Ben's Reviews > The Divine Comedy

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
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Sep 21, 08

Read in August, 2008

I have travelled a goodly distance since I last read the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, and what a long strange trip its been. So, it was with an introspective bit of drollness that I embarked on this reread.

I was fascinated with Inferno as a teenager and between Dante Alighieri and Robert Smith/Rimbaud it is, frankly, nothing short of a miracle that I didn't put enough reasons together to wind-up as a fleshy tree with harpies perched in my branches somewhere in the lower circles of hell--if you catch my drift. Yeah, I was one tortured soul...

Now, I seem to have arrived in the dread "Existance Age" of my life. In evidence, I need only cite my thinning hair, second mortgage, life insurance, and All American guilt complex. This is also why it's taking me longer than necessary to read Richard Ford's Independence Day--each line just seems like something I'm thinking, and it's hard to be objective with the reading and view it simply as a book. And, it may very well explain why, as I listened to The Divine Comedy with this audiobook edition, I found Purgatorio so fascinating--when as a teenager I couldn't skim through it fast enough.

The Divine Comedy is more of a journey than a book, and as a journey it has stages and waypoints... also its not a trip everyone needs to take. I, for one, never plan on visiting Meca or for that matter, the Mormon General Conference; they're just not my kinds of trips. But, having grow-up in a Televangelist Supercult, The Divine Comedy is just the right kind of retrospective for me. Reasons are abundant but are typified by the way the book helps me look objectively at my spiritual life.

Here is the short list: First, according to Dante, pretty much everybody in hell is Italian and Catholic; second, my tattoo fantasies of the illustrations by Gustave Dore; third, the striking absense of a bathroom break; fourth the paragraph-long metaphores which fill each canto in the same way a bazaar of guillemots might fill something bigger than a breadbox but smaller than a dinghy if there was but some form of guillemot filling aparatus or perhaps a working decoy; fifth, placing people I dislike in different levels of hell--BTW I've decided Walter Kirn is my arch-enemy; and sixth (but hardly last) the unanswerable question of why Dante is obsessed with a woman who isn't his wife and figures her in the seat of grace while the woman he's married to is no doubt fixing his meals, cleaning his dishes, and caring for his kids, while he is writing the Divine Comedy (like some kind of Catholic Penthouse Forum Letter) and this is somehow OK because he still makes it to heaven.

I'll be honest, I've never been able to finish The Divine Comedy. I get to wandering around in Paradiso like a redneck in Walmart and keep on loosing my place due to profound boredom (unlike a redneck in Walmart). Afterall, "Heaven is a place," to quote David Byrne, "a place where nothing ever happens." Maybe someday Paradiso will be the part I just can't get enough of, but for now I'm content with my life in purgatory. I kind of like the idea that I can impress people just by casting a shadow and meeting old friends in really uncomfortable situations.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Matt Evans Great recommendation, Ben. I've been looking for a good Audio CD version of "Divine Comedy". Also, I just finished Beowulf (I'm reading the canonized epics in order, oldest to most recent), so the timing is perfect.


Suzanne Thompson faust I read your review at 2:45 a.m. and couldn't stop giggling!!! Well said !!


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