Richards Review’s-The Divine Comedy

Richard Anthony Morris is a 28 year old man about to embark on a 2 year expedition with a rough and ready crew. To search the Himalayas for the Off switch to his sexiness. So that, at long last, he may go back to wearing regular shirts, be allowed back to Milan, New York and Japan. And most importantly, no longer be too sexy for his hat.

There are many reasons to pick up and commit to reading a classic of modern literature. Maybe you’re curious, maybe a friend recommended it or maybe you’re bored. What most people don’t do, and what I did on this one occasion, was to read a literary classic out of spite. Which, in my defence, the whole thing started out as a bet, sort of.

This is how I started reading ‘The Divine Comedy’ by Dante Alighieri.

“I think you’ll find that you’re wrong.” This is me, drunk; confident I knew a book (I had yet to read) end to end.

“Seriously, Cerberus is in The Divine Comedy! I saw it in the game!” As far as I was aware, The Divine Comedy, written by a Christian about Hell, Purgatory and Heaven wouldn’t randomly jam in some Greek mythology. Now, if I had performed a quick online search or even looked at the first few pages I would have seen that I was wrong and that Cerberus was indeed a guardian of Hell. I would have saved myself a lot of time, but, instead, I said the following.

“I’m going to read it to prove you wrong!”

By the time I had read through Inferno, the first of the three parts of The Divine Comedy and had found Cerberus. The guy had completely forgotten about the initial conversation. I couldn’t just give up on the book now that I started and thus began a long part of my life as I fought my way through a book I didn’t even want to read in the first place.

At the start of The Divine Comedy we find our Dante deep in a forest just before Good Friday with Dante providing first person narrative throughout the piece.

“In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straightway was lost. Ah, how hard a thing it is to tell what a wild, and rough, and stubborn wood this was, which in my thought renews the fear!”

While deep in the forest Dante encounters three beasts that block his way. His path interrupted, he is then guided by the ghost of Virgil the poet. Virgil then takes Dante on a spiritual journey, where he must travel through Hell, Purgatory and finally Heaven.

The forest can be seen as a life of sin, or an embodiment of sin itself. The forest (much like sin) is dark, overbearing and difficult to navigate or free oneself from. The straightway mentioned in the first canto of the poem represents not only a path away from sin but the correct path to lead one’s life in general. It is only when Dante takes the path shown to him by Virgil (a spirit guide if you will) that he can free himself from sin, albeit by confronting every sin and demon (personal and literal) imaginable along the way.

“And he sounded a trumpet call from his arse-hole.”
INFERNO / CANTO XXI / LINE 139 / C. H. SISSON TRANSLATION

The above line did make me laugh far more than was necessary.

I don’t know what this says about me, but I personally enjoyed Inferno the most out of the entire book. It had interesting characters and far more dramatic tension than Purgatory and Paradise.

I know this is going to sound like a joke but I personally found Purgatory pretty boring. It’s also where Virgil, my favourite character throughout the book takes his leave. He cannot ascend any higher than the top of Mount Purgatory and thus hands Dante to Beatrice. I never got along with Beatrice; throughout the book Dante (and the reader) would need explanations of what he was seeing and Virgil, most times, and with great patience acquiesced to Dante’s curiosity.

We don’t get the same courtesy from Beatrice.

“You are making yourself stupid by imagining what isn’t, so that you do not see what you would if you could shake that off.”

I just didn’t get along with her, which made Paradise last longer than was really necessary.

I own the Oxford World Classics C. H. Sisson translation which came with a bunch of handy notes and even maps of Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise. And I would say notes are essential. And though this particular translation doesn’t rhyme it’s still very readable. Though to have it rhyme would have been very agreeable.

Would I suggest ‘The Divine Comedy’? I’m honestly not sure. I would definitely suggest reading Inferno. But the rest of it seems like an uphill struggle. Read Inferno, enjoy it and look at the synopsis for Purgatory and Paradise.

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