Posted by: Mark | August 10, 2017


I think it was my junior year of college that I was supposed to read all of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

The Inferno and Purgatory were no problem but I stalled out on Paradise.  Almost 25 years later, I picked up Paradise again. I understand why young me gave up.

Through Hell and Purgatory, Dante churned out grotesque tortures, guaranteed to keep anybody’s attention. Purgatory seemed more interesting than Hell because the souls were thankful for their abuse.

In Heaven, it was one conversation after another. Even after being translated to English, the language was spectacular but Hell was a hard act to follow.

Souls tended to speak about 14th century politics and pre-Reformation theology, neither of which can hold up to a pack of farting demons.

Part of the issue is that modern Americans picture Heaven as how Dante presented the first circle of Hell, the Circle of Virtuous Pagans. There, good non-Christians were rewarded with all sorts of worldly pleasures. In Heaven, souls spent all their time praising God. It’s hard to feel excited about that.

It didn’t help that Dante based Heaven on science that was before Newton and Copernicus. That wouldn’t have been a problem but Dante was so absolute in his convictions.

Overall, I’m glad I finally finished reading it but, even after 25 years, I can remember Hell better than descriptions of Heaven that I read this week. Dante was one of the greatest writers of all time but it’s hard to make Heaven as compelling as Hell.


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