No spoilers about story or plot in this entry!
On May 14th I was among the first to purchase Dan Brown’s new book, Inferno. By the next day I had finished all 463 pages, it is perhaps the best in the Robert Langdon series, including the earlier books Angels and Demons, The DaVinci Code and The Lost Symbol.
The reason I devoured the book is because almost of all the action takes place in either Florence or Venice; the lion’s share in Florence. On Monday I take off with students on a travel course to Italy, visiting Venice, Florence and Rome. This book whetted my appetite for Italy with brilliantly descriptive images of Florence, mixing tidbits of history with a story line that honored perhaps the greatest and most influential author of history, Dante Alighieri.
Dante’s book The Divine Comedy included The Inferno, which was Dante’s description of hell. Brown notes that most of our images of a dark underworld of torture, demons and suffering come from Dante’s imagery. Yet Dante wasn’t simply trying to depict a religious vision of hell – quite the contrary. His book was sarcastic social commentary – a kind of satire – in which famous politicians, church leaders and other elite of his day found themselves suffering somewhere in the inferno, with the punishment always fitting the sin.
Exiled from his city of Florence in 1301 due to political rivalries, Dante (1265-1321) wrote The Divine Comedy as a kind of literary revenge, skewering leaders and the politics of the day, while honoring his muse Beatrice, a woman he had barely met but with whom he had fallen in love. She died at 24, but remained a muse for the poet until his death. Dante wrote The Divine Comedy before the printing press, but in the vernacular. In fact, modern Italian is traced back to Dante, so great was his influence.
Dante was one of the first humanists, moving away from a focus on the divine to a perspective embracing the world as it was. While in exile he would meet Giotto, whose Scrovegni Chapel in Padova broke with past practices to offer a true humanist perspective. The life of Christ is told with emotion and realistic detail. Humanism would change European thought forever, and make the enlightenment possible.
While most of that is away from Brown’s story line, which looks more towards the future than the past, his embrace of Dante adds an historical poignancy and meaning which puts Inferno a step ahead of his previous efforts. For anyone who loves Florence, the book is a must read; he captures the spirit of the city while describing some of its most compelling locations.
Angels and Demons was my favorite before now. I not only liked the story line – mixing the CERN Large Hadron Collider with a Papal Conclave – but it has delightful images of some of my favorite places in Rome. I make sure to do an “Angels and Demons walking tour” when I take students to Italy. Not only do those who have read the book identify with the places we see, but Brown does an excellent job in choosing interesting and relevant locales.
In the future I will add “Inferno” walking tours to both Venice and Florence. I may even try this year, though since the book just came out I doubt too many students will have read it.
I heartily recommend this book to anyone who likes a fast paced plot with twists, turns, compelling characters and a few dramatic surprises. It is a must read for those who love Italy, especially Florence and Venice.
So I’m ready to head to Italy next week, starting in Venice and then going on to Florence and Rome. It was a pleasant surprise that Brown’s latest novel would be released just in time for me to re-immerse myself into Florentine history and images from both Florence and Venice.
Next week I start blogging from Italy. My co-instructor in this endeavor is Dr. Steven Pane, who teaches Music History. He also is fascinated by the study of sound, and plans a sound seminar for our first day in Venice to help students learn to appreciate the different sounds of various cities and locations. I sent him this snippet from Inferno (p. 313), set at the piazza San Marco. Steve said this could be an introduction to his seminar:
“It was not until this moment, as he entered the sheltered square, that Langdon could fully appreciate this city’s most unique offering.
With virtually no cars or motorized vehicles of any kind, Venice enjoyed a blissful absence of the usual civic traffic, subways, and sirens, leaving sonic space for the distantly unmechanical tapestry of human voices, cooing pigeons, and lilting violins serenading patrons at the outdoor cafes. Venice sounded like no other metropolitan center in the world.”
Next week, blogging from Italy!