I know now that there’s such a profession as a Dante Specialist as there are communities of Dante enthusiasts and expertise to boot (such as Dartmouth Dante Project and Danteworlds). These I gathered after reading Sylvain Reynard’s trilogy, beginning with Gabriel’s Inferno. The books rekindled in me enough interest for Dante i.e. the lectures and descriptions of the places associated with Dante to compel me to pick up The Divine Comedy again.
If my memory hasn’t slipped, the first time I read, or rather, attempted to read, the Commedia was in my early 20s. I couldn’t go past the Gate of Hell. Dante’s description jumps out of the pages and I thought I could smell hell right there in the room. Also, the 20s is a time for dance, music, and life and Dante’s verses were, well, un-20s, as it takes place in the “midway along the road of our life” in some very ‘Dark Wood’. Utterly depressing. I did have my own version of daily hell and didn’t need more from others. So I put it away. Until Reynard’s books.
In the trilogy, beauty is presented ahead of ugliness and torture. Beauty is Beatrice (Julia) who in Dante’s Divine Comedy resides in Paradise the last world Dante visits. In this order, it’s as if the reader is given a load of good memories, a talisman, to warm and shield her through the passage. It’s the other way around with Dante. He enters hell first and without pronouncement perhaps startling the devil itself and the reader regardless. But then come to think of it he has Virgil.
This time reading through the verses which I cross-referenced with Danteworlds, my overall emotional reaction was no longer fright but laughter. It is after all the Divine Comedy. Dante’s parody of his Italy at the time. Throw in the names of world history’s famed characters for authenticity and voila! a clever masterpiece. The place in which the story begins – hell – casts an overall tempering effect though. So apart from laughing, the reader is also made to think because there could be truth hence pain lurking behind the humor (Dante completed the Comedy while in exile).
Why the Dante talk in here? I couldn’t help see the parallelism with what’s happening at the national here.
Like Dante, the nation is at the “midway along the road of our life”. Wandering in the Dark Wood, it came to a crossroad. It chose a certain path which appears to lead toward hell.
Dante paints hell as a funnel of nine concentrics, with the last tier, at the mouth of the funnel, assigned as the pit of hell (Circle 9). Dante designates: the Gate of Hell as the haunting place of cowards; Circle 1, limbo; Circle 2, sin of lust; Circle 3, gluttony; Circle 4, avarice and prodigality; Circle 5, wrath and sullenness; Circle 6, heresy; Circle 7, violence, murder, suicide, blasphemy, sodomy, usury; Circle 8, fraud (pimping and seducing, flattery, theft), simony, sorcery, political corruption, hypocrisy, fraudulent rhetoric, divisiveness, falsification; Circle 9, treachery.
True to the humor in his Comedy, he relegated his archenemy, Pope Boniface VIII (Nicholas III), to the depths, into Circle 9, in a most revealing position.
I remember Rizal and his two infamous books: Noli Me Tangere (The Social Cancer), and El Filibusterismo (The Reign of Greed). Centuries after his time, the Islands and it’s Indios are still stuck in that ethos he so despised. In his time there were the Spaniards and their impositions. In our parents’ and grandparents’ the Americans and their so-called imperalistic ways. In our own time, now, there’s nobody else but us Filipinos. How did we find ourselves in Dante’s Inferno? How do we get out of it? How do we return to the straight path? Has it passed us never to come back? Are we too late?