The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Monday, March 29, 2004

DANTE'S INFERNO, DUDE
Does Hell look like California? For some, it does. Sandow Birk and Marcus Sanders have adapted Dante's "Inferno" into an illustrated re-telling based in a nighmarish Golden State.

There's a great comparison between the classic and the contempory versions, in the form of Canto XII, lines 1 to 27 (the encounter with the Minotaur):

From The Inferno: A Verse Translation by Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander.

Steep was the cliff we had to clamber down,
rocky and steep, but - even worse - it held
a sight that every eye would shun.

As on the rockslide that still marks the flank
of the Adige, this side of Trent,
whether by earthquake or erosion at the base,
from the mountain-top they slid away from,
the shattered boulders strew the precipice
and thus give footing to one coming down -
just so was the descent down that ravine.

And at the chasm's jagged edge
was sprawled the infamy of Crete,
conceived in that false cow.

When he caught sight of us, he gnawed himself
like someone ruled by wrath.

My sage cried out to him: "You think,
perhaps, this is the Duke of Athens,
who in the world above put you to death.

"Get away, you beast, for this man
does not come tutored by your sister,
he comes to view your punishments."

Like the bull that breaks its tether
just as it receives the mortal blow
and cannot run, but lunges here and there,
so raged the Minotaur. My artful guide
called out: "Run to the passage:
hurry down while he is in his fury.'

* * *
From Dante's Inferno, text adapted by Sandow Birk and Marcus Sanders

Where we started to go down into Seventh Circle
was stony, sure, but there was something else
that made the whole scene totally bizarre.
It reminded me of the crumbled freeways
in Oakland after the Loma Prieta earthquake -
rubble and cement, burning fires and fallen girders.

The trail that led down the mountain was
littered with smashed-up bits of rock all
the way down to the bottom of the valley,
making it really hard going, almost climbing.

As we scrambled down the rocky path, we came
across the Minotaur, the legendary monster of Crete
who was conceived from a bull and a woman inside a
wooden cow. When he saw us, he freaked out by biting
himself, growling at us and going psycho.

Virgil yelled out at him, "Get down, you beast!
Maybe you think this is your murderer, the Duke
of Athens, coming back to kill you again? Get out of
here, you ogre, because this pilgrim didn't follow your
sister's thread down here. He's just here to observe
your hell and hopefully learn something from it."

It was as if Virgil's words were actual punches that stunned
the monster. The thing started twisting and squirming and
jumping around - confused because it was so mad. It reminded
me of when Moe hits Curly in the eyes and Curly starts barking.

Virgil expected that and yelled to me, "Quick, start running!
Get down the trail while he's consumed with rage!"


In addition to this adaptation, Birk was behind In Smog and Thunder, a satiric look at a fictional Californian civil war which I've referenced before.