Monday, August 30, 2010
Reading the Classics with Paul- Inferno- Part III
This is the first book in this series where I've had no problem keeping up with the reading, but great difficulty writing about it. There are a few reasons for that. The practical one is full-time employment, which is a great blessing. The other is the material. It is an excellent piece of writing, but it's also difficult, problematic for me, and has inspired probably the most leveled reaction in me of any book so far in this series. I imagine the major life upheavals of the past month probably has more than a little to do with that.
So, I am thinking this week, sitting here at 1:45 am on Sunday, I may limit myself to a few comments and save my more in depth reaction for next week's conclusion.
We start this week in the Hell pouches of Level 8. Virgil makes an admonishment. His admonishment is against the compassion that Dante is expressing toward the damned as it is God's justice and it is complete. I've been gnawing on that passage all week trying to come to some conclusion on it. I think what I've come up with is that even if what Virgil said was true, it would not apply to Dante as Dante was still alive and the living are called to compassion toward the suffering of others. It's been established thus far in the text that what is natural for the Infernal populace is not natural for the living. Dante the writer's feeling on the matter is obscured by Virgil's comments, but that's the conclusion I find myself coming to.
So, it seems that the employment of a specific descriptive scatological term in this translation was not an isolated incident. I imagine it's a fairly universal source of revulsion for humans and not difficult to associate with Hell. There is also the legs sticking out of the fire pits, including a pope. There are the people with backwards faces including the detail of their tears rolling down between their buttocks. Of course, all of these have something to do with the specific key sin of the Damned.
The convoy of demons reminded me of some half-remembered scene from Tolkien (indeed, Tolkien was most likely well acquainted with the piece.) In fact, I almost started to expect something comical (especially with their absurd names) until they proceeded to behave genuinely horribly. I would point out that this is another "foot" of the poem, much like the bit with the centaurs, in which the narrative departs from the strict structure of "going to a level of Hell, seeing how the people are suffering, talking politics with the Damned."
Also, I would note that we're not seeing the mythological figures from the ancient Greek in these lower levels (except for the bit at the end of this week's reading with our old friend Ulysses who didn't fare so well in the afterlife.) We see Caiphas. We see the worms that do not die: snakes in fact.
Next week (which is now this week. I apologize, but I have a new schedule and, in my defense, was called into work on my day off) we will finish Inferno.