Mar 19, 2014

Dante's Inferno: Beefcake and Buddy-Bonding in Medieval Italy

The Divine Comedy gets a bad rap.  It's not incomprehensible, elitist, or heterosexist, like many other "great" works of literature (Ulysses and The Sound and the Fury spring to mind).  Granted, Purgatorio and Paradiso are a little dry, but what could be more interesting than the Inferno? 

 It's a tour of hell with the feel of a Dungeons and Dragons quest, or maybe the Wizard of Oz, with two guys, Dante and Virgil, buddy-bonding en route.

They have to find some way to get past Cerberus, the giant three-headed dog.  
They fight giant winged Furies.   
They tame a monster with scorpion-stingers to fly you down a treacherous cliff.   

Finally they reach the center, where Satan, a monster embedded in ice, is chewing on three traitors, one with each of its gigantic mouths. 

And how they you escape from Hell?  They have to climb down Satan's fur through the center of the Earth.

There actually is a Dante's Inferno video game, but it's much more heterosexist than the original.

Of course, the original isn't entirely free from heterosexism.  He journeys through Hell, then through Purgatory and Heaven, at the request of Beatrice.  He spent his life "deeply in love" with here, even though they only met twice (when he was 9, and again when he was 17), and on both occasions she merely said "hello."

She sounds more like an evocation of the divine, a sort of Blessed Virgin, than a real object of Dante's heterosexual longings.

And he's not nearly as homophobic as other Italians of the Middle Ages.  He did put the sodomites (gay people) in the Seventh Circle, farther down than the murderers, but not as far down as the fraudsters.   But when he meets his old teacher and guardian Brunetto Latini among them, Dante treats him the utmost of love and respect.

He also paints some sympathetic portraits of sodomites in the Purgatorio.  

Get a bilingual edition -- the original Italian is far superior to any translation.  And be sure it has the beefcake-heavy illustrations by Gustave DorĂ©.  Or buy the illustrations separately.

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