Modernizing Inferno Essay

Modernizing Inferno Essay
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It is always a chancy bet to rewrite a classic piece of literature that is as well known as Dante Alighieri’s classic work ‘The Divine Comedy’. However, sometimes a bit of revision is necessary in order to provide modern-day audiences with the same kind of impact that was felt by Dante’s contemporaries as they read the poem for the first time.  Many of the people he named or alluded to in his book were popular figures from both history and myth.  They were favorites of the people whom few would wish harm.  By including them in his hell, Dante was warning his readers that just because a person was liked or was popular does not mean that he or she was worthy of heaven in the sight of God.  Much of this part of the lesson is lost, though, because today’s readers don’t immediately recognize Dante’s characters and thus don’t get the same kind of shock they might get if one used more contemporary figures such as former Vice-President of the United States Dick Chaney, Sir Elton John, and singer/songwriter John Lennon.

Former Vice-President Dick Chaney definitely belongs in at least the eighth circle of hell because this is the region reserved for those who seduce people, flatter them without sincerity, issue false prophecy, provide false council, forge and falsify.  It is also the region reserved for lawyers, hypocrites, and thieves.  Chaney fits into most of these categories because of the ways in which he lied and misrepresented information in such a way that led the United States into war in Iraq, killing thousands of American soldiers and unnumbered Iraqis.  In many ways, he is equally a candidate for the ninth circle, particularly the realm of Antenora, which is the realm reserved for those who have betrayed their country or homeland, which Chaney has most certainly done even though hard evidence has yet to come to light.  Firmly placing him in at least the eighth level of hell is his use of rhetoric and his encouragement to George Bush to use rhetoric as a means of accomplishing evil and often only self-serving goals.  Chaney can stand in for Guido de Montefeltro.  Dante knew Montrefeltro as a sly military-political leader in the late 1200s who “used all the wiles and secret ways” to accomplish his self-serving goals in much the same way that Chaney has been recognized as doing.

Although I have a great deal of respect for the entertainer Sir Elton John, he would be a good candidate to place in Dante’s seventh ring of hell because of his openly homosexual lifestyle.  This necessarily includes the sin of sodomy.  John would replace Brunetto Latini and do a better job of it because he is able to fit more closely what Dante describes as the criteria for this level of hell, yet it is still hard to put someone who has so many good qualities so deeply in hell.  Written evidence of Brunetto’s life indicates he was married and had children, but no evidence exists that he was homosexual or preferred sodomy as his sexual activity.  Dante treated Brunetto with some degree of compassion just as Elton John’s works evoke necessary compassion for him as well.  Elton John has also done a number of very large good works such as encouraging greater world involvement in social and ecological responsibility through organizations he has founded and songs he has written.  I believe changing attitudes would be more likely to place Elton John within the second realm of hell at most, giving in that he belongs to those who give in to their lust, but not so deeply evil as those who would commit murder. 

Also within the music industry, singer/songwriter John Lennon does not escape the realm of hell based on Dante’s reasoning.  John Lennon is nearly worshipped today as a modern-day prophet, preaching love and peace in much the same way Jesus did in his own time.  However, he proved that he was not a religious man when he claimed in an interview that his influential rock bank The Beatles was “bigger than God.”  Although his statement was taken out of context to imply that he thought the group was more powerful than God rather than more popular at that time, Lennon did not conform to the doctrines of organized religion and did not consider himself to be Christian.  Because his message was in keeping with the ideals of reason and love for others, he belongs in the first level of hell, Limbo, with the other philosopher-poets.  Although he obviously doesn’t belong in hell, just as Socrates, Aristotle, and Lucan do not, Lennon would be mentioned in Lucan’s place as a means of shocking the contemporary audience in the same way in its reference to a man who is still considered to be among the favored to win a place in heaven. 

By updating some of the lesser-known characters of Dante’s book into characters that are still well-known today, the impact of Dante’s Inferno can regain its power.  The names Dante used were intended to shock his audience into thinking about their own actions and how they can’t even measure up to these well-thought-of individuals who are themselves in hell, how is the reader to rectify his or her life so as to avoid the same fate.  Today’s audience does not make the same connection because they have never known these popular names for Dante’s time.  By making them popular names to the reader, a better conception can be gained of what Dante was attempting to convey and a greater appreciation of his philosophy can be reached. 

Works Cited: Alighieri, Dante.  The Divine Comedy.  New York: NAL Trade, 2003.