Below, Anonymous (he is actually a friend of mine in disguise) has some interesting comments about Dante’s Inferno, one of the greatest books ever written. There are many translations available, but I recommend the one by John Ciardi, who is Italian himself by the way. Dante himself was a rather nasty man, extremely puritanical almost like a Christian version of the Saudi religious police. He used to stand outside and rail at the neighbors, calling them sinners. They probably were, at least in his book, but who likes a prig. He was also a stern, grim and rather mean-spirited fellow who seemed to regard most of his fellow humans with contempt as he felt they were “fallen.”
But then Shakespeare was a cheapskate, tightwad, penny-pinching, greedy bastard, litigiously fond of suing his neighbors for small amounts of cash. His own wife and children were said to not care for him too much.
But when I told my mother this, she got annoyed and basically said, “So what?” He pointed out that we do not remember Shakespeare because he was basically a bastard in day to day life with his fellow humans. We remember him for his greatest achievement, his plays with not only withstood the test of mine but possibly have not yet been surpassed or possibly even equaled.
You can make a good case that he is the greatest English writer of all time. His artistic achievement was so great that it surely outweighed his antisocial behavior in day to day life, although you might have a hard time convincing those who knew him well and suffered through his insufferable behavior of that.
Dante is similar. As a human, he was a pretty lousy. But so what? He is surely the greatest writer of the Italian language ever, surpassing even Boccaccio, and he is up there with Shakespeare with the greatest writers period of all time. He wrote in the 1300’s, but it could have been yesterday.
PS if you have not read the Inferno, you need to go read that book right now, dammit, unless you are one of those who I discussed in my piece who spends their life running from bad things. In that case, you will not enjoy this nasty little book, which is fascinating for its nine circles of Hell descending from the least sinful on the outskirts of Hell to the worst of all frying away for eternity in the boiling black heart of the first circle of Hell.
In limbo, the ninth circle, those who frittered and wasted away their lives for no reason (like me) are condemned to float in the air endlessly like a spaceman drifting about in zero gravity space. They’re the “floaters.” As the sins get worse and worse, so do the glorious punishments! It is ingenious the nasty punishments he comes up to torture these sinners for all of time. This delightful little book should be read with a wicked little glimmer in one’s eye. Be prepared to let your inner sadist out of his cell to romp around a bit as you read this nasty gem of a book. If you have the tiniest bit of cruelty in your heart, this book is plenty enough to sate your appetite for sadistic pleasure.
Purgatorio, the second book of the great Divine Comedy, is also awesome, unless you hate Catholics for their nasty little innovation, in which case, don’t bother.
Purgatory is for those who were not evil enough to be sent to Hell but nevertheless were pretty darn bad, not good enough to go to Heaven so they have to be sent to the way station between Heaven and Hell, Mount Purgatory, where they “work off their sins” in the most horrible of ways for a very long time with the slight solace that once they get through this 14th Century Auschwitz and work off their sins enough to satisfy God, they can at long last be admitted to Heaven. Purgatorio is not quite as good as the Inferno, but it is nevertheless excellent. I highly recommend it.
I have not read Paradiso. It is said to be the weakest of the three, but even a weak book by Dante is still better than 99% of the dreck floating around out there in Literary Limbo.
PS. He comments on “looking at life in the way that is described in the post. The main thrust of the post was supposed to be my idea that an intelligent Hell would be much superior than an insipid Heaven. I also discussed how most people spend their whole lives running from their pain, their painful history, their possibly painful futures and the painful world that surrounds us all.
While it makes sense to be an optimist, I personally have nothing against thinking about lousy things that have happened to me, are happening to me, or are happening around me because first of all, that’s how life is (Buddhists say “all of life is suffering”) so there is no sense running from 50% of the universe, and also because I have either made my peace with most awful things (especially those in my past) so it doesn’t really bother me or upset me too much to think about them.
I then point out that even lousy experiences, of which life has a ton, can at the very least be seen as a learning experience or an interesting bit of life if you want to step back, detach and be a bit analytical and philosophical about things, which isn’t as Aspie as it sounds. Sure life is painful, but it ought to also be numbing. That’s how you toughen up after all. You get a bit hard. And so what? That’s called “getting it done.”
Inferno is a very interesting book, Dante uses symbols, metaphors, and allusions for pretty much every aspect of Hell. I thought this epic (I believe that’s its classification, since it’s poetic). But, despite this coping mechanism he uses to help liberate himself from depression, I don’t believe he ever got “better”.
On another note, would you call Dante hypocritical? Yes, his Hell did feature political rivals and other assholes that deserved their punishments. But, Dante himself, was not perfect (I am referring to his rumored love affair with Beatrice). Even his Hell is contradictory: his map of Hell is based off of the Heliocentric Theory, yet he sticks with the more conservative view that those who are not Christian stay in Hell (reason for Virgil being there).
So, what I am trying to “get at” is why is it okay to view yourself as good and others as evil. I think it’s okay to view yourself as innocent, but is it okay to view yourself as good…? Good and innocent are often associated with each other, but good is an adjective that describes character, while innocent is an adjective that can also describe an action. So, while a person can be innocent, they may not necessarily be good.
Don’t get me wrong: it is tempting to look at life in the way that’s described in this blog post. But, I keep feeling like there should be a grey, in-between area because I don’t want commit hypocrisy.
Maybe I misunderstood what was typed…but…