Tuesday, February 23, 2010


After a brief lull, we are back for another post about The Divine Comedy. I am normally a slow reader, but my creeping pace through this book is almost laughable. Part of this is certainly because I mentally read the lines in their iambic pentameter form rather than as if they were just regular prose. I can't decide how best to absorb the book, though.

Pros of iambic pentameter:
1) The book was obviously written to be read in this form, so I'd be staying true to Dante's initial vision.
2) I don't read much epic poetry, so reading a book in verse is a fun change.

Pros of prose:
1) It is much faster.
2) Mentally ordering the syllables to match the verse sometimes distracts me from the actual text.

On to the actual book! The fourth circle of hell is home to the "Avaricious and Prodigal," or the greedy and the wasteful. They spend eternity pushing rocks in circles and making fun of each other, saying "Why do you hoard?!" and "Why do you squander?!", respectively. This doesn't seem too fun, but at least they are all probably in good shape.
Here is the strange part. Way down in the seventh circle are the violent against possessions. Dante's examples of this are members of the Spendthrift Club; the sole requirement for membership appears to have been an agreement to spend a ton of money on frivolous parties and gifts. (This is not to be confused with the ironically named Spendthrift Club of 600 years later, the members of which only spent about fourpence each evening. They probably made it up to Purgatorio.) These wasteful folk in the seventh circle are pursued by dogs. When a person is caught,
and, piece by piece, those dogs dismembered him
and carried off his miserable limbs. (Canto XIII, line 128)
This sounds way worse than the mere prodigal get. If I have any Dante experts among my readers, can you please explain the disparity?


Kathy said...

Does the whole book rhyme? That must have been so hard to write. I agree with him that being greedy and wasteful is certainly very bad. For some reason that reminds me of a family favorite song, "Being Spiteful Is a No, No, No", and the prohibition from being "a very bad waster"!

David said...

It doesn't rhyme; it is just in a set cadence. But I agree that it would be tough to write, as well as translate!