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Cannonball Read IV: The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

By gabe3886 | Books | April 26, 2012 |

By gabe3886 | Books | April 26, 2012 |

This review represents a change in direction of my reading for a title, and delves into the classic text by Dante Alighieri where he embarks on a journey through the different levels of hell, and describes in vivid detail the underworld and the punishment which awaits the sinners who end up there. After hearing so much about the classics, and The Divine Comedy, I was curious to see what all the fuss is about and decided to give this one a go. This particular copy was given an introduction by a scholar of the text, and lead into the actual poem itself which had references to a bibliography in the back to help other scholars to understand the book.

Yes, I did say this is a poem.

The Divine Comedy has been studied over the years and is said to be unique as it is written by Dante who has himself as a character in his own tale. The story is written from the perspective of Dante on his journey through it all, but shows a little sense of dramatic irony throughout as it could only have been written by him after his journey, so any peril which he encounters we know he will survive.

To think that this book would be easy to read, having been studied for literally centuries, would be a mistake. It has been translated, yes, but the prose and structure of it all follows that which was written by Dante all those years ago. There are parts which are easy to understand, but still there are some aspects which require the reader to think; and not just when Dante is engaging in dialogue with the reader either. The engagement with the reader adds another dimension to the text, which is not often done in stories, but helps draw you closer to the world through which he travels.

There are a lot of references to mythology of times pre-dating Dante, and the inclusion of contemporary references to people back then may lead to confusion, but the overall story cannot be overlooked for the imagery it portrays. Whilst Dante claimed that he really did go on this journey, it will seem to a lot of people to be a specific area of religious text from which people gain fear of sin, and therefore will be dismissed by those who don’t believe as a man with a vivid imagination - which is my standpoint on all of this.

I found this to be a big step up in concentration, and sometimes felt like giving up on the story due to the difficulty of the structure of the verses, however this will be one for anyone studying classics, or religious material, to read and study further than just the story. I don’t think this is a book for someone who reads for entertainment, rather it is for the specific realms of scholars and those specifically interested in the classics, not just grim tales of demons.

(Header image: Woodcut by Salvador Dali, “Slothful”)

For more of gabe3886’s reviews, check out his blog,

This review is part of Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it.

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