Monday, March 12, 2007

Dante's Inferno - "The Divine Comedy"

A few months ago I found a book from Matthew Pearl called "The Dante Club" while wandering around my usual book store.

I thought «well, that's something different... maybe I'll enjoy this 'Dante's Hell'-like murdering stuff somewhat»...
I was bored about the type of books I usually find and I kind of liked it! A little bit too "literary" and not very easy to read but enjoyable.

Anyway... this isn't supposed to be a book review so I'm missing the subject.

Although I haven't finished reading it yet I was rather curious about the contents of Dante Alighieri's "Divine Comedy", wich is used as a reference for the book's gruesome murders.
Since I even read a bit of Sir Thomas More "Utopia" («De Optimo Reipublicae Statu deque Nova Insula Utopia» in it's original Italian (?) title) no harm would be done to make some research about Dante's "Divine Comedy".

Dante's "Divine Comedy" was originally written in Italian, in the Middle Ages (between 1308 and 1321).
It is composed of 3 canticles, each one with 33 cantos:
  • Inferno (Hell), which represents Sin
  • Purgatorio (Purgatory) , which represents Penitence
  • Paradiso (Paradise), which represents Salvation
The hero in the book - Dante himself - travels through those three realms of the dead with 2 guides:
  • Latin poet Virgil - author of the Aeneid - guides him through Hell and the Purgatory
  • Beatrice Portinari - Dante's childhood love - is his guide through Paradise (as Virgil, being a pagan, cannot enter Paradise). She is also the personification of beatific love.
The poem starts in Good Friday (1300) with Dante close to suicide (as most interpretations state) and surrounded by the beasts of sin - lion, leopard and she-wolf - when Virgil came to him.
"Abandon all hope, you who enter here"

In the shores of the Acheron, before entering the gates of Hell, he finds souls that are not in Hell nor in Heaven - the Opportunists (people who did nothing in life) and the Outcasts - stinged by wasps and hornets (that symbolize the sting of the conscience), and surrounded by maggots who drink their blood (symbolizing the pestilence of sin).

The souls in Hell are those who justify their sins and have knowledge of the Past and the Future but not of the Present - therefore... they know nothing as time stops after Judgement Day.

Hell has 9 concentric circles, each one being successively more evil than the outer one.

The innermost circle is where Satan is. Each circle has it's punishment.

Satan is in the center of Hell, with a black, a red and a yellow face chewing traitors - Brutus, Cassius and Judas Iscariot - a giant beast deep covered in ice, weeping and beating its wings trying to escape - but instead ensuring its imprisonment.
The 9 Circles Of Hell
  1. «Limbo» - home of the unbaptized and the virtuous pagans - which only sinned for not recognizing Christ.
  2. Souls possessed by lust are punished here being blown about to and fro by a violent storm (symbolizing e power of lust to blow one about needlessly and aimlessly).
  3. Here the gluttons are guarded by Cerberus, forced to lie in the mud in the violent rain eating their excrements.
  4. In this circle are punished the avaricious and the prodigal, whose concern for material goods deviated from the desired mean. They are guarded by Plutus, pushing heavy weights against each other over and over again.
  5. Here those consumed by wrath fight each other in the muddy river Styx, while the ones who are consumed by sloth lie beneath the water.
  6. The Heretics are here, trapped in flaming tombs.
  7. Here, the Minotaur guard the violent. It is divided in 3 rings:
    1. The Centaurs, commanded by Chiron, patrol the river of boiling blood (Phlegethon) in which are submersed the violent against people and property
    2. The people who commited suicide are thorny trees in this circle torn at by the Harpies. The profligates - who destroyed their lives by destroying money and property - are chased by raging dogs.
    3. Here are the blasphemers, the sodomites and the usurers, in a desert of flaming sand in a rain of fiery flakes.
  8. «Malebolge» - The punished here are the fraudulent, divided into 10 ditches:
    1. Panderers and seducers - whipped by deamons walking in opposite directions
    2. Flatterers are steeped in human excrement
    3. Those who committed simony are placed head-first in holes in the rock, with flames burning on the soles of their feet
    4. Sorcerers and false prophets have their heads twisted around on their bodies backward, so they can only see what is behind them
    5. Corrupt politicians (barrators) are immersed in a lake of boiling pitch, guarded by devils, the Malebranche
    6. the Hypocrites walk along wearing gold-gilded lead cloaks
    7. Thieves, guarded by Cacus, are pursued and bitten by snakes, which makes them resurrecte after being turned to ashes, mutate into new creatures, or become that chase the other thieves
    8. Fraudulent advisors are encased in individual flames
    9. A sword-wielding devil hacks at the sowers of discord, as wounds heal the devil tears apart their bodies again
    10. Groups of various sorts of falsifiers (alchemists, counterfeiters, perjurers, and impersonators) are afflicted with different types of diseases
  9. Traitors are frozen in a lake of ice - Cocytus. The circle is divided into 4 concentric zones:
    1. Caïna, named for Cain, is home to traitors to their kindred
    2. Antenora is named for Antenor of Troy, traitors to political entities, such as party, city, or country, are located here
    3. Ptolomæa is probably named for Ptolemy, the captain of Jericho, who invited Simon Maccabaeus and his sons to a banquet and there killed them. Traitors to their guests are punished here
    4. Judecca is for traitors to their lords and benefactors. All of the sinners punished within are completely encapsulated in ice, distorted to all conceivable positions

"... wash you those wounds within"

Mount Purgatory is located on an island guarded by Cato.
On the slopes of the mountain are (from the bottom to the top):
  1. the excommunicates - waiting for a period 30 times as long as their contumacy
  2. Those who only repented shortly before death
  3. Those who suffered violent deaths due to sinful lifes
The Purgatory has 7 terraces - purging each one of the 7 deadly sins - which function as a honors system, leading souls to ascend into God and Heaven:
  1. «Pride» - purged by carrying giant stones unable to stand straight (symbolyzing the weight of pride on the soul).
  2. «Envy» - purged by sewing the eyes shut and wearing cloth indistinguishable from the ground - God is a falconer who teachs the blinded souls not to envy others
  3. «Wrath» - purged by walking around in acrid smoke - symbol of how this sin blind the vision.
  4. «Sloth» - purged by continuously running - thus being zealous in their desire for petinence
  5. «Avarice» - purged by laying face down on the ground unable to move - representing excessive concern for earthly things
  6. «Glutony» - purged by abstinence from any food or drink. They are forced to pass by cascades of cool water without being able to drink.
  7. «Lust» - purged by burning in a wall of flames, being purified by the fire
At the summit there's the Garden of Eden, that returns one to the innocence that existed before the sin of Adam and Eve.
Dante meets Beatrice here, as Virgil vanishes because his pagan nature does not allow him to enter Heaven.

He drinks from Lethe - which causes the soul to forget past sins - and from Eunoë - renews the memories good deeds.
The 9 spheres of Heaven are concentrical and respect a certain hierachy of Love.
Although all levels are accessible to all the souls, there are different states of spiritual development that restricts what each soul can experience - determined by only the soul's proximity to God.
  1. «Moon» - home of the souls that abandoned their sacred vows.
  2. «Mercury» - home for those who did good for fame
  3. «Venus» - home for those who did good for love
  4. «Sun» - home of the souls of the wise
  5. «Mars» - home of the souls who fought for Christianity. They form a huge cross.
  6. «Jupiter» - home of those who personified justice
  7. «Saturn» - home of the contemplative, such as monks
  8. «Fixed Stars» - home of the blessed, where Dante is tested on faith, hope and love.
  9. «Primum Mobile» - the home of the angels
Beatrice leaves Dante, who is allowed to see Jesus and Mary. From here he ascends to something out of physical existence, where he faces God - 3 circles representing The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit - and gathers the understanding of the Divine and of human nature.
If you would like to know more about this work and all its significance in politics, arts and moral values, the best article I found was on Wikipedia.

There is a very good description and a English translation of the work in this site - "The Inferno of Dante Alighieri", A Rhymed Translation by Seth Zimmerman.

The Italian text and its translation into English, along with an deep analysis of the work's symbolism can be found in the Princeton Dante Project.

The Dartmouth Dante Project features several commentaries in Italian, Latin and English ,from 1322 to 2000.

A diagram of the punishments and circles of the inferno can be found here: The Inferno.

A picture gallery inspired by Dante: An Artist's Journey Through The Divine Comedy.

A stake through Milosevic's heart

The latest edition of the "Sunday Herald" features a rather bizarre story.

It seems that Serbian vampire hunters had made a "vampire killing" ritual on the former dictator Milosevic dead body to prevent him form returning from the dead.

You can read it all about this crazy event here: Vampire slayer impales Milosevic to stop return.

Maybe we should do it to all of those who were on "death row"... Just in case...