This article about Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri was first published in August 2018, a few weeks after I started this blog. I thought about the Divine Comedy for the first time in ages today when I listened to a terrific podcast about this magnificent poem on Tea, Toast and Trivia hosted by Rebecca Bud. You can listen to the podcast here: https://teatoasttrivia.com/2021/06/10/season-3-episode-24-liz-humphreys-on-14-weeks-with-dante-alighieri/. I decided to share an amended version of the post I originally wrote.
When my writing of Through the Nethergate led me down the path of Margaret being kidnapped by Hugh Bigod and taken to Hell in the phantom coach, I immediately thought of Dante’s Inferno, the first part of Dante Alighieri’s 14th century epic poem called Divine Comedy.
The reason I thought of The Inferno, which tells the story of Dante’s journey through Hell guided by the ancient Roman poet Virgil, is because of of its association in mind with the Hell I learned about at school.
Although I had heard of Dante, I knew more about the various artworks which have illustrated the Divine Comedy than the actual poem itself. These paintings and etchings scared me to death when I was a little girl. I remember sitting and looking at my dad’s book including these pictures, eyes as big as saucers, and having nightmares afterwards.
Botticelli’s map of Hell
Botticelli’s Inferno painting – You can find out more about Botticelli’s illustrations for Divine Comedy here: https://lovefromtuscany.com/botticelli-map-of-hell/
To augment my thoughts and depictions of Hell, I looked into Dante’s descriptions and read the whole of the Inferno. I was fascinated to discover that in the Inferno, Hell is described as nine concentric circles of torment, located deep within the Earth. The poem starts with the poet lost in a dark wood where he has strayed from the right way of salvation. He attempts to climb a small mountain but his path is blocked by three beasts which he can’t circumvent. The three beasts are said to symbolize the three kinds of sin that bring the unrepentant soul into one of the three major divisions of Hell. These three categories of sin are incontinence which means lacking in moderation or self-control, especially as it relates to sexual desire, violence and bestiality and fraud and malice.
The nine concentric circles are said to infer a gradual increase in wickedness and ultimately end in the centre of the Earth where Satan is held in bondage. The poem further explains that sinners within each circle are punished for all eternity in a way that befits their particular sin with the punishments become harsher towards the centre.
In the central [ninth] circle are sinners, trapped in a large frozen lake of ice, who are guilty of treachery against others ranging from betrayal of family ties, betrayal of community ties, betrayal of guests and betrayal of lords. Trapped in the very centre of Hell is the Devil. Condemned for his ultimate sin of personal treachery against God. The Devil is described as a giant and terrifying beast trapped waist-deep in the ice. The Devil has three faces, each a different colour: red, pale yellow and black.
I thought the depth of thought and meaning in this ancient poem was incredible and have incorporated a bit of this newly found knowledge into my book, Through the Nethergate as follows:
“Who or what is the devil? Will he kill us all as we come out of the elevator?
Her fertile mind conjured up images of the devil. Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century epic poem entitled Divine Comedy came into her head. She had discovered this poem last term at school when her art teacher had shown her class the illustrations created by French illustrator Gustave Doré. These pictures had so captivated her that she had looked up the poem and found it to be equally fascinating.
She particularly enjoyed the first part when Inferno tells of Dante’s journey through Hell. She had re-read this part so many times, she knew parts of it off by heart. In the poem, Hell is depicted as nine concentric circles of torment located within the bowels of the earth.
She thought about the devil, found in the very centre of Hell, condemned for committing the ultimate sin of personal treachery against God. In the poem, the devil is a giant and terrifying beast trapped waist-deep in ice from which he cannot escape. He has three faces, each a different colour: the one on the right is a pale
yellow, the one in the middle is red and the one on the left is black.
Remembered words from the poem filled Margaret’s mind:
… he had three faces: one in front bloodred;
and then another two that, just above,
the midpoint of each shoulder, joined the first;
and at the crown, all three were reattached;
the right looked somewhat yellow, somewhat white;
the left in its appearance was like those,
who come from where the Nile, descending, flows.
Margaret shuddered, her heart filled with trepidation at what she was about to see.
The doors of the elevator slid open. Hugh Bigod reached out and grasped Margaret’s wrist in a vice grip. He stepped out into the penthouse, dragging a reluctant Margaret with him.”
My ideas of Hell are very different but I thought it created a great contrast to include the more traditional thoughts and ideas as expressed by Dante too.
This is a part of my description of Hell:
“She hesitated on the threshold, gazing at the interior of the huge hall. Her stomach twisted and writhed in shock.
It was packed with row after row of cubicles. The walls were high enough to prevent any distracting exchanges or conversations between the occupants of the cubicles. The intense lighting gave the scene a clinical and sterile look, but the cubicles reminded Margaret of the multitude of six-sided cells that make up a honeycomb. There was no relief from the heat inside the building although it was not moist and oppressive.
What is this place?
Each cubicle had a nametag stating the name of its occupant in black capital letters. They were all equipped with a keyboard, computer, second screen and mouse. The glass walls of the hall were dominated by enormous screens. Each screen showed an outline map and row after row of words and figures moved up the sides of the maps.
It was not noisy, but Margaret could hear the occupants. Not voices or breathing, although it was a living sound. Again, she thought of a beehive. The underlying sound, she could sense more than hear, was like the continuous hum of worker bees as they go about their jobs, their lives dedicated to the survival of the queen.
In a beehive, each worker bee has its own role to play and everything is done in a strict pattern. The queen produces a “queen substance”, which controls the behaviour of the worker bees and keeps them together as an orderly community.
It’s the sound of souls. The sudden thought, like a lightning flash, illuminated Margaret’s mind.
There was a sense of timelessness about the scene, as if this brightly lit hall and its occupants would remain here, unchanged, for all of eternity. She had a vision of the souls, working like honey bees into perpetuity, their actions facilitating the continuous expansion of the hive and maintenance of the queen.
Who is the queen bee? The possible answer caused Margaret to raise her hands to cover her eyes, blocking out the room, before her mind tumbled into a black void of horror and despair from which there would be no return.”
A Ghost and His Gold available as an ebook from Amazon
I am happy to announce that, at last, A Ghost and His Gold is available as an ebook from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Ghost-Gold-Robert-Eaton-Cheadle-ebook/dp/B096H39FG3