The Divine Comedy of Dante Allighieri has been in print, continuously, for longer than there has been print to be in: nearly 700 years, starting with hand-copied editions in Italian (titled, simply, "Commedia," the "Divine" part was added in the 16th century) through the earliest uses of moveable type, first in Italian, then in every language of the globe including, in 2010, Icelandic, "Gledileikurinn Guddomlegi," translated by Erlingur E. Halldórsson.
With the digital explosion, Dante's popularity has only grown, with everything from a popular video game that has almost nothing to do with the original, to Columbia University's Digital Dante, an exhaustive, not to mention exhausting, portal to texts, commentaries, history, celebration and analysis.
And while I am by no means conversant in all the versions, illustrations, maps, guides, and learning tools produced recently, never mind over the past seven centuries, I would like to introduce one to you today with a sentence that I am confident has never before been used in reference to Dante's canon:
It's soooooo cute!!!
Take a look at "The Topography of Dante's Inferno" by Alpaca, an Italian cooperative of
interactive designers and illustrators. Winner of the Grand Prix and Gold Prize for Didactics at the 2017 International Institute of Information Design Awards (who knew?).
You can wander the Nine concentric circles of Hell graphically, zooming in here or there, or dragging the image with your mouse. Clicking on the various damned brings you who they are and the relevant passages from Dante's poem. Or search by the types of damned consigned there—panderers and seducers, simoniacs and sorcerers, thieves, adulterers, hypocrites and all the rest of the suffering crew. Or you can search by Canto—there are 33—or by location, the specific ring or sub-circle.
The site was noticed by my Facebook friend Ann Hilton Fisher, who shared it with me (that's why I can't quit Facebook. Sure, they helped deliver our country over to the Russians. But look at the cool stuff you can find there!)
A highly useful tool, particularly for students. Yes, they use the tired Henry Wadsworth Longfellow translation, because it's out-of-copyright. But nothing's perfect. The only genuine qualm I have is the aforementioned cuteness. Did not these darling orange and burnt umber winged demons somehow undermine the entire atmosphere of hopeless horror that Dante was going for? It's just not very hellish.
I put the question to the folks at Alpaca—nothing yet, but I'll keep you posted. The bottom line to me is, as with all matters cultural, one version does not crowd out another. And a simplified rendition of something does not efface the complex original. Bugs Bunny cartoons where Bugs and Elmer sing grand opera do not undercut the real thing—just the opposite, they introduce potential fans to the genre, drawing in those who might never consider the real thing.
So why not a cutesy horror? If you recall my reaction to the Illinois Holocaust Museum, I was a little taken aback that they've turned to the greatest atrocity of the 20th century into a lesson about bullying. But their prime audience is not me, but 5th graders from Kane County. So maybe that's appropriate.
Anyway, I saw this, and wanted to share it.