Wednesday, October 15, 2008

blogging through 'inferno'

If you read back over the past few years that I've been blogging, you're quickly going to reach a few conclusions:
  1. I write a lot.
  2. I write about a lot of things.
  3. Some of the things that I write about, I write about a lot, like a man picking at a sore, or like a man who is hopelessly in love. (Sometimes even like a man hopelessly in love with picking at a sore.)
  4. If something about my writing has struck your fancy, it can be hard to deal with all the other crap on the blog to follow the thread all the way through.
I decided tonight that I want to try something different. Starting tomorrow, I want to blog exclusively about Dante's "Inferno," one canto a night, until I have finished. Then, perhaps, I will continue through the rest of "The Divine Comedy," although the last time I tried reading Dante's masterpiece, I never made it more than halfway through "Paradiso."

Dante's epic poem is a phenomenal piece of literature. Although he did not invent the doctrine of hell, nor even create the doctrines and images expressed in it, there can be no doubt that it is his vision of hell; his beautifully haunting pictures of the circles and cornices of hell, filled with the damned who are buffeted by gale-force winds, submerged in muck, burned in fire or frozen in ice; that has defined hell in popular understanding for all the centuries since.

Some of the details are changed -- Satan is more commonly seen as king in hell, rather than a prisoner there, each of his three mouths chewing on a different traitor -- but our grotesquely exaggerated sense of elaborate punishments, too ironically chosen for the person's defining sins, has its deepest root in Dante's poem. The Wood of Suicides appears in "Sandman"; Dr. Strange once led Marvel's band of mutants through the Nine Circles in the pages of "Uncanny X-men," and authors Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle were once inspired to journey through hell themselves, in their own "Inferno."

Starting tomorrow, I'm going to hell. I hope you come with me.

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