The Divine Comedy I: Hell
Where's hell disappeared to since Dante?
I read the verse translation into English by Dorothy L. Sayers. Although I found some of the vocabulary a little old-fashioned, I did zip through the 34 cantos, reading the very helpful intros before each one, and the barest minimum from the notes to
I read the verse translation into English by Dorothy L. Sayers. Although I found some of the vocabulary a little old-fashioned, I did zip through the 34 cantos, reading the very helpful intros before each one, and the barest minimum from the notes to make a little sense of the people encountered and the terrible sins they had committed. I briefly tried a prose translation before this version, but found the lack of rhythm and colour a complete turn off.
Concerning the actual content, I very much enjoyed reading the careful description of the geography of the place, following Dante's physical and emotional journey, keeping a respectful distance from stern and steady Virgil, and both pitying and recoiling in horror from the writhing, smothered, frozen, itching, burning, deformed tormented souls.
The book was written when the desire to escape hell and reach heaven after death was a major driver in European societies, underpinning much of the economic system (think tithing, rich monasteries etc, the basic deal being "we pay, you pray for us and save us"). Mainstream Christian churches today have completely got rid of the image of grimacing demon with pitchforks in hell or angels, fluffy clouds and harps in heaven. It seems to me that heaven is now a completely abstract notion, a place of your choosing where you can find your loved ones again and meet God/Jesus, according to your fancy. And hell has apparently been dispensed with altogether. I'm not advocating a return to "rule through fear" approach for today's churches, but I do think that some sort of representation of the consequences of transgression might be no bad thing.