“Will you – should either head back to the world – bring comfort to my memory, which lies still lashed beneath the stroke of envious eyes?”
Inferno, Canto 13.76-78.
I’m about a third of the way through Inferno, just finished Canto 13, where they talk to the man turned into a tree.
I keep a post-it on the inside cover of the book, keeping track of recurring themes in whatever I’m reading. For a book that’s ostensibly about Hell, Dante is very concerned with both his own fame and the fame of the people he meets. (As a sidebar, I’m tickled that he meets both famous creatures from mythology and what seem to be random Florentines.)
The idea goes that, consigned to Hell as these people are, they have a modicum of fame back on Earth by virtue of getting a speaking role in Inferno. This fits, in that the people in the lesser (uh, higher) circles of Hell are un-named, as a way of consigning them to oblivion. You also see this when people refuse to tell Dante his name, or the names of other people in Hell: “You can have an everlasting reputation, but as a sinner in Hell” seems like a Faustian bargain.
Something that’s very much a fledgling thought: Dante is literally writing people into Hell. He’s writing a book on a journey through Hell and anybody he meets there (especially, say, in the circle of Hell for sodomites…) automatically gets their rep tarnished. This becomes a way for Dante to comment on the political scenes of Florence of the day, but I couldn’t help being reminded –of all things– of the characters of the movie Mean Girls and the concept of the burn book.
The constant name-dropping (of both famous figures and the great names of literature; Virgil, Homer, Ovid, etc) also has the impact of elevating Dante, both the character and the author. Look who he’s rubbing shoulders with! Look who literally guides him through the underworld! He also apes at least a couple scenes from The Aeneid (I’m only halfway through), some with more subtlety than others.
An open question (one that I’d like to bring to the next discussion series) is whether Dante looks down on all fame — or, asked another way: what’s the right sort of fame to purse, according to Dante?