Carlos Martínez Moreno, El Infierno (1981)

“This last novel by Uruguayan writer and defense attorney Martínez Moreno, who died in exile in 1986, depicts the revolt of Uruguay’s Tupamaro urban guerillas and their suppression by the military in the early 1970s. Using true accounts of kidnapping, torture and murder from political detainees whom he defended while living in Uruguay, Martínez Moreno fashions a dreamlike yet brutally realistic story of a police state. His book borrows chiefly from The Inferno in Dante’s Divine Comedy. In this modern-day hell, wealthy Uruguayan bankers and prosecutors are kidnapped by the Tupamaros; army colonels and police officers learn more effective ways to torture political prisoners from the ‘cold, calculating’ North American ‘adviser.'”   —Publishers Weekly, 1988

For more on the novel and its relationship to Dante’s poem, see Efraín Kristal’s “What Is, Is Not: Dante in Tomas Eloy Martínez’s Purgatorio,” Bulletin of Latin American Research 31.4 (2012): 473-484 (accessible here).

Kat Mustatea, Voidopolis (2020)

@kmustatea on Instagram (January 30, 2021)

Voidopolis is a digital performance about loss and memory that is currently unfolding over 45 posts on my Instagram feed (@kmustatea). Started July 1, 2020, it is a loose retelling of Dante’s Inferno, informed by the grim experience of wandering through NYC during a pandemic. Instead of the poet Virgil, my guide is a caustic hobo named Nikita.”   –Kat Mustatea

Featuring a Dantesque cast of characters ranging from the Virgilian Nikita to a mohawked Minos, a gruff ferryman named Kim and a withdrawn George Perec, Mustatea’s Voidopolis weaves through the pandemic-deserted streets of Manhattan, a posthuman landscape of absence and loss, bearing witness to its vanishings. Voidopolis won the 2020 Arts & Letters “Unclassifiable” Prize for Literature, and received a Literature grant from the Cafe Royal Cultural Foundation.

To read more about both the process of the piece and its influences, including Dante, see the interview with Mustatea featured in Dovetail Magazine (2020).

 

Donna Tartt, The Secret History (1992)

“On page 39, the Inferno is directly mentioned: ‘It’s the meter,’ said Francis, ‘Iambic trimeter. Those really hideous parts of Inferno, for instance, Pier de Medicina with his nose hacked off and talking though a bloody slit in his windpipe–‘ ‘ I can think of worse than that,’ Charles said. ‘So can I. But that passage is lovely and it’s because of the terza rima. The music of it. The trimeter tolls through that speech of Klytemnestra’s like a bell.’

“This was in reference to a quoted piece of the Oresteia in a classics class. The reference to the meter was to connect death and beauty, and ultimately make a statement pertinent to the subject of desire, specifically the desire to live forever. Earlier in the book, the professor teaching the classics class mentioned both Dante and Virgil by name when explaining subjects other than Greek that the students would be studying in his program.”  –Contributor Alex Lee

Contributed by Robert Alex Lee (Florida State University, ’21)

Carolyn Wolfenzon, Nuevos fantasmas recorren México (2020)

“In eight chapters, Wolfenzon focuses on different ghosts that haunt the pages of each of the novels. In her essay about Sada’s Porque parece mentira la verdad nunca se sabe (Because it Seems Like a Lie, The Truth is Never Known), for example, his ‘ghost is someone like you and me who works in a maquiladora,’ Wolfenzon said, referring to the factories prevalent along the US–Mexico border.

“‘The characters are only doing one thing in the entire novel,’ she continued. ‘They are like the dead but they are alive, in this setting, this space that doesn’t belong to anybody. It is the border between Mexico and the US, and it has the atmosphere of a new kind of hell.’

“Indeed, Wolfenzon was struck by how often the authors she examined describe new kinds of horrifying hells. She saw correlations with the Inferno, and in 2016, audited Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Arielle Saiber’s class on Dante.

“‘I felt it was important to carefully revisit the Divina Comedia (The Divine Comedy),’ Wolfenzon said. ‘Arielle’s class was very inspirational to me, even though it was in Italian!'”   –Rebecca Goldfine, “Carolyn Wolfenzon’s New Book Illuminates a Ghoulish Theme in Modern Mexican Literature,” Bowdoin News, December 14, 2020

REVIEWED: Dante’s Inferno: A Verse Translation by Sean O’Brien

“At least 50 English translations of The Inferno — the first volume of Dante’s three-part epic — have appeared in the 20th century alone. And now we have another, by the Yorkshire-born poet Sean O’Brien. O’Brien’s is a brave undertaking, given the scores of august literary figures who have attempted the task in previous centuries, often obscuring Dante’s brilliance in the process.

“O’Brien’s Inferno is touted by the publishers as ‘the most fluent, grippingly readable English version of Dante yet’.”   –Ian Thomson, The Spectator, 2006

Read the full review here.

Elena Ferrante, Storia del nuovo cognome (2012)

“Ma adesso, a Ischia, aveva incontrato Lila e avevo capito che lei era stata fin dall’infanzia—e sarebbe stata sempre in futuro—il suo vero unico amore. Eh sì, era andata di sicuro a questo modo. E come rimproverarlo? Dov’era la colpa? C’era, nella loro storia, qualcosa d’intenso, di sublime, affinità elettive. Evocai versi e romanzi come tranquillanti. Forse, pensai, aver studiato mi serve solo a questo: a calmarmi. Lei gli aveva acceso la fiamma in petto, lui per anni l’aveva custodita senza accorgersene: ora che quella fiamma era divampata. Cos’altro poteva fare se non amarla. Anche se lei non l’amava. Anche se era sposata e quindi inaccessibile, vietata: un matrimonio dura per sempre, oltre la morte. A meno che non lo si infranga condannandosi alla bufera infernale fino giorno del Giudizio.”   –Elena Ferrante, Storia del nuovo cognome (p. 237)

A.J. Hackwith, The Library of the Unwritten (2019)

A Library of the Unwritten by A. J. Hackwith tells the story of a librarian and her assistant from the ‘Unfinished Book’ wing of the library of Hell tracking down escaped characters from the books, attempting to meet their authors or change their stories. Towards the beginning of the story, as they are about to depart the library of hell for Earth so they can track down an escaped character, a figure appears and quotes most of the inscription which is written on the gate of Hell in Dante’s Inferno.”   –Contributor Robert Alex Lee

Here is the synopsis of the 2019 novel, from Penguin Random House: “In the first book in a brilliant new fantasy series, books that aren’t finished by their authors reside in the Library of the Unwritten in Hell, and it is up to the Librarian to track down any restless characters who emerge from those unfinished stories.

“Many years ago, Claire was named Head Librarian of the Unwritten Wing—a neutral space in Hell where all the stories unfinished by their authors reside. Her job consists mainly of repairing and organizing books, but also of keeping an eye on restless stories that risk materializing as characters and escaping the library. When a Hero escapes from his book and goes in search of his author, Claire must track and capture him with the help of former muse and current assistant Brevity and nervous demon courier Leto.

“But what should have been a simple retrieval goes horrifyingly wrong when the terrifyingly angelic Ramiel attacks them, convinced that they hold the Devil’s Bible. The text of the Devil’s Bible is a powerful weapon in the power struggle between Heaven and Hell, so it falls to the librarians to find a book with the power to reshape the boundaries between Heaven, Hell….and Earth.”   —Penguin Random House

Contributed by Robert Alex Lee (Florida State University ’21)

Fr. Paul Pearson, Spiritual Direction From Dante: Ascending Mount Purgatory (2020)

2020-spiritual-direction-from-dante-ascending-mount-purgatory

“Join Father Paul Pearson of the Oratory as he guides you on a spiritual journey through one of the great classics of Christian literature, Dante’s Purgatorio. Purgatory is the least understood of the three possible “destinations” when we die (though unlike heaven or hell it is not an eternal one) and is mysterious to many Christians and even to many Catholics today. As he did in his first volume in the Spiritual Direction from Dante trilogy, Avoiding the Inferno, Father Pearson adroitly draws out the great spiritual insights hidden in The Divine Comedy.” [. . .]    –Fr. Paul Pearson, Amazon, 2020.

 

Matthew Pearl, “What Writers Can Learn From Dante—Seriously, From Dante”

matthew-pearl-what-writers-can-learn-from-dante“As a reader and writer, I was always drawn to historical fiction; later, I added writing narrative nonfiction to my interests, often with a historical bent. Dante’s Comedy projects a variety of lessons in those arenas. Dante recruits mythological and historical figures and mixes them into a high stakes story filled with danger and risk, much like we often do in historical fiction. In the process, Dante sometimes reshapes our perspective on those figures. Ulysses, for example, appears during Dante’s trek through hell, and Ulysses’s brief monologue marks one of the most striking versions of that character outside of Homer. Dante, of course, was not perfect, and his refashioning of his own persona through the course of the poem conceals some of his questionable life choices, including his failure to try to reunite with his wife and family after his political exile. As modern readers, we also have to contend with the fact that Dante’s attitudes toward other religions (outside of Catholicism, and an idiosyncratic version of Catholicism, at that) is very problematic.

“Purgatory is the middle child of Dante’s poem, sandwiched between the terrors of hell’s punishments and the heights of salvation in heavenly paradise. But Purgatory was always my personal favorite canticle (Dante’s term for each of the three sections). This canticle contains the most dramatic storytelling structure, in which Dante must carve out an independent track from his mentor Virgil (one of the historical and literary figures recruited into the story), and must rediscover his lost love, Beatrice (another historical figure). Beatrice’s appearance is one of the more surprising moments of the whole poem. I still have the first copy of Purgatory I read in college, and I remember reading the scene in which we finally meet Beatrice while on the edge of my seat.” [. . .]    –Matthew Pearl, Crime Reads, September 16, 2019.

Check out more of Matthew Pearl’s work here.

Christina Hale, “3 Ways Dante Influenced C.S. Lewis”

christina-hale-three-ways-dante-influenced-cs-lewis“C.S. Lewis’s love for Dante Alighieri and The Divine Comedy was no great secret. Lewis first read Dante’s Inferno in the original Italian when he was in his teens and later read Purgatorio while he was in the hospital recovering from wounds received in World War I. He finally read Paradiso for the first time in 1930, before he became a Christian, but after he had reluctantly decided that there was a God. At this point, he was still very much conflicted as to the nature of God and whether or not there was an afterlife.

“After finishing Paradiso, he told a dear friend, Arthur Greeves, that ‘it reaches heights of poetry which you get nowhere else; an ether almost too fine to breathe. It is a pity I can give you no notion what it is like. Can you imagine Shelley at his most ecstatic combined with Milton at his most solemn & rigid? It sounds impossible I know, but that is what Dante has done.’ He thought that it felt “more important” than any poetry he had ever read. The year after reading Paradiso, Lewis became a believing Christian. While we might never know just how large a role Dante played in his actual conversion, it is clear that Dante had an incredible effect on Lewis’s life and writings.

“The influence of The Divine Comedy can be clearly seen in one of Lewis’s finest, and yet frequently overlooked, works—the Ransom Trilogy (commonly but erroneously called the Space Trilogy). In this post I will outline three ways in which Dante’s influence can be seen in the Ransom Trilogy.” [. . .]   –Christina Hale, Roman Roads, 2020.

Check out more of Christina Hale’s work here.