14 August 2010

+JMJ+

Locus Focus: Take Fourteen!




First of all, thanks to everyone who linked up a Subterranean Setting last week!

Secondly, I'm really sorry that the post and linky are late this week. As I've said elsewhere, I've been having computer woes and they are not going to end soon! =( Still, I'm going to do my best to have semi-regular posts (especially since I'm still full of ideas, even if I can't always get online and share them) and to read all of your own updates. Thanks!


Circle VIII
Inferno
by Dante


I AM THE WAY INTO THE CITY OF WOE.
I AM THE WAY TO A FORSAKEN PEOPLE.
I AM THE WAY INTO ETERNAL SORROW.

SACRED JUSTICE MOVED MY ARCHITECT.
I WAS RAISED HERE BY DIVINE OMNIPOTENCE,
PRIMORDIAL LOVER AND ULTIMATE INTELLECT.

ONLY THOSE ELEMENTS TIME CANNOT WEAR
WERE MADE BEFORE ME, AND BEYOND TIME I STAND.
ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO ENTER HERE.

Let's admit it. Dante's vision of Hell is the summa of subterranean settings. (Or if you want to be nice and literal, the infima. But then you lose the alliteration.) If I weren't so in love with Neal Shusterman's Downsiders, which is another sort of epic in its way, I would have submitted this setting to last week's challenge.

I taught Inferno to high school seniors for two years and could go on and on about each circle even today. But I could also go on and on about students who plagiarise their assignments from online sources--and I'm not too crazy about Shredded Cheddar serving that purpose. So I'm going to pick one circle, be deliberately vague about it, but hope that anyone who comes here to cheat will manage to learn something, despite himself.

Dante doesn't go into much detail in the upper punitive circles. He looks around, describes what he sees, names some of the more well-known sinners, and moves on relatively quickly. He is rushing because he doesn't think lust, gluttony, avarice, rage, and to some extent, heresy, are the truly awful sins. (Yes, all sin is awful, but we're looking at a hierarchy here.) It says a lot about both Dante's times and and his own personal values that the sin he devotes the most space to is fraud.

Malice is the sin most hated by God,
and the aim of malice is to injure others
whether by fraud or violence. But since fraud

is the vice of which man alone is capable,
God loathes it most. Therefore, the fraudulent
are placed below and their torment is more painful.

. . .

Fraud, which is a canker to every conscience,
may be practised by a man on those who trust him,
and on those who have reposed no confidence.

The latter mode seems only to deny
the bond of love which all men have from Nature . . .

There are ten Bolgias in Circle VIII, where the Fraudulent and Malicious are doomed for all eternity--and there is so much poetic justice in their torments that I could teach this circle alone for a month and not grow tired of it. Dante clearly detests all the ways people can devise for twisting the truth: everything from seduction and flattery to theft and outright lies. I suspect that if it had not been for Judas' treachery being the obvious ultimate sin, the liars of this circle would lie lowest in Hell and closest to the Father of Lies.

The question I was asked the most when I was teaching Inferno is whether a truly compassionate, all-merciful God would be so cruel as to design such detailed tortures for creatures He made out of love. It is true that we have no guarantees about what the afterlife will be like for anyone; but we cannot dismiss Dante's imaginative portrayal out of hand. He wrote the Inferno not out of a perverse desire to revenge himself on everyone who had ever pissed him off, but out of an intense longing for justice to be done and for the truth to be told.

This is not something our age easily understands. When my students had to make their Inferno Presentations, the classroom that drew Circle II was freaking ecstatic. They thought they would get to make an interactive museum of sexual sins and perversions--and they imagined it would be funny. I had to draw the line very firmly, but I don't know if I also took proper advantage of the great teaching moment. What is it about us that makes us expect something like Inferno to be pornographic? I mean, we are the generation that thought up Torture Porn and then seemed to stop thinking after that. (I wonder where Dante, with his sense of ultimate justice and his passion for both truth and beauty in art, would put Eli Roth. He'd need a new bolgia just for the type of fraud one can spread through the mass media. Or maybe Roth would land in Circle VII, along with others who were violent against art during their lifetimes.)

But Inferno is not and can never be classified as Torture Porn. Remember that this is just one book in a Divine Comedy which passes through Purgatory and Heaven as well. As someone fed with the best of the both the Classical age and the Medieval era, Dante had faith that the universe was a reasonable place, with natural laws--because it was created by a loving God Who wants us to make the right choices out of our own reason.

Now it's your turn!
Leave the link to your Locus Focus post in the linky
and take some time to check out and comment on those of others.
I can't wait to read what everyone has to say! =D




From the Linky:

Grendel's Mere (Beowulf) @ Spike is Best

Image Source: The Inferno by Dante (Translated by John Ciardi)

7 comments:

IntrovertedJen said...

I'm curious which translation you're quoting from. I read the one by--Wordsworth? one of those--and had an awful, horrid time slogging through it. Your quotes are infinitely more readable than what I remember. I'm glad I read it, but it left a bad taste. I have a feeling that I would have gotten much more out if it had I been in your class!

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

It's the John Ciardi translation. =)

I can also recommend Anthony Esolen's translation, based on the strength of his Purgtorio, although I haven't read his Inferno.

Thanks for your kind words about my teaching. I knew Inferno would be difficult, so I assigned presentations rather than essays, for the most part--although my students still needed to write about it on the final exam.

Sullivan McPig said...

I've only read small parts of Dante's Inferno, but those are very intriguing. i might try to read the whole thing one day.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Good luck! I know I'd like to re the whole Divine Comedy one day.

As far as my track recor goes, I'm halfway through Purgatorio. But it has been so long since I cracked that book open that I'd really have to start it all over again.

Paul Stilwell said...

Excellent post! Remembering that the Inferno is just one book in the Divine Comedy cannot be emphasized enough, especially today, for Dante's "intense longing for justice to be done and for the truth to be told" works the other way as well; an intense longing for the contemplation of God, which would not be nearly as powerful as it is without that descent to the bottom of hell.

Captcha: gloomen

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Thank you, Stilwell. Beautifully said!

r said...

As a descendant of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (is that who you were thinking of, first commenter?), I apologize for the badness of his Comedy translation.