I have just finished reading Purgatorio, the second part of The Divine Comedy. While Inferno was excellent, I found Purgatorio to be even better. Purgatorio is a much more tangible setting than Inferno was. Inferno was mostly just very creative fire and brimstone, but Purgatorio is about Dante’s ascent up a mountain; which is a spiritual journey as well as a physical one. Purgatorio is an island mountain at the bottom of the globe, which in the Comedy’s cosmology is the only land in the Southern hemisphere. It is where the dead souls go to atone for their sins, with a terrace for each sin and every one is easier to climb than the last becuase the burden of Sin gets lighter and lighter. If you have already read Inferno and ejoyed it, read Purgatorio. I wouldn’t reccomend reading Purgatorio with having read Inferno first, but I imagine that its possible. As I said in my review of the former work, the Divine Comedy provides a lapidary summary of Late Medieval thought. Unfortunately I will not be able to move on the Paradiso, the last part. We don’t have time to do so and the course is now on The Faerie Queen, but I intend to read Paradiso once I can. Purgatory is excellent, I can’t stress enough how much of a shame it is that people only read Inferno.
I have finished reading Inferno. No not the Dan Brown novel, I read the original poem by Dante Alighieri. It is easily the most rewarding thing I have read in quite some time. Reading it is part of a school course as I did is probably the best way to read such a work, that way the full meaning (interpretation anyway) of the text is dissected. That is necessary because of The Divine Comedy is a culmination of roughly five hundred years of Catholic thought. It was written during the hight of the Gothic era, though many view Dante’s work as the first step towards the Renaissance. Of course, eras are divided much later after the fact and when one starts and ends is a matter of opinion and not fact.
Much is made of the elaborate layout of Hell in the poem. While that is rather fascinating I find the language of the poetry to be what makes it so amazing. Every canto and tercet is meticulously written, and the lines are worded brilliantly. No wonder Dante’s output of writing became the basis for modern Italian and made Florence and Tuscany the center of Italian culture.
As much as I hated getting to the end it was comforting to know that the next item on the course was Purgatorio, the second part of the Comedy. We have read the first three cantos and so far so good. Hardly anyone has read Purtatorio, let alone Paradiso (the last part); which I think is a shame because Inferno is merely the first part of the sequence. It would be akin to read the Fellowship of the Ring and giving it praise and meticulous attention without bothering with The Two Towers and Return of the King.
If you decide to read it, make sure you pick up an annotated copy; you probably won’t know the names of 90% of the individuals appearing in it or alluded to. The edition I read was Mark Musa’s translation for Penguin Classics, although apparently they now have a more recent one.