Inferno

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The most important work of literature to come forth from Italy was without question “The Divine Comedy” – an epic poem written by Dante Alighieri in the 14th century. Understand, Dante was not the Jon Stewart of his day. “Comedy” referred to literature written in language accessible to the common man. Ordinary and straightforward – not ancient and lofty. Well, not to Dante’s contemporaries, anyway.

I think I somehow missed this epic poem in my schooling. When better to tackle it than during my journey to reach the city Dante worshipped, which eventually exiled him even in death. So, I downloaded it to my iPad (just as Dante intended), and read it today. Friends, Dante might have been a time traveler, and take this from a woman who just completed a 26 hour journey through 4 countries and 3 languages… Dante fully understands my plight.

What should the sign at TSA have read, as I checked in for the first leg of my flight?

“Here all suspicion needs must be abandoned,
All cowardice must needs be here extinct.”

And as I wandered aimlessly in the international terminal during my 7 hour layover in Toronto, what did I hear?

“Languages diverse, horrible dialects,
Accents of anger, words of agony,
And voices high and hoarse, with sound of hands,”

What happened to these people, I wondered?

“These have no longer any hope of death;
And this blind life of theirs is so debased,
They envious are of every other fate.”

They must have had a pretty terrible flight, I observed.

“The heavens expelled them, not to be less fair;
Nor them the nethermore abyss receives,
For glory none the damned would have from them.”

Clearly, some suffered from cancelled flights, for such was the advice for them:

“By other ways, by other ports
Thou to the shore shalt come, not here, for passage;”

Who among us has not suffered at the hands of a heartless flight attendant?

“Charon the demon, with the eyes of glede,
Beckoning to them, collects them all together,
Beats with his oar whoever lags behind.”

But why do they subject themselves to this?

“My daughter,” the courteous Master said to me,
“All those who perish in the wrath of God
Here meet together out of every land”
And ready are they to pass o’er the river,
Because celestial Justice spurs them on,
So that their fear is turned into desire.”

And thus has it ever been, and so shall be our fate, it appears. Any kid who complains Dante has nothing in common with modern man has never traveled 26 hours between Raleigh and Florence.

(From the Longfellow translation of The Inferno)

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