Books, classics, Non-Fiction, Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Inferno by Dante Alighieri

Inferno by Dante Alighieri

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Imagine that feeling, when you are reading a book and by the end it makes you feel complete. We all have observed that by one or the other book(s). Dante’s Divine Comedy: Inferno is one of them. Written almost 700 years ago, it still has the mesmerizing capacity to capture a human’s attention. It’s iconic for a literary work to survive a 700 years and Dante’s work has reached that status: most people at least know of the Inferno, even if they haven’t read it.

Dante’s Inferno, the first third of what has come to be known as the Divine Comedy. Dante himself only referred to it as a Comedy and the “Divine” characterisation was added later. A long poem whose narrative describes what amounts to the poet’s tour of the afterlife. The whole poem is divided into 100 cantos, the Inferno (Hell) has 34, the other two parts– Purgatorio (Purgatory) and Paradiso (Paradise) each have 33. Each canto is written in a form referred to as terza rima, where every three lines rhymes. Getting that rhyming scheme from Italian into English has been one of the major challenges of every translator of the work. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow‘s translation is reasonable to some extent.

The first book, the Inferno, is the beginning of Dante’s spiritual odyssey. He wakes one day in the middle of his life to discover that he is lost in a dark forest and surrounded by mortal dangers. Against all hope, rescue comes in the form of the ancient poet Virgil, who has been commissioned by Heaven to lead Dante back to the true path. Virgil, to whom Dante often refers as his master in the text, must lead Dante down through the nine circles of Hell where he will begin to learn the wisdom that leads back to life, which will ultimately be found only in Christ. Each circle in Hell is the final resting place of souls who have died in their sins, the punishments at each level being perfectly suited to the sin that defined the earthly life of the soul.

Descriptive Image of all the nine circles described in Dante’s Inferno

The tortures of Hell are graphically described by Dante in his words. The description of each circle is unique and imaginative yet gruesome. Each punishment truly portrays the sin such as the instances of the fortune tellers seeing only behind them forever, of those who killed in anger boiling in a river of blood, and of Judas and Brutus both been chewed by the Satan, himself.

Longfellow’s translation is more or less good and tries to capture the complexity of the original text which is essential for a reader to have a better and a deep understanding. I can honestly say I haven’t found a better overall volume for reading and understanding the Inferno.

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34 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: Inferno by Dante Alighieri”

  1. I would love to hear your review of The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. I am most often bored by novels and have read less than 5 other than those that were required reading at school. But this one I actually read straight through in two days.

    How does an author do that? Gripping you and not letting you go until they have told their story all the way to the end. How do they keep a person’s focus in such a way that it doesn’t occur to one to skip pages (for fear of missing even the smallest of details). How do they; with words, not pictures, put you in such a place that you feel the cold of a snowstorm or the warmth of sun and breeze on your face. It amazes me. More than once while reading this book, The Snow Child, I wanted to put on a jacket and drink a warm cup of tea.

    I would love to hear your words on this author and her writing, and maybe explain why I found it such verbal quicksand, sucking me in and and not letting me go until page 386.

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  2. This was my favorite cantiche. Inferno truly is one of the most intense things I’ve read. The Penguin translation isnt bad either, that’s the one I had.

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  3. I read English translations of all three many years ago – I recall thinking how odd it is that Hell is more interesting than Heaven. Some perversity of human nature perhaps (hopefully – not just me!) 🙂

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  4. I read Inferno in high school, but the library didn’t have any of the other translations. I started reading an online translation of Purgatorio instead. Thanks for reminding me what it was like to read it!

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  5. I read Dantes Inferno many years ago at a time I was just beginning in my spiritual walk. You’ve prepared an excellent review. It would be fit many to read this timeless classic written centuries ago.

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  6. I wanted to thank you for liking my blog on Discipline at Write LIght. I keep hearing about Dante and have been thinking of the book lately. To see your review really piqued my interest in it. I will have to read it. Thanks for your review. It was really well written and got me thinking. I grew up Catholic and learned about purgatory. I don’t believe in purgatory, actually. Take care.

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