Sincerely, Satan: The Genius of Dante
There's no better way to end Book Bug-ween than by reading about the scariest topic ever conceived within the giant soup bowl of mankind's collective consciousness. And what is this ball-chillingly topic of which I speak? Hell, of course.
Although many would claim that they experience this every time they go to Wal-Mart, I'm thinking about the spiritual concept of Hell. You know, as in damnation. Utter separation from the Ultimate Good. Torture, flames, screams, and grinding of teeth. All that awesome stuff. So why wait? Let dive right in and talk about Dante's Inferno.
Enjoy the nuts and bolts
What's funny to me is how some people dismiss Dante as a “religious nut” because his work is laden with theological themes and heavily colored by his Catholicism. In fact, I once heard someone label him as a “psychopath.”
Aside from the fact that the eccentricity or “nuts” level of any famous author has never prevented their works from being good, this is just an annoying thing to say. On the flip side, that's like me scoffing at Nietzsche; I mean, he's totally bias towards atheism, right, so what on earth could I ever learn from HIM?
An author's background can help you understand the “why” of their work, but it shouldn't determine the “what,” namely, the value of the work as a whole. Dante's Inferno deserves mucho respect not only because of its linguistic grace, but because it is quite simply creative as hell (couldn't resist that one).
The punishments he cooks up for the damned are some of the most perfectly orchestrated examples of literary irony I've ever read. Frankly, who cares if they're “politically incorrect” or “insensitive” or “intolerant” by modern standards? They're freaking brilliant. Period.
Dante starts out by making the punishments pretty obvious. For example, he's got the Lustful blowing around in an endless wind, symbolic of the way their idle passions carried them through life, while the Gluttons are rolling around in the mud like pigs. It's only when you get to the lower levels that you have to really look for—and consequently grow appreciative of—the justice of the punishments.
I mean, take a close look at the 7th level, which is pretty low on the totem pole (there's only 9 levels, after all). This circle is for the “Violent,” but it's divided into multiple categories, one being the “Wood of the Suicides.” And what are these people doing? Just hanging out. 'Cuz they can't do anything else. 'Cuz they're trees.
The Pilgrim gets a rather unpleasant shock when he breaks off a branch and has one of them scream at him. (I mean, unless you're starring in a Tim Burton movie, such behavior is hardly the norm for a tree). But it doesn't stop there.
In addition to being stuck as moldy bark for the rest of eternity, these souls get to be picked at by harpies, who swoop in from the sky whenever they feel like it and gouge them with their vicious lady claws. Tough break.
Why exactly did Dante choose such a punishment? Well, according to Virgil, there are three ways to commit a sin of violence: one can do so against God, himself, or others. These people obviously fall into the second category, and furthermore, it's important to note that the people in this circle aren't tragically mislead victims of cultural pressure or the result of mental illness.
No, they are those who committed suicide in order to make a showy statement, whether political or otherwise. They took what wasn't there's to take for selfish reasons. Ergo, they get to spend eternity as an inanimate object, since that's how they treated their own bodies.
Why trees, though? Perhaps it's an ode to the old Genesis story; there was a tree of death in that, too, so these people have literally become a solid personification of the fall of man. Or maybe Dante just thought it was cool. But see how it sparks debate? You really have to think about it, and the more you think about it, the more you can appreciate both the irony and the creativity.
When does YOUR journey through hell begin?
Even if you're not a “poetry” person—and I'm not either—this little piece will work for you. It will delight you in the darkest of ways. Especially if you have a twisted sense of humor.
I mean, let's be real: we're interested in damnation here and the awesome ways in which we can describe it. So never fear. Dante will plunge you straight into the realm of fire and brimstone, and trust me when I say that you'll love every minute of it.