In this book I make reference to the 14th Century poet, Dante Alighieri and his work The Divine Comedy. Dante was many things, a major political figure in the city state of Florence, an ambassador and even a soldier. However, he is most widely remembered as a poet. As a student, I took a keen interest in Dante’s magnum opus the Divine Comedy. An oft quirky and inspiring lecturer, Dr. Daragh O’Connell helped me decode the grammar, syntax and the social and political upheavals that frame the narrative, providing me an enriched insight into the spectrum of life in Italy in the late medieval period. In this work, sinners and saints are painted with such astonishing clarity that it is difficult to conceive that they are all dead and buried for the greater part of a thousand years. The work is essentially a morality tale in the form of an epic poem. It is also a political and social commentary of its time. My prime source of inspiration is the first of the two books of The Comedy: Inferno and Purgatorio. These books served as a literary framework upon which I was able to throw the chaos that has been my life. It provided a sense of order to the emotionally tumultuous circumstances through which I lived. Too sensitive for my own good, I carry this burden of unceasing dismay at my powerlessness in the face of a stream of human violence against the weak, the outgunned, outfinanced and outnumbered. Those who wield power without conscience are an affront to all that I hold dear. I am so often overwhelmed at my insignificance in the face of the multiple tragedies that play out in the world around me. Would it be a better course if I just shut it all out and focused on me and my troubles? But I am not made like that. I do care about others and I am less of a human if I am not at least willing, in my small way, to try to do something to account for the damage the avaricious and narcissistic leave in their wake. I would fall into a very dark place indeed if I did not have at my disposal the emotional outlet that literary and artistic figures provide through their work. Music can free me to cry. There are films that allow me hope. Literary works that voice my frustration so that in a blaze of righteous fury, I can cast crime lords and bent politicians into a universe where justice is meted out in accordance with the evil they committed in the course of their nasty, avaricious lives. As we journey with Dante and the poet Vigil through the depths of hell to the gates of paradise in Dante’s Divine Comedy, we see that many of the characters that we encounter were the cream of the Italian establishment. Notoriously corrupt Cardinals, priests and princes are gleefully placed for perpetuity under Lucifer’s most fiendishly conceived torture regimes. In contrast, Dante also describes many truly pitiful characters that are so poignant in their damnation that it is simply impossible not to empathise with them. This brings one to question a celestial hierarchy that would refuse to mitigate on behalf of such tragic souls. For me, the guiding spirit for The Comedy is not so much the ghost of the Roman poet, Virgil, but one that takes something of a quieter background role. This is Beatrice, a partly fictionalized characterization of the poet’s ideal of perfect womanhood. Beatrice was Dante’s unrequited love and his muse. She died quite young and there is some doubt as to whether he ever even spoke to her. He admired her from afar and she became his central romantic fantasy. In the course of the trilogy we discover that Beatrice has been beatified and sits in the hierarchy that is closest to God. She has interceded on behalf of the straying poet and devised his travails in order that he returns to the righteous path. There are aspects of Dante’s Beatrice that, at least in my telling, parallel the central character of this book, my mother, Madeline. She passed away when I was just eleven years old and I have been trying to find her ever since. Dante’s opus found me lost in that dark forest and allowed me to navigate my own private Inferno and to traverse my personal Purgatario. The paradise that I sought out was to find peace with my mother, a conversation with her that would heal the scars she left me with by dying far too young.
© John Anthony Duignan 2015. All rights reserved