated is true. Bondanella goes on to say that the Church viewed Hell as a place to separate the evil people from the good and there are no set punishments.
Bondanella also said that Dante wants his reader to believe that this is an actual journey taken not just a story he wrote. He’s trying to awaken people to the nature of Hell perhaps in an effort to get them to change their lives.