Currently Reading: The Divine Comedy

As a geometer struggles all he can
to measure out the circle by the square,
but all his cogitation cannot gain

The principle he lacks: so did I stare
at this strange sight, to make the image fit
the aureole, and see it enter there

Author: Dante Alighieri
Translator: Anthony Esolen

Synopsis, like anyone needs it: Dante gets a tour of the afterlife, courtesy of the poet Virgil and Dante's immortalized beloved, Beatrice.

Actually... drum roll, please...

I'm not currently reading the Divine Comedy. After three years of journeying from the depths of hell to the stars and the Empyrean, I finished it last week—in church—with sunlight streaming through the big stained-glass window showing Mary rising to heaven, with flowers and the censer on the altar stairs, and with the Eucharist on the altar.

Of all the perfect images!

I'm glad to have read the whole poem, and in order. It wasn't always easy. The Inferno took a lot of work to get through; hell is, and always has been, a troubling concept for me. It was cold and frightening and... well, it set the mood Dante wanted it to set, I suppose. Creepy, dark and horrifying.

But I loved Purgatorio, the different rings and the disappearances of the markings on Dante's forehead, and the peace of the ascending souls. The final cantos, where Dante passes through the rivers and is greeted by Beatrice, are especially beautiful.

The Paradiso was beyond splendid. Except for a few cantos where I got bored of Cacciaguida's rambling and would have liked to move to the next level, everything held light and glory and wonder. I particularly loved Anthony Esolen's translation for the increased rhythm and rhyme throughout the entire poem (the final canto is completely in terza rima, I think). Also, his work included excellent notes to help make sense of the themes and confusing parts.

There's something about the last several lines of the last canto of Paradise that brings tears to my eyes, over and over again, even when I think of them in random moments. Perhaps it is the depth of imagery, the beautiful impossibility of explaining God; perhaps it comes from the fact that I had read them before and had kept them close to my heart while writing my novel. Probably both. Either way, the work of reading a sometimes difficult and obscure classic was well rewarded.


  1. I read it (the Ciardi version) last summer for the first time and loved it. Purgatory was my favorite; I found Paradise a bit repetitive. Also using it as inspiration (Hell and Purgatory especially) as inspiration for the second part of my WIP.

  2. I've really only read the Inferno, I need to go the distance & read the rest.

    You finished it in church? Hopefully not during the priest's homily. As a pastor I take a dim view to people reading during the sermon. :)

    Although truth be told, pastors are the worst people to listen to sermons. We're always thinking of how we would've done it or writing a separate sermon in our head. ;)

  3. David, interesting that you're using the Comedy as inspiration! Sounds intriguing.

    George, bad choice of words on my part. I finished it at church, not during the service at all. Reading during the homily would be pretty rude. :)


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