No. 46: Dante’s Inferno from Dominick’s Deli “Is it just us, or are the places that make a solid old Italian sandwich getting fewer and farther between? Because a really good sub is a science, and superior makers consider not just the flavor combination, but also the meat-to-bread ratio and how the thing holds up when you eat it–you don’t want your toppings making your bread soggy before you finish, and you don’t want your stuffing to slip out of the sides of your stack. Dominick’s Cafe, an old Upper East Side joint that’s been sating the neighborhood with hot heroes and prepared Italian foods for a couple of decades, nails this. Consider the Dante’s Inferno: Dominick’s cuts a slit in a chewy Italian loaf and then tightly and thickly layers in hot sopressata, pepperoni, prosciutto, smoked meat, and peppery jalapeño cheese. Hot pickled peppers, tomato slices, and a little vinegary house salad add the crowning touch before its wrapped in white deli paper and passed your way. Each bite brings perfect harmony among all ingredients, and the roll stays in tact until your final bite.” [. . .] –Laura Shunk, Village Voice, August 22, 2013.
“We already are familiar with the Marxian social gospel that is so popular among many current theologians and their followers. In the verses I will cite, Dante himself voices an understanding of the marketplace that shares this erroneous communitarian view of economics. In particular, he describes his adherence to what is known among libertarians as the fallacy of zero-sum economics. Those who hold the zero-sum view claim that in a free marketplace, the gains of one participant are exactly balanced by the losses of another. If the total of the gains and losses are added up, the sum will be zero. In other words, if the sum total of all wealth were embodied in a single chocolate cake, one person’s share of cake would be another’s loss. Furthermore, the addition of each new market participant requires the slicing of thinner and thinner pieces of this cake. We libertarians, of course, despise this theory. If it were correct, the seven billion inhabitants of planet Earth would now be sharing and dividing infinitesimally small pieces of the very same chocolate cake that was first made available in the mists of Mexican pre-history. If such were true, I frankly wonder if there would be so much as a single calorie available to any of us – and very stale calories at that. Furthermore, the current spectacle of American obesity appears to belie this interpretation without my assistance.
“But as soon as Dante expresses his zero-sum analysis of marketplace economics, Virgil – who acts as Dante’s divinely appointed guide throughout his journey down into the Inferno and during his wonderful ascent of the Purgatorio – immediately upbraids him and provides the correct alternative, an unabashed free-market perspective. In Dante’s poem, this perspective is a reflection of the divine perspective of God. Let’s now examine the text itself.” [. . .] –Lawrence M. Ludlow, Strike The Root, May 14, 2013.
“But it’s classical music – another Murakami love – that gives Murakami the title of his latest novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. The title comes from Franz Liszt’s three-suite work Anneés de pèlerinage, which translates as ‘Years of Pilgrimage.’
“The eighth part of the first suite – ‘Le mal du pays’ (translation: ‘Homesickness’) – bonds the five main characters (they all play and/or listen to the piece throughout the novel) as they voyage through the “years of pilgrimage” of their mid-30s.
“Murakami’s literary antecedent in writing about one’s mid-30s as a time of a despondent and confusing quest for meaning is, of course, Dante and his Divine Comedy. And the quest of Dante’s protagonist ends happily, as does the quest of Murakami’s protagonist, Tsukuru Tazaki.” [. . .] –Paul Gleason, Stereo Embers
“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