Published: 1300s (this edition 2013)
I was a little apprehensive to start ‘Inferno’ as I’ve never been one for poetry, yet reading the first instalment of ‘The Divine Comedy’ seemed the perfect way to throw myself in at the deep end. This member of the trilogy of poems tells the story of Dante’s experiences of the descent into Hell as he is guided by fellow poet Virgil. The pair encounter many famous mythological figures along the way, including Charon and Cerberus, as well as the Roman gods. Reading this book shortly after a Percy Jackson book was certainly a strange experience, as the latter provides a modern view of the ancient myths. As a whole this poem still wasn’t really my thing, although I can’t deny that it is masterfully written.
I struggled to connect with the characters of Dante and Virgil, but I generally feel that it can be difficult to convey a strong sense of character in poetry. Instead, I was impressed by the references to various real life characters, even Dante’s own family, that served to give the book a personal touch from the poet himself. At many times it actually reads like a political commentary, with Dante condemning many popes and famous Florentines to Hell. Even more interesting is the way that, even though said popes are condemned, Christianity is placed above all other religions. Dante goes as far as condemning many famous pagans, giving an interesting insight into religious history. I was quite surprised to observe the famous mythological hero Jason confined to Hell, and to see the barren land roamed by beautiful creatures like centaurs, all of which are given their own unique description by Dante.
Of course no review of this poem would be complete without acknowledging the masterful poet’s writing. The prose and description included are particularly beautiful and the narration tells the story brilliantly, often giving insights into Dante’s opinions on which crimes he found most offsensive. The description of the sinners in Hell was particular well done, as one could really identify with their suffering, effortlessly creating an air of gloom. Dante certainly succeeds in putting his own unique stamp on the concept of Hell, making it seem like a spooky and mysterious world of its own, and is most probably responsible for creating several of the modern stereotypes about the underworld. The Italian theme remains even once Dante and Virgil have descended into the darkest depths of Hell, being continually conveyed by clever references to Italy’s geography and the inclusion of some Italian language. Don’t worry if this all sounds a little obscure- the notes pages are a life-saver! (No death related puns intended ;)). ‘Inferno’ is definitely a must read for anyone who loves a classic, although it should be approached with the knowledge it can become a bit of a slog. I wouldn’t entirely rule out reading the rest of ‘The Divine Comedy’, however, so watch this space!
Rating: **** (4/5)