Dante’s il­lu­sions in In­ferno


WHEN I de­cided to watch In­ferno in the cin­ema re­cently, I made a con­scious de­ci­sion to go with a clean slate. Hav­ing not read the book by the same ti­tle writ­ten by Amer­i­can au­thor Dan Brown worked in my favour with the thrills and spills adding to the sus­pense through­out the movie.

All the way through the movie, men­tions of Thir­teenth Cen­tury poet Dante were threaded, am­ply in­cit­ing gen­uine and re­newed in­ter­est in this enig­matic lit­er­ary fig­ure.

Hav­ing done Dante in pass­ing a decade ago, I was de­lighted to re­learn all about Dante and went back to the books to re­fresh my mem­ory and it all came to me at over­whelm­ing speed.

In the movie, the lead role is played by Tom Hanks as Har­vard Pro­fes­sor Robert Lang­don and he gives frag­mented in­sights about Dante, which is suf­fi­cient to arouse you to know a lot more about him.

Du­rante degli Alighieri or sim­ply called Dante (1265-1321) was a well-known Ital­ian poet who rose to promi­nence with his poem Di­vine Com­edy, con­sid­ered a mas­ter­piece in world lit­er­a­ture.

It is be­lieved that Dan Brown’s book and movie was in­spired by Dante’s Di­vine Com­edy where the first Canto is iden­ti­fied as In­ferno.

In the poem, Dante, au­thor and pro­tag­o­nist of the poem, is in the mid­dle of the jour­ney of his life in a dark for­est. It is hor­ri­ble, tan­gled and wild, and just the mem­ory of it makes Dante pet­ri­fied. With his soul sleepy and numb, he is un­aware of what is hap­pen­ing.

This re­lates to the ex­act state of mind in which Pro­fes­sor Lang­don wakes up in the hos­pi­tal, “I found my­self within a for­est dark,” Lang­don thought, re­call­ing the omi­nous first canto of Dante’s mas­ter­work, “... for the straight­for­ward path­way had been lost”.

The novel and the movie based on Dante’s epic poem of heaven, hell and pur­ga­tory is set amid the pi­az­zas and palazzi of Florence, where the poet was born.

In the movie, we see the shadow per­son­al­ity and sur­pris­ingly the main an­tag­o­nist too, Ber­trand Zo­brist, a fic­tional char­ac­ter cre­ated by Brown, ob­sessed with Dante.

The sci­en­tist who is suf­fi­ciently en­dowed with wealth al­lows his mind to de­velop the twisted logic that the hu­man race, which is swelling in num­bers, is im­pos­ing un­prece­dented bur­den on the Earth’s re­sources, which is fast de­plet­ing. He comes up with this no­tion that it is in­cum­bent upon him to re­verse this by a mass “killing”.

Tom Hanks sets him­self in mo­tion, or rather the plot sets him in mo­tion, rac­ing across time and places to find that virus that will wipe out half the world’s pop­u­la­tion if it is set free.

The thrilling and grip­ping se­quence of events un­fold­ing and un­leash­ing more ex­hil­a­rat­ing mo­ments get in­tri­cate and “bawdy” when our hope in the fe­male lead comes to naught.

Schol­ars at the Ital­ian Dante So­ci­ety felt that the book and the movie, de­spite some his­tor­i­cal in­ac­cu­ra­cies, will bring the poet’s work to a much wider au­di­ence.

“The Di­vine Com­edy is 600 years old. It can sur­vive a few mis­takes be­ing made by Dan Brown,” Eu­ge­nio Giani, the pres­i­dent of the Ital­ian Dante So­ci­ety, told The Daily Tele­graph.

The Di­vine Com­edy is an epic poem di­vided into three parts: Hell, Pur­ga­tory, and Heaven. Dante is led on a tour of the first two set­tings by the Ro­man poet Vir­gil. Upon reach­ing the Gar­den of Eden, Vir­gil leaves and Beatrice takes his place. This jour­ney is meant to im­press upon read­ers the con­se­quences of sin and the glo­ries of Heaven.

In Dante’s In­ferno, the spirit of Ro­man poet Vir­gil leads Dante’s al­ter ego, the “Pil­grim,” through the cir­cles of Hell, where they wit­ness the hor­ri­ble pun­ish­ments that sin­ners have brought upon them­selves.

The open­ing of Dante’s work is re­flec­tive of the pil­grim who is search­ing for mean­ing in life. The search re­volves around the cen­tral ques­tions of what de­fines in­di­vid­ual iden­tity and what choices in­di­vid­u­als should make: “Mid­way upon the jour­ney of our life, I found my­self within a for­est dark, for the straight­for­ward path­way had been lost.”

The “for­est dark” is re­flec­tive of a con­di­tion in which in­di­vid­u­als strug­gle to make de­ci­sions about the paths be­tween good and evil, the ex­act quandary Zo­brist was in, be­fore he suc­cumbed to the darker side of his mind. In sum, the theme of good and evil is crit­i­cal to Dante’s work.

Zo­brist ap­pears to be seek­ing sal­va­tion in what he be­lieves is an act to save the world from fur­ther de­cline and rape by the ev­er­in­creas­ing pop­u­la­tion.

The book is a good read, the movie an ex­cel­lent watch and the poem a feast for con­nois­seurs of lit­er­a­ture.

Tom Hanks (left) repris­ing his role as Har­vard Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Robert Lang­don and Si­enna Brooks (Felic­ity Jones) in the movie In­ferno.

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