August 16, 2010

Literary Pick (**)

The Divine Comedy 
-Dante Alighieri
















 




I once read a biography on Modilgiani (one of my favorite artists) where it mentioned that his favorite piece of literature was The Divine Comedy. Apparently he use to walk around quoting Dante all day long, to the point of being utterly annoying to his friends and colleagues. Other artists and writers would look at him and be like, "God, don't you have a life?!". For some reason he seemed to have had a deep connection to this work. Also, It's a funny coincidence that one of the women in Modilgiani's life was also named Beatrice, just like the seraph who guides Dante through the later part of his journey.
Since I was a child I've always had a morbid curiosity about the tortures and torments of hell and evil. I remember the first time I heard the story of Jim Jones, I cried. I was terribly upset and terrified. It was horrifying to learn that forms of evil could exist so close to us, mortals, here on earth. Aside from that traumatizing childhood experience, my father use to have a collection of vintage saint illustrations, and I came across this collection when I was about 6 years old, and in these illustrations were depictions of angelic images who were tortured and tormented by unseen evil forces. There always seemed to be an evil form trying to pull them down into hell, as the saints gazed upwardly with their eyes pleading for mercy from the God above. These are the kinds of images that sparked a curiosity that made me want to tackle a massive masterpiece such as this one.
I prepared a lot for The Divine Comedy before actually reading it (about a year). I found a mint condition copy in a used bookstore and snatched it up immediately. Personally, the translation was a bit tough for me, fortunately I had familiarized myself enough with it's theme before attempting to read it and felt I had a pretty good understanding of what is what about, so that helped a lot.
Finally, one of the things that attracted me to The Divine Comedy was the fact that Dante put the people he disliked through different stages of hell, which I think was brilliant in and of itself. There are a couple of people I too strongly dislike (hate) who I wish to see burn in several layers of hell as well. I've come to terms with the fact that I am not benevolent enough to forgive the wrongs and trespasses of others. I can't say I've reached that level of enlightenment in my life, and to be quite frank, I don't know if I ever will. However, I know that Dante himself ultimately reaches this point of spiritual enlightenment during his journey, and I was hoping that by the end of the book some of it could have rubbed off on me, but I'm afraid that didn't quite happen. My main issue with The Divine Comedy is that I had problems with visualization and imagery. In my minds eye I wasn't able to see or feel his experiences through these phases of afterlife. Perhaps if I had read a better translation I could have appreciated it more. I do however appreciate the work as a concept. The funny thing is that every now and then I'll come across brilliant passages or quotes from this book and wonder why I don't remember coming across  them while I was actually reading the book. I definitely have to re-visit this one again.

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