Last spring, I took a class on John Milton, therefore on a blog focused on medievalism, there is a “Milton Journal”. Though Miltonic writing is outside of the purview of medievalism, strictly speaking, I feel that the period is close enough that it warrants inclusion as part of a generalized study. And, why there are a few pieces on the Classical world. But today, we are heading back to the medieval roots of Milton.
I recently finished a reading of Dante Alighieri’s The Inferno (trans. John Ciardi). Why I waited so long to give it a go, I will never know. Now having finished it, I can see where Milton received so much of his influence; from the pre-Canto summaries to the epic “Encyclopedic” genre traits, to even the layout of the text, not to mention the epic and beautiful dialog—so much of The Inferno pre-figures Paradise Lost.
Unfortunately, this brief review isn’t going to be a comparative review. This is an Initial Impressions review, so my focus is on more sensation-driven matters.
So, as I said, I don’t know why I waited so long. I must chalk it up to being hesitant about reading old texts, thinking that maybe the antiquated language will bore me. I don’t know why this sensation still overrides logic; after all, I have read old texts before and loved them, from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to The Canterbury Tales. An irrational hold-over, I supposed from engaging myself in a new area of study.
In any case, my favorite thing about The Inferno must not necessarily the epicenes but more the epic language. As Dante explores the levels of Hell and meets the damned, there is a beautiful terror to hearing of the tortures and the lamentation of a life lived in sin. Sure, the thematic and narrative qualities add much zest to the tale, but the actual sentences and the poetic horror they induce aren’t surpassed by anything, not even Milton.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love Milton’s take on Dante, but it is hard to elevate Lost over Inferno simply because the two are different. I will settle for having finally the insight into one of the bits of inspiration for that other great poet. Completing it now, I wish I had had some exposure to Inferno when I had taken my Milton course. Maybe not the entire text, but at least the first few Cantos to get an idea of what Milton machinations. Regardless, that class remains one of my favorite at university, so I can’t be too hard.
I look forward to future engagements with The Inferno. Whether it is scholarship, New Media analysis, contemporary reception, I am looking forward to doing more with this text not only in future read-throughs but in a concentrated study. I’ve seen so much of it referenced in mass media and now I know the actual text—nice.