“The Dante Code”

“Renaissance art fans will note that this sketch evokes Botticelli’s famous 1495 portrait of Dante Alighieri, the medieval author of the Divine Comedy. In this cornerstone of Italian literature, Dante describes his mythical journey through hell, purgatory, and paradise, guided first by the shade of the Roman poet Virgil and later by the ghost of Beatrice Portinari, the girl Dante loved in childhood but never married. Among other things, the Divine Comedy is an allegory of Christian suffering and redemption, a romantic love story, a veiled account of Dante’s political exile from his beloved Florence, and a cultural manifesto that established the Italian language as a legitimate literary alternative to Latin. There are no obvious references to Iceland in the Divine Comedy, an epic poem of more than 14,000 lines whose original manuscript has never been found, or in any of Dante’s other works. Nowhere in the various accounts of Dante’s life is it mentioned that he ever visited Iceland. So why are we here?

We’re here because Gianazza has spent the past decade trying to prove his theory that the Divine Comedy is not a mythical story about the afterlife but rather a factual, albeit coded, account of a secret journey to Iceland Dante made in the early 1300s. Why would Dante shlep all the way from exile in sunny Ravenna to a cold, foggy island populated by Scandinavian farmers and their livestock, and not tell anyone? Gianazza believes that Dante was following in the footsteps of medieval Christian warriors called the Knights Templar. He hypothesizes that these knights had visited Iceland a century earlier carrying a secret trove that they concealed in an underground chamber in the Jökulfall Gorge.

The Templars picked Iceland for their hiding place, Gianazza believes, because it was one of the most distant and obscure places known to medieval Europeans, who sometimes identified it with the frozen, semimythical Ultima Thule of classical geography. The Templars calculated the exact coordinates of the chamber and identified landmarks to orient future visitors. Years later Dante acquired the secret knowledge, made a pilgrimage to the site, and then coded the directions into his great epic so that future generations might follow in his footsteps. Like Dante before him, Gianazza is searching for what some might call the Holy Grail, a term that he avoids. Having cracked Dante’s code, he expects to find early Christian texts and perhaps even the lost original manuscript of the Divine Comedy, all sealed in lead to guard them from the damp Icelandic weather. Gianazza launched his quest several years before Dan Brown published The Da Vinci Code, but in some ways he’s a more cautious, real-life version of symbologist Robert Langdon, the hero of Brown’s best-selling thriller.”    –Richard McGill Murphy, Town & Country, January 18, 2013

A. T. Pratt

Collection of illustrations by artist A. T. Pratt, inspired by several moments from Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso.

Cards Against Humanity, Third Expansion

The party game Cards Against Humanity included a black card in its third expansion pack that reads, “In the seventh circle of Hell, sinners must endure ____________ for all eternity.” The game was first made available in 2011, and the third expansion pack was issued in 2013.

Contributed by Isabelle Gurtler (The Bolles School ’22)

Downton Abbey Season 3, Episode 8 (2013)

On the ITV drama Downton Abbey, in season three, episode eight, Matthew Crawley says “This is like the outer circle from Dante’s Inferno!” (Downton Abbey, ITV, February 10, 2013)

Contributed by Victoria Nicholls (The Bolles School, ’22)

Apparitions from the Inferno

A series of Black and White photographs produced using alternative manual processes, featuring scenes from Dante’s Divine Comedy.

[. . .]

Many of my previous works have referenced classical literature and mythology (Hamlet, Maenads, etc). The subject of this project involves creating intimate portraits of characters referenced in Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. Specifically, I will be illustrating a number of souls from the first book in the series: The Inferno. I have had a long standing interest in the graphic quality and descriptiveness that Dante dictates in this work, and I believe that my photographic style and choice of medium will do great justice in giving life to these characters. I greatly admire the works of the Great Illustrator/Printmaker Gustave Dore, and my favorite contemporary Artist/Printmaker Barry Moser, who have both produced amazing images inspired by Dante. In the works of the aforementioned artists, high contrast renderings of often graphic and disturbing images are manifested through their respective mediums to present a dark underworld and its inhabitants as described by Dante. My intention is to bring Dante’s characters out of the realm of illustration and breath life into them through photographic realization, thereby actualizing their spirits (in a very surreal and ethereal manner) as real people.”    –John Ransom, Kickstarter, August 3, 2013

“La Divina Commedia”: ceramic artist Lee Yun Hee

“Lee Yun Hee weaves Eastern and Western influences to offer a contemporary re-interpretation of both aesthetic and literary traditions, constructing a fantasy world that speaks of hope, strength and determination.

“Young ceramic artist Lee Yun Hee (b. 1986, South Korea) majored in Ceramics at both BFA and MFA levels at Seoul’s Hong Ik University. Lee calls herself a collector. What she collects are everyday stories of the common people, about their desires and wants, their fears and anxiety, and ultimately ‘the cure’ they seek to overcome the challenges and difficulties of life. There is much that she can relate to during her collections, for she is after all also human. Yet, it is not the hardships she clings to, but those ‘cures’ that each person resorts to. [. . .]

“Lee created her latest series entitled ‘La Divina Commedia‘ in 2013. Her inspiration came from Divina Commedia (Divine Comedy), the renowned 14th century epic poem by Italian poet and writer Dante Alighieri. The literary work recounts Dante’s travels through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. In Lee’s contemporary take, the heroine of the story is a young girl who runs against all odds to overcome the trials and tribulations of life.” [. . .]   —Art Radar, August 11, 2015.

To view more of Lee’s ceramic artwork, you can visit her website.

Contributed by Anita Verna Crofts.

Getting Fired because of Dante’s Inferno

“Recently, there have been a number of Employment Tribunal cases focusing on employees’ Facebook posts. In Weeks v Everything Everywhere Limited, the claimant was dismissed after making posts that compared his employer to Dante’s Inferno.

“Everything Everywhere Limited (EEL) employed Mr Weeks as a customer service adviser. Its social media policy warned employees to avoid making posts that could damage EEL’s reputation or be viewed as bullying and harassment.

“Mr Weeks frequently made Facebook posts that likened EEL to Dante’s classical portrayal of Hell, such as “Dante’s awaits me – what a downer 12 hours of love and mirth“. Ms Lynn, one of his colleagues, reported these comments to Mr Groom, his line manager. Mr Groom formally warned Mr Weeks to stop posting in this manner.” […]    –Julie Keir, Brodies, March 29, 2013

The Social Network of Dante’s Inferno

“The first product coming out from this crazy idea was “The Social Network of Dante’s Inferno“, presented in the 2010 edition of the “Arts, Humanities and Complex Networks” symposium of NetSci and then published in a 2011 special issue of the Leonardo journal. In this work we were moved by the question: is a network of characters following some particular predictive patterns? If so: which ones?

“So we took a digital copy of Dante’s Inferno, where all interactions and characters were annotated with extra information (who the character was, if she was a historic or mythological figure, when she lived, …). We then considered each character as a node of the network. We created an edge between two characters if they had at least a direct exchange of words. Normal people would call this “a dialogue”.

“The double-focus point of the Commedia emerges quite naturally, as Dante and Virgilio are the so-called “hubs” of the system. It is a nice textbook example of the rich-get-richer effect, a classic network result. But contrary to what the title of the paper says, we went beyond that. There are not only “social” relationships. Each character is also connected to all the information we have about her. There is another layer, a semantic one, where we have nodes such as “Guelph” or “Middle Ages”. These nodes enable us to browse the Commedia as a network of concepts that Dante wanted to connect in one way or another. One can ask some questions like “are Ghibelline characters preferably connected to historic or mythological characters?” or “what’s the centrality of political characters in the Inferno as opposed to the Purgatorio?” and create one’s own interpretation of the Commedia.” […]    Michele Coscia, Michele Coscia, 12 December, 2013

The 9 Circles of Hell On Social Media

“Welcome to Dante’s Inferno for the 21st Century.” […]    Michael Blackmon, BuzzFeed, October 13, 2013

The 9 Circles of Marketing Hell: Where Will You Spend Eternity?

“We’ve all committed marketing offenses. Hopefully nothing bad enough to get yer arse canned, but you know, people mess up. But sometimes there are offenses so egregious, so blasphemous, so INCREDIBLY REPREHENSIBLE that we just can’t help but … make a content visualization about it.

“Whatever, we’re marketers, that’s what we do.

“To put these marketing sins into perspective, we organized them into the 9 circles of marketing hell — our own little spin-off of the literary classic, Dante’s Divine Comedy, better known as Dante’s Inferno. Muaaahahaha. Take a look at the 9 marketing sins that could land any of us in an eternity of fire and brimstone, and most importantly, the tedious, sometimes torturous punishments that we’ll have to endure for committing these sins!” [. . .]    –Corey Wainwright, HubSpot, January 17, 2013.

Read the full list of marketing sins here.