So one of the other unread classics I got from the library this summer was The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri.
I did not have anywhere near the same allergic reaction to it that I had to Milton’s Paradise Lost. That thing had such a boring and mean god, plus considerable misogyny, and it was so outdated in terms of its thinking, that I literally could not finish it. I was totally unable to see the beauty that previous generations claimed to have seen there.
The Divine Comedy is actually funny enough to provoke a laugh now and again. Dante really got even with lots of his enemies from throughout Italy and Europe by caricaturing them in his Comedy. And the level of hell where the Popes who were easily bought and sold were stuffed into tubes head first was written quite wittily.
It is also – as Paradise Lost was – stuffed with classical allusions to gods, goddesses and ancient history, and so provides a fairly good education at that level. The John Ciardi translation I read was full of great poetry and rhythm.
The detail of each of the many variations and groups on each level of hell, purgatory and heaven was amazing. Dante’s creativity and inventiveness are superb. The punishments in hell, in particular, are made so to fit each minute variation in types of sin.
But since I know there is no hell, no satan, no such punishments – and since no ‘god’ I would talk to would countenance blaming pagans born before Christ for not following Christ, it began to feel repetitive and tedious. It got a little better once we were out of hell and into purgatory – but still – all that minutiae. No optimism, little joy – and the need to sit and adore someone for eternity. Plus the ego needs of a creator who would require that – it makes so little sense to me that I can no longer comprehend it at all.
The last Cantos were so soaring and full of love – the various Apostles speaking, Dante and Beatrice speaking to each other, the descriptions of Christ’s radiance – ahhh, what a sensuous pleasure. Almost made up for the rest of it.