So, ideally, this book should probably be reviewed along the whole “The Divine Comedy.” Yet such a review would take pages, and “The Inferno” provides more than enough on its own to merit a solitary review.
The book’s adventure really begins as Dante, with Virgil as his guide, begin their descent down the circles of Hell. On the way, they encounter a whole bunch of interesting characters who are mostly Italian politicians that Dante doesn’t like. At the entrance, or the “vestibule of Hell,” the sinners, who never chose good or evil but rather sat on the fence, are tormented continuously by flesh-eating flies, which they run away from for all eternity. Our heroes then meet the “virtuous pagans” on Hell’s uppermost circle. These are they who were moral during their lives, but, because they were not Christians, were sent to Hell. But hey, they at least get the very top level of it, which actually doesn’t seem all that bad, judging by the fact they just lounge around and eat grapes while only mildly being sorrowful for their lot.
As mentioned before, it becomes clear that in some ways “The Inferno” is a way for Dante to condemn his rivals and those who he didn’t like to Hell. But this is not completely true. Dante does meet some people whom he loved in the fiery realm. One example is when he enters the third ring of the seventh circle of Hell. On this level, sodomites and blasphemers are confined to a hot desert plain that is showered with fire. Dante is not filled with hatred toward these fellows (who, as it turned out, were gay) but talks with them and expresses sympathy. Though this consignment to Hell is certainly less than flattering, it at least shows that Dante didn’t only condemn his enemies.
Most interesting is how brazenly Dante condemns religious leaders. In the eighth circle of Hell, an area filled with fiery pits in which sinners are dumped head first on top of each other, he sees Pope Nicholas III in the ground. It is then indicated that the current Pope of Dante’s time, Pope Boniface VIII, will soon be joining him in the pit. Such a condemnation of Catholic leadership at that time was pretty bold.
And truthfully, one of the most entertaining parts of “The Inferno” is reading about the creative ways in which sinners must suffer. The Hypocrites towards the end of the eighth circle, for example, are forced to walk in circular paths while adorned with lead-lined robes. The symbolism is clear — they must suffer the heavy weight of the religious vestments which they abused in their positions of authority while alive.
In the end, Dante’s own personal vendettas and erroneous cosmology (purgatory it turns out isn’t on the other side of the world) shouldn’t dissuade readers from reading this classic work. “The Inferno,” along with the rest of “The Divine Comedy” have influenced literary figures for centuries because Dante’s meticulous symbolic and lyrical treatment of Hell and the post-mortal realms.
The new video game is pretty cool too. It’s just too bad that Dante isn’t really a scythe-wielding badass in the book, but rather a pansy whom Virgil must constantly comfort and encourage.