A to Z of English - Dante's illusions in Inferno

WHEN I decided to watch Inferno in the cinema recently, I made a conscious decision to go with a clean slate.

Having not read the book by the same title written by American author Dan Brown worked in my favour with the thrills and spills adding to the suspense throughout the movie.

All the way through the movie, mentions of Thirteenth Century poet Dante were threaded, amply inciting genuine and renewed interest in this enigmatic literary figure.

Having done Dante in passing a decade ago, I was delighted to relearn all about Dante and went back to the books to refresh my memory and it all came to me at overwhelming speed.

In the movie, the lead role is played by Tom Hanks as Harvard Professor Robert Langdon and he gives fragmented insights about Dante, which is sufficient to arouse you to know a lot more about him.

Durante degli Alighieri or simply called Dante (1265-1321) was a well-known Italian poet who rose to prominence with his poem Divine Comedy, considered a masterpiece in world literature.

It is believed that Dan Brown's book and movie was inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy where the first Canto is identified as Inferno.

In the poem, Dante, author and protagonist of the poem, is in the middle of the journey of his life in a dark forest. It is horrible, tangled and wild, and just the memory of it makes Dante petrified.

With his soul sleepy and numb, he is unaware of what is happening.

This relates to the exact state of mind in which Professor Langdon wakes up in the hospital, "I found myself within a forest dark," Langdon thought, recalling the ominous first canto of Dante's masterwork, "... for the straightforward pathway had been lost".

The novel and the movie based on Dante's epic poem of heaven, hell and purgatory is set amid the piazzas and palazzi of Florence, where the poet was born.

In the movie, we see the shadow personality and surprisingly the main antagonist too, Bertrand Zobrist, a fictional character created by Brown, obsessed with Dante.

The scientist who is sufficiently endowed with wealth allows his mind to develop the twisted logic that the human race, which is swelling in numbers, is imposing unprecedented burden on the Earth's resources, which is fast depleting. He comes up with this notion that it is incumbent upon him to reverse this by a mass "killing".

Tom Hanks sets himself in motion, or rather the plot sets him in motion, racing across time and places to find that virus that will wipe out half the world's population if it is set free.

The thrilling and gripping sequence of events unfolding and unleashing more exhilarating moments get intricate and "bawdy" when our hope in the female lead comes to naught.

Scholars at the Italian Dante Society felt that the book and the movie, despite some historical inaccuracies, will bring the poet's work to a much wider audience.

"The Divine Comedy is 600 years old. It can survive a few mistakes being made by Dan Brown," Eugenio Giani, the president of the Italian Dante Society, told The Daily Telegraph.

The Divine Comedy is an epic poem divided into three parts: Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. Dante is led on a tour of the first two settings by the Roman poet Virgil.

Upon reaching the Garden of Eden, Virgil leaves and Beatrice takes his place. This journey is meant to impress upon readers the consequences of sin and the glories of Heaven.

In Dante's Inferno, the spirit of Roman poet Virgil leads Dante's alter ego, the "Pilgrim," through the circles of Hell, where they witness the horrible punishments that sinners have brought upon themselves.

The opening of Dante's work is reflective of the pilgrim who is searching for meaning in life.

The search revolves around the central questions of what defines individual identity and what choices individuals should make: "Midway upon the journey of our life, I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost."  

The "forest dark" is reflective of a condition in which individuals struggle to make decisions about the paths between good and evil, the exact quandary Zobrist was in, before he succumbed to the darker side of his mind.

In sum, the theme of good and evil is critical to Dante's work.

Zobrist appears to be seeking salvation in what he believes is an act to save the world from further decline and rape by the ever-increasing population.

The book is a good read, the movie an excellent watch and the poem a feast for connoisseurs of literature.

The writer holds a PhD from a local public university and believes that the Malaysian education system will reach greater heights with a strong antidote to revolutionise just about everything, a complete overhaul, if you like. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com