Why Dante’s Inferno Should Remain on the Great Books List?

As time goes on, many pieces of literature lose relevance and fade out in terms of their popularity. Dante’s Inferno, although written in 1320, has yet to lose either of its relevancy or popularity. It has continued to be read through, examined, analyzed, and reinterpreted consistently throughout the centuries, which is why it deserves to keep its spot on the list of great books.

One of the main reasons that Dante’s Inferno has remained relevant is because of its theme. The theme of life and death and heaven and hell has always haunted humans. It is a truth that every human will have to face, whether that truth be that they are free or condemned for eternity, or the truth that there is no afterlife at all. However, the argument itself about whether an afterlife exists, is irrelevant. Just the mere possibility that hell may exist is enough to make people contemplate the subject often enough that a piece of literature written centuries ago is still being read today. Whereas people may not like to contemplate the consequences of their actions and sins, they know that the possibility is there, so therefore they have to question it. Questioning and imagining what is ahead, is what makes humans, humans. Which, is where Dante’s Inferno comes into play. In his cantos he describes the nine circles of hell. These descriptions, although fictitious, provide a gruesome glimpse of what may lie ahead in the future, depending on the type of lifestyle lived and sins committed. This interests people because, as they read it, they most likely can relate to at least one of the sins mentioned, revealing to them where their place in hell would be, which may cause some reevaluation of lifestyles. The incitation of the personal questioning of one’s self is one of the main reasons that Inferno has stayed so popular, because, no matter how much time passes, there will always be the question of what happens next, and Inferno describes a situation where what happens next is known, rather than unknown.

While personal questioning is one reason that Inferno has stayed relevant, it also remains popular because of humans’ strange tendencies to be drawn towards the painful and obscene. Humans are usually intrigued by the morally questionable experience of fascination (Denby). It is captivating to people when justifiable violence is committed, such as when a sinner is being punished. In Inferno, the cruelty displayed is all justifiable by the crimes committed during the victims’ lives, and however odd it may be, people can not look away when something of that sort is placed in front of them to observe. Usually, they would feel guilty for watching violence because they know that it is wrong, however when it is used as a punishment for a crime, there is a just reason for the violence, and therefore no guilt is felt when observing. Because of this odd interest, the entertainment industry has taken full advantage of the opportunity and recreated and made reinterpretations about Dante’s work to give the people what they had been asking for. Some examples of media with Dante’s Inferno as all or some of their inspiration are the classic 1935 film, Dante’s Inferno, the television show The Sopranos, and there are even video games loosely based off of Inferno, including, Dante’s Inferno and Devil May Cry (Four Ways Dante). Dante’s influence is so powerful that it stretches across almost all types of media as well as across the centuries.

Dante has remained relevant and popular over the centuries, which some accredit to the vivid manner in which Dante described the torments of hell, the uncertainty of purgatory, and the glories of heaven (Dante’s Enduring Influence). It is because of his influence, relevancy, and the interest in Inferno that Dante should stay on the Great Books List and be taught to future generations. Because, as long as there are people interested and there is the possibility that the book’s theme and emotions will evict a self-evaluation or reformation or contemplation of life, or even just entertains someone, it is worth it to leave it on the list rather than replace it with a book that could never live up to the fame and credibility of Dante’s Inferno.

Works Cited

  1. Dante’s Enduring Influence | Christian History Magazine. Christian History Institute, christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/dantes-enduring-influence.
  2. Denby, David. The Great Books: My Adventures with Homer, Rousseau, Woolf, and Other Indestructible Writers of the Western World. Simon & Schuster Ltd, 1997.
  3. Four Ways Dante Still Matters Today. READ, 10 Oct. 2017, readdurhamenglish.wordpress.com/2017/09/26/four-ways-dante-still-matters-today/.

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