Friday, January 27, 2006

On this day in literature . . .

~ 1302 ~ Dante Alighieri is expelled for life from Florence when the political group he opposes seizes control.

Every year in 9th grade English, I teach The Inferno, the first part of Dante's Divine Comedy, which he wrote after leaving Florence. And every year, the students are fascinated by this book.

It always starts with the great names of the political parties in Florence -- the Ghibellines, the White Guelphs, and the Black Guelphs (each holding different views on the appropriate power for the pope versus the Holy Roman Emperor). And then they love that Dante assigned his political enemies certain positions in hell.

They're intrigued by the levels of hell that Dante creates -- the visual handout I give them gets lots of attention. The book has memorable characters, chilling and morbidly appropriate punishments, and various sorts of mythological creatures. And at the bottom, Satan resides, not in flames, but in ice. All in all, The Inferno is a memorable, entertaining, and instructive tale of the seriousness of sin, the resulting poetic justice, and the mindset needed in order to conquer temptation.

Midway in our life's journey, I went astray
From the straight road and woke to find myself
Alone in a dark wood. How shall I say

What wood that was! I never saw so drear,
So rank, so arduous a wilderness!
Its very memory gives a shape to fear.

Death could scarce be more bitter than that place!
But since it came to good, I will recount
All that I found revealed there by God's grace.


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