A quick update on our latest Roomie Reading Challenge. This time around Katie and I are tackling Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. The poem is broken up into 3 sections – Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. Each section is divided into a series of cantos, shorter poems within the larger structure of Dante’s journey through the afterlife.
We are reading the Wordsworth Classics of World Literature edition, translated and with notes by Henry Francis Cary. Including the introduction, preface, timeline, bibliography, footnotes, and extra notes, the book comes in at a pretty hefty 566 pages. When we do these types of challenges, we read everything.
Katie and I started the challenge on Friday, May 15th. We’ve both made it through Inferno and are making good progress through Purgatorio. Many people are fairly familiar with the 9 circles of Hell that Dante envisions, the Inferno portion of the story, thanks to reading it in English courses or playing the video games based on it (Dante’s Inferno and Devil May Cry). There are also plenty of books, movies, and songs that reference it. Somewhat less familiar are the Purgatorio and Paradiso sections of the story.
As of this post, Katie is on page 251 to my page 204. That puts her in Canto 24 of Purgatorio, while I’m a bit further back in Canto 13. She may have this one, as Dante is especially great at putting me to sleep.
So far there are some interesting portions, especially the descriptions of the types of sinners damned to the various circles of Hell, along with the types of punishments with which they are tormented. Particularly memorable for me is the punishment of snakes. I don’t remember the type of sin, but I do remember the snakes binding the sinner in place, squeezing, and then striking the neck so that the sinner bursts into ashes and is reborn to torment all over again. Sort of like a Phoenix, but terrifying.
Mostly though, as with any sort of classic that was written so, so long ago, the language and style can be hard to read and understand. Maybe we are just reading a bad translation? Thankfully, our edition has a short paragraph at the beginning of each canto explaining what’s about to happen.
Did you know?
- Dante Alighieri was born in Florence, Italy in 1265.
- The Divine Comedy was originally simply titled Comedy.
- The Divine Comedy was written while Dante was in exile, between 1302 and 1320.
- Dante isn’t afraid to name-drop in his work – the poet Virgil is his guide and he meets many famous faces from both history and legend.
- Recognize this phrase? “All hope abandon, ye who enter here” – yep, Dante said it first!
- According to this New Yorker article, there are at least 100 English translations of the Divine Comedy, some more faithful than others.