I’ve been putting off blogging properly for a while because, basically, I seem to have exhausted all blog-topics that are vaguely related to Dante, but which don’t actually require any literary knowledge. But I’m going to grit my teeth and push through the mental barriers for this post. I’m going to write about “the poem”.
Don’t quit reading though, please. I can guarantee you it won’t be wrist-slittingly dull. Do you know why? Aside from the fact that I am a good writer (and so very modest), I think that there is so much potential for Dante to be bloody brilliant for students.
When I was doing my UG I was made to attend lectures on the Inferno. I’m not going to lie to you all here: those lectures baffled me. It was all about exile, politics, poetic structure, etc etc. In short, I couldn’t see how any of this was relevant to my life as a non-medieval non-poet, having never been exiled from my place of birth, and actually having very little interest in literature at all. It wasn’t until my final year as an UG, when I was doing a book history course with the wonderful G.A. when my world was turned upside down, Dante-wise. Through the study of the books as objects (and after finding excellent medieval graffiti in the margins), I came to realise that the Comedy is just so incredibly universal. When Dante is talking about Filippo Argenti in the fifth circle of Hell (he’s one of the wrathful), he could be referring to any bloke. Apparently Argenti once slapped Dante (something which I would have paid good money to witness), and it’s also probable that he stole all of Dante’s possessions after he had been exiled. When we get into why this guy is in Dante’s hell, it’s pretty obvious that he’s only there because Dante has some major beef with him on a personal level. Had I been choosing who gets into this circle, I probably would have gone with the boy who used to pull my pigtails in reception, or maybe my brother since he ate all of my birthday cupcakes once. I know it seems a little bit like I’m trivialising the poem, and I suppose nicking someone’s chocolate sponge cake doesn’t really compare with taking an exiled fellow-countryman’s entire worldy goods, but it’s not far off.
Likewise with the whole Francesca and Paolo debarcle in Inferno V. I don’t need to explain why they’re put into the circle of the wanton and lustful, but having sordid extramarital affairs isn’t something exclusively medieval. Watch any episode of Eastenders/Coronation Street/Emmerdale and you’re sure to find at least one sexually-charged illicit encounter between non-married couples occuring at any given time. Apparently, sex still draws the crowds like it did 700 years ago…
It’s quite sad really that I spent so long believing that I hated Dante; that he was pompous, outdated and completely irrelevant to my life. Because, actually, I’m yet to read anything that is MORE relevant. Granted, I’m possibly not going to be confronted by Cerberus any time in the near-future; it’s also quite unlikely that Virgil (or any other classical poet for that matter) will appear out of thin air and guide me through the afterlife. But when you strip away all the literary veils of mysticism, dreaminess, religion, etc. what you’re left with is a really raw, human – sometimes rather touching – view on life. Every time I come back to Dante, I find it more and more pertinent to my own experiences of life. And I fall in love with him just that little bit more ♥