Monday, November 16, 2015

Dante's Divine Comedy by Seymour Chwast

Rating: WARTY!

In which I play the back nine with Dante Alighieri!

I almost picked up a copy of the Divine comedy in audio book form, but I declined it in favor of this graphic novel, Wise decision! The book seemed like too much to take for me, and the graphic novel confirmed it. Much simplified - indeed to a degree greater than I would have liked - the book depicts pretty much the Cliff's Notes version of the story, with lots of low grade illustration (in the form of monochrome line drawings and very little text. There's a mild sense of humor running through it, but overall I was neither impressed by the graphic novel version, nor by the primitive and idiotic original story, steeped as it was in the most asinine superstition and bullshit imaginable. I was so glad I didn't plump for the audio book which would have been a nightmare to listen to if it was as tedious as this version.

This is where the nine circles of hell originated, at least in popular consciousness, and which in turn evidently owes a lot to the seven deadly sins. It's also very confusing. The first seven circles are each dismissed with barely a page of illustration and text, and having been through that, I have to question the mental health of Dante, although having said that, I do fully realize that this was how people in general and the church in particular really viewed life and death back then. Or at least tried to sell it, in the case of the church.

The first circle of hell is Limbo, which is apparently simply hanging out solely with, it would appear, celebrities. It left me not knowing quite what to do, because for me that would be hell. I imagine it wouldn't seem remotely like hell for all-too-many people, and especially for those who live in a celebrity culture like the population of the USA seems to do!

The second circle of hell is the naked truth. We're told that it's inhabited by "Lustful creatures who committed sins of the flesh who are tossed about carelessly in the dark by the most furious winds." Now they spend eternity locked in carnal embrace. I can't imagine all that many people actually going beyond this level. They would be happy here - probably most guys, and more women than you might initially imagine. It would be like going back to the sixties. For eternity. How is this hell? LOL!

The third circle (or the turd circle as it happens) is to punish the gluttons, and this one is the first level which actually does punish. Evidently the fate of gluttons is to float around in the very excrement which has resulted from their own gluttony. Ick! You gluttons better get your shit together or you're actually going to get your shit - together!

I really wanted to get my hands on the fourth circle, which is devoted to avarice. It's also where apparently Rolling Rock beer got its name, because rolling rocks is what these people do - around a circle until they crash into the other team coming the other way, then they turn and roll the rocks back in the opposite direction. This sounds like a rip-off of the Sisyphus myth, but not really much of a hell as compared with the previous level, at least!

The fifth Circle is a joke, apparently. It's naked mud wrestling! It's not exactly my cup of mud - although I guess that would depend upon who it is I was scheduled to wrestle! LOL! There's a kind of a break here, where we see out traveler and his guide traveling the River Acheron (take that, Percy Jackson and your river Styx lowest common denominator!) Evidently these three rivers, The Acheron, the Phlegethon, and the Styx, flow from the mouth of a statue. I never knew that! Nor can I figure out how Greek mythology took over this story about Christian punishment! Rip-Off!

As the two travel (Virgil and Dante) with Phlegyas across the Styx now, they pass sinner Filippo, who is killed by other sinners. Wait, what? Wasn't he dead already?! We are in the afterlife (written as two words in this version!) are we not? It's no wonder that three furies appear and call upon Medusa. I felt like doing the same at this point. The sixth circle consists of heretics and Epicureans, sitting in coffins surrounded by fire. They look bored, but I would imagine they would have some great debates and discussions going if this weren't fiction.

The seventh circle is devoted to violence to begin with, but this is where the neat nine circles goes to hell - as it were, because there are now sub-divisions, and anyone who has lived in a badly-designed subdivision will know exactly what kind of hell it is. On level two, a minotaur guards a ravine of broken rocks across which Dante rides on a centaur, because those broken rocks are hellish, don't you know? Dante seems to have a particular obsession with naked bodies and broken rocks. You have to wonder what state his own rocks were in when he was naked. Possibly New Jersey, but more likely Arizona. Oh, and centaurs prevent the violent folk from escaping the boiling blood river! I imagine they would become trapped when the blood congealed from being boiled. Have I ever boiled blood, you ask? Well this ridiculous theology makes my blood boil. Does that count?

On level three of the seventh circle, you can catch the direct line to Buckingham palace. Oh, wait, wrong hell! No, here, harpies feed on the suicide trees, which are like the ones in the Wizard of Oz movie - living beings. They have it better than those who were violent against god, though! Those villains have to lie on hot sand and have ashes rain upon them. Seriously? Dante's god is so petty that he punishes people for eternity with abusive and nasty pettiness because they were violent against him? I know some parents are harsh on their children, but for the most part, a truly loving parent forgives their kids and loves them unconditionally, continually striving to help them all they can. God evidently gives up after four score and ten. For all our faults, when it comes to looking after our loved ones, for the most part, we humans put all gods to shame.

In the second zone the sodomites are punished under fiery rain! The thing is that flames evidently burn-off the features of the sodomites, so not a one of them is ugly! Yeay! Next up, eighth circle, which is yet another sub-divided mess: the fraudulent, the pimps and seducers, oh, and astrologers, magicians and diviners! Hypocrites. Serpents attack thieves and the two merge. Sowers of discord have to walk in a circle where they're repeatedly stabbed, heal, and are stabbed again. Falsifiers of metals get scabs. Now scabs merely cross picket lines. The ninth circle is pretty much more of the same. It's all about betrayal and usury - which is a sin! Bankers of the Earth beware! You have nothing to lose but your bottom line....

Curiously, Dante has an out. Giants lower him to the bottom of hell where he can use the devil's own tunnel to climb out and escape! He makes his way to purgatory where he's required to wash his hands of hell, because he's not a spirit. He notices that he casts a shadow, but Virgil, his companion does not. Spirits, we're told, cannot cast a shadow but can feel pain. How does that work?

The dead are begging Dante to tell their loved ones to pray for them. Why is this? Are we to understand from this that two spirits, both equally stained with sin, will have different outcomes if one has people begging for him whereas the other does not? This is the same thing as saying that it's not your own sin which condemns you, but the level of groveling you can command from your followers! Honestly? Why would the prayers of the living matter? Why not the prayers of those already dead, who have gone on to heaven? Wouldn't their evaluation be more accurate? And why would a perfect god need to be told anything? Or asked for anything? Doesn't he already know? So the purpose of this is for people to debase themselves with no guarantee of an outcome, evidently. It has nothing to do with actually affecting, much less effecting, an outcome. Indeed, how can a perfect god's mind be changed by prayer? To suggest it can be changed indicates the divine mind is in an imperfect state!

Of course, the value of Dante's insights is rather lessened when we learn of his cosmology, which has Earth at the center and the sun out in a "sphere" between Venus and Mars.... Comedy is definitely the word for this. It's a joke. Not only is the original story complete trash, as well as being both juvenile and vindictive, this graphic rendition of it felt to me like it was tossed together on the cheap. It was lackluster and minimalist to an extreme degree, and I can't recommend it.

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