Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Dante's Disciples

I recently finished the 600-page anthology from 1998 entitled Dante's Disciples. It was billed as an anthology of writing inspired by Dante's Inferno. While most of the stories were hell-related, I was a little puzzled by the relation between some of them with the Inferno.

I think what troubled me about it was that the stories in the book, at least many of them, were quite pessimistic. I know, I know... what do you expect when reading about hell? But it isn't that. The thing is, I don't think the Inferno is pessimistic. In fact, it is from the Inferno that we get the notion of "poetic justice." Dante's work doesn't just wallow in pessimism. Instead, it seems to assign physical punishments precisely fitting to the infractions. That's half the fun of the tale there.

These stories, though, missed that distinction, for the most part. Not all, but some.

One thing going for them, though, is that many focused on hell as an earthly state. I do think that this idea is easily gotten out of the Inferno — that seems to be the point of "poetic justice," after all. We choose to live in a state here and now, and Dante's hell seems to be the eternal extension of the specific states we have chosen.

I didn't mind the anthology, actually, as far as stories go. But I did rather mind that the stories were supposed to be inspired by the Inferno, and yet many had very little connection with Dante at all. That was, for me, disappointing.

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