7. Inferno.

I am the way into the doleful city,
I am the way into eternal grief,
I am the way to a forsaken race.

Justice it was that moved my great creator;
Divine omnipotence created me,
And highest wisdom joined with primal love.

Before me nothing but eternal things
Were made, and I shall last eternally.
Abandon every hope, all you who enter.

I saw these words spelled out in somber colors
Inscribed along the ledge above a gate;
‘Master,’ I said, ‘these words I see are cruel.’
(Inf 3.1-12)


Dante’s Inferno, the first section of the Divine Comedy, is a medieval poem in which our author is given a guided tour of Hell. He encounters famous historical figures as well as people he knew personally, while his tour guide (the Roman poet Vergil) explains the logic of the Hell’s organization and the divine justice of its terrible punishments. Suzanne and Chris retrace these steps and talk about their favourite passages in all their upsetting cruelty and beauty.

Show Notes.

The Inferno as translated by Mark Musa, Charles Singleton, or Ciaran Carson. Also available free online in Allen Mandelbaum’s translation (with useful notes by Teodolinda Barolini) at Digital Dante.

The Holkham manuscript, one of only four fully illustrated copies of Dante’s Divine Comedy from the fourteenth century, is available online through the Bodleian library. It’s worth exploring its illustrations.

Gustave Doré’s famous nineteenth-century illustrations are also fabulous.

Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux’s statue of Ugolino and His Sons.

More artworks inspired by the Inferno.

Caroline Bergvall reading “Via”, hosted at her PennSound page. The poem is in her collection Fig.

Next time: John Milton’s Paradise Lost, also available at Project Gutenberg.

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