Inferno by Dante Aligheri

I originally read this book while I was till in the Navy ’cause I wanted to read a book that noone else around me had read, something that might make me seem somewhat “intellectual”.

One of the scariest books ever written, it is impossible to deny the terror in this book. Although a bit difficult to read (the translation by John Ciardi is supposedly the best translation), the imagery that Dante has the power to conjure up is enough to make you lose sleep for a month.

The Divine Comedy is a three part poem written by Dante Aligheri back in the 14th century. Yeah, you heard me right. The FOURTEENTH CENTURY. 1300 something and this dude was twisted. His three parts of the Divine Comedy are Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradisio. I think it’s the morbid curiosity of us human beings that has made Inferno the most popular of the stories.

Dante starts out on a journey thru the nine circles of hell, guided by Virgil (Dante’s symbolic “Human Reason”). The phrase “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here” was from this particular poem. Dante’s imagination allows him the power to strike down his version of punishments to all sinners (listing several by name throughout the poem).

The punishments are equivalent in ferocity as the original sin. For instance, the people who succumbed to their carnal desires (2nd circle) are doomed to eternity being swept around by a whirlwind (they could not control themselves in life, therefore they will not be allowed any control in Hell). People who claimed to see into the future? Well, their heads are reversed on their bodies and they are forced to walk backwards for all eternity (since they claimed to see into the future, their punishment is not being able to even see in front of them)

Flattery gets you nowhere? Well, in Hell it gets you stuck in a river of excrement.

Violent Murderers? Uhhhhhh, yeaaaaahhhh. You’re stuck in a river of boiling blood whose depth is reliant on how much murder you’ve committed. You’re not allowed out of the blood and if you attempt to make your way out, you’re shot with an arrow from a Centaur.

Hypocrites? Since they offered such flattery on the outside but were full of shit on the inside, they are doomed to walk around in beautiful flowing robes that are actually lined with lead (outside is nice, inside NOT so nice) for all eternity.

Caiaphas, the High Priest of the Jews who crucified Christ? Yeah. He’s in a bad spot. Dante has him being crucified since he was partially responsible for Jesus’ death. The catch? The place that he’s been staked down is right in the middle of a path that ALL sinners of Hell must walk thru. He is doomed to endure the pain of being stepped on by ALL passing sinners, as Christ suffered the world’s sins when he was crucified.

The thieves? In their misgivings in life, they stole other people’s possessions and made them their own. In Hell, they are forced to steal a human form from OTHER thieves and this is a non-stop process. Dante says in one line during this scene;

“For suddenly, as I watched, I saw a lizard
come darting forward on six great taloned feet
and fasten itself to a sinner from crotch to gizzard.

It’s middle feet sank in the sweat and grime
Of the wretch’s paunch, its forefeet clamped his arms,
Its teeth bit through both cheeks. At the same time

Its hind feet fastened on the sinners thighs:
Its tail thrust through his legs and closed its coil
Over his loins. I saw it with my own eyes!”

The further Dante gets into Hell, the more sickening the punishments get. Sowers of discord (people who like to stir shit up become people) are punished by being sliced open by demons. They walk in a huge circle and in the time it takes for them to complete the “lap”, their bodies are reformed anew and ready to be sliced open again. To add insult to injury,there is one there who is even worse than the rest. His name is listed by Dante and he is a Sower of Discord Between Kinsmen. Since he was responsible for dividing a house (Father and Son against one another), he is cursed to carry his head around with him, separated from his body for all eternity. He holds his head and aims the mouth towards Dante as Dante carries on a “conversation” with this particular sinner.

Some of the last sinners Dante discusses are The Treacherous. Since they had no room in their hearts for love and warmth, they are forever encased in a lake of ice, with their heads frozen in place so they can’t duck from the chilling winds of this final circle of Hell.

Dante gets to see Satan himself and then makes his way out of Hell with Virgil, heading towards Purgatory.

This book is absolutely terrifying if you read it and picture this stuff in your head. Some absolutely HORRIFYING images in this book. Makes you wonder where Dante got his inspiration for this. Only a good read if you’ve got a strong stomach (I haven’t been NEARLY as descriptive as Dante was. I’m nowhere near THAT talented)
For some more research, check out the following links….

http://www.arches.uga.edu/~redman/hellhigh.html

http://danteworlds.laits.utexas.edu/utopia/index2.html

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