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Dante in Love
by A.N. Wilson
Atlantic Books, 25 [pounds sterling], pp. 400, ISBN 9781848879485
What's your punishment going to be, when you get to Hell? At least as envisaged by Dante, you might be somewhat surprised. Hitler (mass murderer) is in the outer ring of the seventh circle, up to his eyebrows in a river of blood and fire. Still, that's a little better than the innocent manager of your local HSBC (banker), who is in the inner ring, running perpetually on burning sand. Both get off much lighter than the poor lady who, the other day, told me how much she'd enjoyed something or other I'd written (flatterer). She's a whole circle lower down in the second bolgia, or pit, sitting in excrement forever, which seems rather harsh. Corrupt politicians are immersed in boiling pitch, but they are nowhere near as far down as the impersonators. If I were Rory Bremner I'd frankly be worried.
Because Dante's language is so direct, his expressive style most powerful when most simple, and because his cosmology is so readily visualised and understood, we tend to think of him as easier than he is. Many an Italian schoolchild has found …