Roberta Writes – Divine Comedy: Inferno Canto 1

My blogging friend Rebecca Budd is currently participating in a #KaramazovReadalong, you can read about it here: https://ontheroadbookclub.com/2021/07/27/karamazovreadalong-day-1-who-is-fyodor/.

The reading group are reading one chapter a day of this book and it inspired me to tackle Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri in the same manner. I must say that reading a chapter a day does make this book a lot easier to read. I have both the audio book and the unabridged translation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Before I started the unabridged version, I listed to an excellent abridged BBC version so that I knew the basic outline of the story. I have read Inferno before, but a long time ago, so I needed the refresher.

Sharing a Chapter or Canto a day on Facebook isn’t working for me so I’ve decided to share a Canto a week on my blog.

Canto 1 finds Dante, a 35 year old man, lost in a dark wood. Dante’s inability to find the ‘straight path’ means that he has lost his way in life. This does not mean that Dante had committed any dreadful sin, but rather that he has strayed from his own ideas of righteousness and morality.

Dante sees the sun shining on a nearby hilltop and he starts to climb the hill, but he is confronted by three wild beasts. First, a leopard blocks his way and he has to evade it, then a lion appears, and lastly a fearful she-wolf who drives Dante back into the valley below.

Dante is despairing, but, just then, a figure approaches who Dante soon discovers is the spirit of Virgil the famous poet. Virgil was a pagan who lived in the time of false gods. Virgil tells Dante that he has been instructed by the spirit of the beautiful and blessed Beatrice, a gentlewoman from his youth who died at the age of 24, to undertake a journey through the 9 circles of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. Virgil will accompany Dante through Hell and Purgatory and another guide will take him through Paradise, due to Virgil’s status as a pagan.

Lust, Pride, Avarice by William Blake
Picture credit: https://www.florenceinferno.com/saligia/. The three beasts that terrified Dante are a leopard (Lust), a lion (Pride), and a wolf (Avarice), according to the symbolism of medieval bestiaries.

One of my favourite extracts from Canto 1:

“Behold the beast, for which I have turned back;

Do thou protect me from her, famous Sage,

For she doth make my veins and pluses tremble.”

“Thee it behoves to take another road,”

Responded he, when he beheld me weeping,

“If from this savage place though wouldst escape;

Because this beast, at which thou criest out,

Suffers not any one to pass her way,

But so doth harass him, that she destroys him;”

58 thoughts on “Roberta Writes – Divine Comedy: Inferno Canto 1

      1. Have you ever noticed, Robbie, that books almost tell us when we are ready to read them. It sound rather fanciful, I know, but I think that we need to read certain books at certain times of our lives.

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    1. Darlene – I confess that I would never have read The Brothers Karamazov on my own, especially an unabridged version. I am so glad that you joined the #KaramazovReadalong. What an adventure…

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    1. I am really enjoying reading Divine Comedy like this. I don’t think I’d manage if I tried to read to much at a time. I’m going to try Chaucer next but I’ll need a translation i.e. copy with modern English and old English.

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  1. I read the Dorothy L. Sayers’s translation over a period of about 6 months, finishing in June this year. I suspect that it might have been a more accessible version than the Longfellow, and certainly without the help of DLS’s excellent commentary, I don’t think I would have made it all of the way through. It was a strangely satisfying read and I look forward to tracking your take on the book this time around.

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    1. Chris – this is the translation I have ready to read once I’m finished with the #KaramazovReadalong. I didn’t know before a few months ago about Dorothy L Sayers’s translation. I continue to learn and learn and learn!!

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      1. I saw that one, Rebecca. I am happy with my confusing choices, but I doubt my methods would work for most people. I am also reading up on each Canto on various [fascinating] analytical sites. I wish I could study medieval literature. Sigh!

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      2. I didn’t know that DLS had undertaken such a mammoth task either until I picked up the book which had been on my shelves unread for probably 20 years. Her commentary is invaluable, although I have to admit I skipped most of her lengthy introduction.

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    2. HI Chris, that is good to know. I am not struggling with this version. The hardcopy is actually easier for me to read than listening to the audio version. I read and listen simultaneously. It’s a bit weird with different translations but the one aids the other. Such brilliant imagery.

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      1. I loved the imagery and the associated mythology is fascinating. Without the commentary, some of the mythology and almost all of the historical references would have been lost on me. Several parts of the text made me laugh out loud – like what becomes of corrupt politicians – condemned to remain under the surface of a boiling lake of pitch. Now who might we consider for that particular fate?!

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  2. ooh this looks fun. I am glad you will share your chapter readings here on WP, then I can follow the story too. I really don’t go on Facebook much. Interesting Story and one I personally would not read, but having your summary will mean I get to read it too. Yeah.

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  3. I read it in translation (can’t recall which one) during my degree course, largely to support my art history studies – the illustration is by William Blake, who I think was a genius.

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    1. Hi Clive, there are several translations out there. I am finding having two at the same time quite useful. I can always understand one or the other. There are some amazing illustrations for this book. Actually, when I was younger, I thought the Inferno was a reference to the illustrations. I didn’t know there was a book.

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      1. Blake did more than a hundred illustrations for this, as well as for other writings, including his own. I think they bring out the horror of Dante’s work very well.

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  4. As soon as I have completed the #KaramazovReadalong I am following in your footsteps, Robbie. I did not know that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow translated The Divine Comedy. I just found out that Dorothy L Sayers brought out a translation, which is the one I have ready to go. You are a wonderful inspiration, Robbie.

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  5. I find it very cool that I have so many literature loving and story writing blog pals.
    I seem to stumble along, but it’s a great world.
    Okay, a Canto a week! I’m going to follow here! I’m excited!
    Thank you Roberta!
    And thank you Rebecca!

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    1. I am glad you like this idea, Resa. A Canto a week is manageable for us all, hopefully. I really enjoy reading up on each Canto and then reading and listening simultaneously. I too am grateful for this community. I would never have thought of this idea if it wasn’t for Rebecca.

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  6. Wow, I am glad you are enjoying reading it this way Robbie. I don’t think it is a book that has ever called to me, but I enjoyed todays post and will follow along with you. I like the idea of listening to an abridged version first to get the gist of the story. I will have to keep that in mind for the future.

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  7. You are a courageous reader, Robbie, and this just proves my point. The one chapter at a time is a brilliant idea, but I kind of also like just learning about the book from YOU! 🙂 By the way, I’m listening to Gone with the Wind on audibles and it is fantastic! So glad I read your review. I haven’t read GWTW in 40 some years, and even though I know the story so well (I’ve watched the movie at least a dozen times) I forgot how detailed Margaret Mitchell is in her telling, and how descriptive of the Civil War scene in the south before, during and after. She’s an amazing author – too bad sheonly wrote ONE book, but it’s a classic for good reason.

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    1. Hi Pam, thank you. I love reading Divine Comedy one chapter at a time. Sometimes I listen and read the chapter twice. I am way ahead of the posts but that’s okay. I am pleased that readers are so interested in this book and my reading of it. I am glad you are enjoying GWTW. A fantastic book and I loved the detail I have recently read Brave New World which really was a different and frightening read.

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