The Nine Circles of Feminist Hell (Washington Post)



Guys: Today is a good day.

Today, I got a raise, and successfully argued for an extra 20% off some pants, and didn’t have to make lunch thanks to a VERY solid leftovers game, and wore my favorite socks because L’Oréal says I’M WORTH IT.

But that’s not all. Because, in the midst of an already good day, I also found this article on the Nine Circles of Feminist Hell

For me, this article is a kind of holy grail hidden deep within the cesspit we call The Internet: 2016 Edition. It touches on the holy trinity of All the Things I Care About Most: Literature, Pop Culture, and Feminism. It’s also funny, in a snarky sort of way. And isn’t snark our very best weapon against the evils of patriarchy? Besides, like, discerning politicians, quality education, and—apparently—Emma Watson?

My favorite Circles of Feminist Hell, in Alexandra Petri‘s rendering, include:

  • Women Who Don’t Appreciate Beyoncé
  • Cool Girls
  • Women Who Enjoyed “Blurred Lines”
  • Women Who Judged Other Women For Working/Not Working/Having Kids/Not Having Kids
  • Women Who Used Too Many Exclamation Points In An Email

And, of course:

  • Women Who Leaned In, But Not Far Enough

Each of these Feminist Sins is met, in true Dantean spirit, with a punishment as just as it is grotesque. For example, Women Who Did Not Pursue STEM Careers are doomed to spend eternity apologizing, then apologizing for having apologized, then apologizing for having apologized for having apologized. And the Women Who Didn’t Help Other Women? Well, I won’t spoil it for you, but let’s just say they have a Special Place in Feminist Hell.

So thank you, Ms. Petri, for being the cherry on top of my day. Consider this my virtual high-five for a job well done. And even if it seems like every woman will be condemned, sooner or later, to Feminist Hell, let’s never, ever Abandon All Hope.

Because, if nothing else, we still have snark.

A Picture Is Worth 45390582 Words

I was scrolling through some old photos on my phone the other day and came across this shot from one year ago—the 37 books I had left to read for The List as of April 2015:


The image was pretty jarring, inasmuch as my list has since dwindled down to just 11:


(And yes, the page count of In Search of Lost Time is obviously an inside joke. With myself. In a spreadsheet. Of classic literature. Sigh.)

Anyway, it all got me thinking about the power of images. It’s a topic I spend little time contemplating, seeing as I’m usually preoccupied with the power of words. But visual representations of information—as every professional nerd knows—can often lead to newer and more exciting, or more compelling, or more heartrending, interpretations.

Consider that an equal number of people live in the blue and red areas of this world map (created by Max Roser of “Our World in Data”). Consider the emotion a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph, or an old Polaroid in a family photo album, can carry across time and space. Consider how often we choose our next read based on incredible book covers like these. Consider the profundity of my sorrow and regret upon realizing, halfway through Modern Romance on audiobook, that I was missing out on all of Aziz Ansari’s thought-provoking graphs and charts.

With this in mind, here are all of the coolest classics-related visuals I could find in a half-hour Google hunt (must-views are starred*):



Comics and Infographics


See what I mean? See? A fresh perspective on age-old information can be as powerful as it is entertaining.

Now, go forth and spread sheet!

Oh, and happy reading!

Quick Reviews: Greatest Hits


With just 11 books to go, I am closing in on the home stretch of The 100 Greatest Books Challenge. For better or for worse, that home stretch is War and Peace, to be followed by Faust at the finish line.

And yet a number of unwritten reviews of those classics I have read stare up at me with wide, somber eyes from their cold and lonely Google spreadsheet, as if I am neglecting them on purpose.

And OK, they might be right. But today, finally, is their day. Today, all eyes are on them. Today, they receive their standing ovation.

Today, by the power vested in me as a casual lit blogger, I crown them kings among books. 

I’ve always found it much more difficult to review books I loved than books I hated—at least, in a way that satisfies my #1 customer (me). Most of the time, I prefer snark to sentiment, and comedy to sincerity. And when I love any book, but especially when I love a classic, there’s never much room for a) teasing, or b) original insight. Straight-up rave reviews of the classics aren’t exactly hard to come by, and most of them indulge in wanton levels of snootery.

So, of course, the reviews left in my lineup are largely books I adored. And I’m struggling to find something to say about them other than “I’M SO IN LOVE WITH THIS BOOK THAT I WOULD GLADLY BEAR ITS CHILDREN. AND I DON’T EVEN WANT HUMAN CHILDREN”—basically, the book review equivalent of That Couple Those Couples on Facebook. (You know the ones I mean. #Barfing.)

Here’s what I’ve settled for: a Greatest Hits edition of my Quick Reviews series, in which I list all the most subjective reasons I can think of for Why You Should Read Them All. You already know the basics of my reaction to each (i.e., I was so engrossed in it that I stopped breathing from pages 7 to 443; it more than deserves its ranking on The List, by which I mean it should definitely be moved up above anything Hemingway or Lawrence ever wrote; I would eat my own hand if the author asked me to, and both if they asked politely), so this post is about urging you to read them, too. No matter how huge or how cluttered your TBR already is.

Consider this your formal invitation to read some of my own personal favorites among The 100 Greatest Books of All Time. (And if you RSVP “Maybe,” I swear to God I will FEED YOUR FACE TO A PAPER SHREDDER.)

#9 Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

Published: 1873–1877

Why You Should Read It:

  • This book offers not one but two protagonists, with largely separate story lines, to broaden the scope of this Russian masterpiece.
  • The eponymous Anna’s love life is filled with the kind of drama that only a drama queen can summon. And she is that, if nothing else. Not only is she married, with a kid, but her lover Vronsky is already courting her relative (and friend) Kitty Shcherbatsky when things start heating up.
  • Levin, our second protagonist, wins Kitty’s heart even after an initial rejection and proposes to her in a word game reminiscent of Hangman. But the story doesn’t end with their marriage; instead, we get to see the nuances of post-nuptial love.
  • Not only that, but Tolstoy based much of the Levin-Kitty narrative on his own romance with Sophia Andreevna, whom he married in 1862.
  • It is, in the words of Dostoevsky, a “flawless work of art.”
  • The Pevear and Volokhonsky translation manages to tame this wild beast of a novel into a supremely readable text.

Favorite Quotes:

In his Petersburg world, all people were divided into two completely opposite sorts. One was the inferior sort: the banal, stupid and, above all, ridiculous people who believed that one husband should live with one wife, whom he has married in a church, that a girl should be innocent, a woman modest, a man manly, temperate and firm, that one should raise children, earn one’s bread, pay one’s debts, and other such stupidities. This was an old-fashioned and ridiculous sort of people. But there was another sort of people, the real ones, to which they all belonged, and form whom one had, above all, to be elegant, handsome, magnanimous, bold, gay, to give oneself to every passion without blushing and laugh at everything else.

I think… if there are as many minds as there are men, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts. 

The terrible thing is that it’s impossible to tear the past out by the roots. 

I’ve always loved you, and when you love someone, you love the whole person, as they are, and not as you’d like them to be. 

Read: 2014

#15 Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

Published: 1952

Why You Should Read It:

  • Invisible Man is the first-person narrative of an unnamed African American, spanning his youth as a model student in the South to his work for a political organization known as the “Brotherhood” in Harlem, New York.
  • There’s a famous battle royal scene in which the narrator is stripped, blindfolded, and forced to fight for a college scholarship in a boxing ring.
  • By the end of the book, the narrator is living underground on electricity he stole from “the Monopolated Light and Power Company.” Just for good measure, he burns 1,369 light bulbs 24/7 while listening to Louis Armstrong on a radio-phonograph.
  • Invisible Man was meant to give a voice to the invisible (that is, the socially invisible or oppressed), and that voice is a song. Inspired by the imagery in T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” Ellison infused the liberal, improvisational features of jazz music into his writing—to great effect.

Favorite Quotes:

Like almost everyone else in our country, I started out with my share of optimism.

But that (by contradiction, I mean) is how the world moves: Not like an arrow, but a boomerang.

I remember that I am invisible and walk softly so as not to awaken the sleeping ones.

For now I had begun to believe, despite all the talk of science around me, that there was a magic in spoken words. 

My world has become one of infinite possibilities. 

I’m invisible, not blind. 

Read: 2014

#53 The Call of the Wild, Jack London

Published: 1903

Why You Should Read It:

  • The Call of the Wild may be narrated by a dog and ring in at just under 120 pages, but this is as far as you can get from the sort of schmaltzy, juvenile, cloying book you might buy in a zoo gift shop for your grandmother. This is a sharp and graphic narrative of a sled dog, and the humans who use and abuse him.
  • It’s also a novel of survival, and the kind of teeth-gritting (and teeth-baring) determination it takes to endure.
  • London proves there’s no need for fancy prose, complicated plot lines, or tender sentiment to pen a beautiful novel.
  • The book’s Yukon setting was chosen by London based on his own experiences in the region during the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush, where, he says, “I found myself.”
  • E. L. Doctorow called the book “fervently American.” And even if I’m not sure what that means, he’s maybe probably somewhat totally right.

Favorite Quotes:

For two days and nights he neither ate nor drank, and during those two days and nights of torment, he accumulated a fund of wrath that boded ill for whoever first fell foul of him. 

So that was the way. No fair play. Once down, that was the end of you. Well, he would see to it that he never went down. 

There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive. 

And when, on the still cold nights, he pointed his nose at a star and howled long and wolf-like, it was his ancestors, dead and dust, pointing nose at star and howling down through the centuries and through him. And his cadences were their cadences, the cadences which voiced their woe and what to them was the meaning of the stillness, and the cold, and dark. 

Read: 2014

#30 Catch-22, Joseph Heller

Published: 1961

Why You Should Read It:

  • Like all the best war novels, Catch-22 doesn’t glorify war. It calls out its absurdities. The book is Heller’s seeming attempt to deconstruct the senseless and arbitrary nature of war, and patriotism, and death itself.
  • The book is both hilarious and not at all funny, and apparently intended as such.
  • While it pissed off the Americans who viewed World War II as heroic and righteous, it also anticipated the disillusionment many of those same Americans felt during and after the Vietnam War.
  • Yossarian is an utterly identifiable narrator—baffled by bureaucracy, something of an outsider, and terrified to die.
  • The New York Herald Tribune described it as “a wild, moving, shocking, hilarious, raging, exhilarating, giant roller-coaster of a book,” and I couldn’t agree more.

Favorite Quotes:

Appleby was a fair-haired boy from Iowa who believed in God, Motherhood and the American Way of Life, without ever thinking about any of them. 

“What would they do to me,” he asked in confidential tones, “if I refused to fly them?”
“We’d probably shoot you,” ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen replied.
“We?” Yossarian cried in surprise. “What do you mean, we? Since when are you on their side?”
“If you’re going to be shot, whose side do you expect me to be on?” ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen retorted.

History did not demand Yossarian’s premature demise, justice could be satisfied without it, progress did not hinge upon it, victory did not depend on it. That men would die was a matter of necessity; which men would die, though, was a matter of circumstance, and Yossarian was willing to be the victim of anything but circumstance.

“I’m afraid.”
“That’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Major Major counseled him kindly. “We’re all afraid.”
“I’m not ashamed,” Yossarian said. “I’m just afraid.”

More than anything else, he was embarrassed. He felt awkward because she was going to murder him.

The night was filled with horrors, and he thought he knew how Christ must have felt as he walked through the world, like a psychiatrist through a ward full of nuts, like a victim through a prison full of thieves. What a welcome sight a leper must have been! 

Read: 2015


#96 Dangerous Liaisons, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

Published: 1782

Why You Should Read It:

  • It’s all about sex, and love, and revenge.
  • The narrative is entirely constructed out of the letters written between the major cast members of this decadent drama.
  • It is thought to be either a robust indictment of France’s extravagant Ancien Régime or an enthusiastic salute to libertinism. In either case, it’s a huge success.
  • The story’s villains, the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil, receive their comeuppance in the form of a fatal sword wound and disfiguring smallpox, respectively.
  • It spawned two incredible feats of film-making: the Academy-Award-winning 1988 adaptation starring Glenn Close, John Malkovich, and Michelle Pfeiffer, and 1999’s showy teen melodrama Cruel Intentions starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, and Reese Witherspoon.

Favorite Quotes:

Don’t you remember that love, like medicine, is only the art of encouraging nature?

Love, hatred, you have only to choose; they all sleep under the same roof.

Read: 2014

#46 All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren

Published: 1946

Why You Should Read It:

  • The New York Times called All the King’s Men “the definitive book about American politics.”
  • Set in the South in the 1930s, the novel follows the rise and rise (and rise) of Willie Stark—a charismatic lawyer-turned-governor who bears a suspicious resemblance to Huey Long—through the eyes of his “sort of secretary” Jack Burden.
  • Jack is an exceptional narrator, and an endearing one in spite of his flaws. A self-described “student of history,” he tells his own life story alongside that of Willie Stark, and it’s arguably much more interesting.
  • All the King’s Men confronts some Big Issues face to face without batting an eye: How politics are a kind of black hole that sucks in anyone who ventures too near. How the truth has a way of making itself heard. How you always pay the price for your mistakes in the end—and, often, the mistakes of others. How each of us constructs an image of the world inside our heads, and are devastated when that image goes up in flames.
  • Warren won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947, and a 1949 movie adaptation of the novel won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Favorite Quotes:

I ought to have guessed that a person like her—a person who you could tell had a deep inner certitude of self which comes from being all of one piece, of not being shreds and patches and old cogwheels held together with pieces of rusty barbed wire and spit and bits of string, like most of us—I ought to have guessed that that kind of a person would not be surprised into answering a question she didn’t want to answer. 

I began to take a distaste to the friends Lois had. There was nothing particularly wrong with them. They were just the ordinary garden variety of human garbage. 

I thought how all knowledge that is worth anything is maybe paid for by blood. Maybe that is the only way you can tell that a certain piece of knowledge is worth anything: it has cost some blood.

The best luck always happens to people who don’t need it.

Read: 2015

Are They Six of the Greatest Books of All Time?


If you missed Quick Reviews: Part I, or Quick Reviews: Part II, you can find them here and here.

If you missed the premise behind the Quick Reviews series, you can find it here.

The Book I’m Saving for Last—and Why


For a long time now—years, actually—I’ve known exactly which classic I’ll be reading dead last for The 100 Greatest Books Challenge. And I swore to myself that, one day, I’d reveal the book I’m saving for banishing to #100—and why.

But first, I’m going to tell you about #99.

For my penultimate triumph in The Challenge, I’ve chosen War and Peace. My reasons range from the logical and practical to the emotional and whimsical:

  • I’ve been spreading out the longest reads from The List as I work my way through them, and War and Peace fell to the final rankings in my sloppy algorithm. But I refuse to end The Challenge on a notoriously long and inevitably gratuitous epilogue, so I tucked another book behind it.
  • War and Peace is known to be formidable, an Everest or a Moriarty of a book—but it’s also the most quintessential and iconic of classics. You don’t get any more classic than War and Peace. And as a classic among classics, War and Peace feels like a satisfactory climax to what has been a very long List indeed. (#100—I’ll get to it in a minute—will, I think, serve as a suitable denouement.)
  • Much to my surprise, I enjoyed Tolstoy the first time around and would like to honor him in parting with an (almost-)victory lap.
  • I’ve spent much of the Russian portion of The List with award-winning translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (a married couple—how cool is that?) and am finding it hard to say do svidaniya.
  • Given its reputation, I’m preeetty sure War and Peace is entitled to its shelf space among The 100 Greatest Books of All Time, and I want to end on (or near) a good note.

And, most essentially:

  • I have yet to buy a copy.

And so it is that War and Peace will bow humbly before me at #99. (Or maybe the other way around. The book does have six hundred characters, after all.)

And now, the Big Reveal. The Moment of Truth. The Unmasking of #100. Ladies and gentlemen: My very last book for The 100 Greatest Books Challenge, the crowning jewel on my classic library, just 11 books from now, will be…


“Why Faust?” is a perfectly reasonable question with a slightly manic answer. If you’re already bored by this post, and/or disillusioned by what seems like an anticlimactic climax, I can sum up my rationale in one word: GRUDGE.

For seven long years, I have sustained a heartfelt grudge against Faust. And now I’m here to tell you its origin story.

Many moons ago, a sparky young college student put on a new pair of Toms and walked to the first meeting of what would be her final Literature class ever.

At Purdue University, the class was known as Comparative Literature 267, or “World Literature from 1700 to Now.” It followed the previous semester’s CMPL 266 (“World Literature Until 1700”), taught by a wonderful and engaging grad student who said “Woof” every time his wit went over our heads. In CMPL 266, we read a total of five books, all of them short, and wrote exactly three papers to finish out the semester. Our collective favorite was Dante’s Inferno, because who doesn’t love rivers of boiling blood and cannibalistic torture?

Anyway, the class kicked ass.

CMPL 267 would be taught by another grad student—but a decidedly less engaging one. Marta (or so we’ll call her), on the first day of the new semester, greeted us all by passing out a syllabus. And as the syllabus arrived on my desktop, my jaw (I think it’s safe to say) literally dropped. It was the longest syllabus I had ever seen. It was ridiculously long, unfathomably long, unjustifiably long. Marta wanted us to read 500 pages of material every week, write up reflective essays for each class period, turn in analyses twice a month, take regular quizzes, give two oral presentations, and submit three 20-page research papers. In four months.


At least, that’s how I remember it. But even if my memory has distorted the exact size of the workload expected by Marta in CMPL 267, the story’s preface boils down to this: It was my last semester of college, I had seen plenty of syllabi, and this one was a monster.

I had a mild heart attack in my new Toms, went home, reread the syllabus, and had another mild heart attack. It was impossible. It was absurd. It was inhumane, practically—at least, by the privileged standards of a middle class American college student. So the next time the class met, two days later, I raised my hand and asked Marta if the syllabus was negotiable. And when she asked what I had in mind, I told her. “Less… everything” was the gist of it.

And she said yes.

But my streak of #winning did not last long. Marta did lighten the workload by a tree or two, but that still left a hefty to-do list behind. I ground my way through it, reading what I could and writing what I had time for, but the effort was moot from a big-picture perspective. Between the overblown homework and Marta’s lack of teaching experience, the class and the reading material did very little educating. The only reading assignments I recall from that fateful semester—out of dozens—are “Bartleby the Scrivener” and “A Madman’s Diary.”

Well, and Faust.

Marta assigned Faust on a Wednesday, to be read (and reflected upon, in 600-800 words, double-spaced, with one-inch margins) by Friday. But when I opened up The Norton Anthology of World Literature and saw Faust staring back at me, exhausting from just a cursory glance, I simply said No.

Now, Faust is not long. It’s actually quite short—Part One is under 200 pages. But it is long enough to be a preposterous overnight reading assignment. It undermined my conscious efforts to maintain a healthy work-life balance, and it felt like a slap in the face to the hardworking student I was and always had been.

Haven’t I done enough? I thought. Haven’t I devoted much more time and energy to this silly, introductory Literature class than reason warrants?

I had. I had. So I refused, on principle alone, to read Faust that night. I didn’t read it the next night, either, and come Friday, I left The Norton Anthology of World Literature at home. I marched to class in my Toms, and I took the 0 for the reflective essay I didn’t write for the play I didn’t read. And I thought that would be the end of it.

But Faust came back to haunt me. Questions about Goethe’s famous drama cropped up on quizzes for the rest of the semester. The subject of each literary analysis was, inevitably, a comparison between Faust and “Bartleby the Scrivener,” or Faust and “A Madman’s Diary,” or Faust and… whatever else we read for Marta. I really can’t remember. We were expected to include references to Faust in two of our three major research papers. Our oral presentations were—you guessed it, you clever thing—Faust-focused.

Still, I refused. Marta couldn’t make me read Faust, not if I didn’t want to, and I DID NOT WANT TO. My stubborn and childish streaks expanded to military stripes, and I wore them proudly. I read just enough of Faust—excerpts here and there—to write my papers and give my presentations. But a grudge was born that bygone semester, never to give up its ghost if I had anything to say about it.

It was only a year or so later that I decided to take on The 100 Greatest Books Challenge and saw, hovering at #94 just inside the bottom rankings, Goethe’s fierce and unforgiving Faust. The grudge is obviously mutual. And while committing myself to The Challenge leaves no room for compromise, I can still relegate it to last place. So even if that means Faust triumphs in the end, at least—at the very same moment—I will, too.

Also, it is pretty short. On the heels of War and Peace, reading Faust will be as easy as selling my soul to the devil.

Oh, wait…

#43 The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri


By Fivedit, CC BY-SA 4.0

In The Divine Comedy, poetic justice comes with both rhyme and reason. It is, at once, an epic of cosmic proportions and an elaborate revenge fantasy. Dante, back in the 14th century, tossed his imagination into a skillet, cooked up this three-part journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, and topped it off with the gorgeous terza rima to serve up a world-class literary feast.

Because, well, aren’t we all a little hungry to lay down the laws of eternity?

Here are some highlights of narrator-Dante’s travels through the nine circles of Inferno, the nine rings of Purgatorio, and the nine celestial bodies of Paradiso:

  • In Inferno, the punishment always fits the crime. So, for example, the lustful are caught up in an infinite whirlwind, and the violent are boiled in a river of blood and fire. (I know, I know—that escalated quickly.)
  • Also, in Dante’s Hell, the worse your sin, the closer you are to the devil. The ninth circle of Hell has sections named for Cain, Antenor of Troy, Ptolemy, son of Abubus, and Judas Iscariot.
  • For those poor souls who didn’t bother to take sides in the Rebellion of Angels, Dante reserved this punishment, as foul as it is fluid:

These wretches never born and never dead
ran naked in a swarm of wasps and hornets
that goaded them the more the more they fled,
and made their faces stream with bloody gouts
of pus and tears that dribbled to their feet
to be swallowed there by loathsome worms and maggots.

  • …Not to be outdone by these other delightful forms of Dantean comeuppance: The flatterers (or bullshitters) are immersed in human excrement. The fortune tellers have their heads on backwards. The thieves exchange bodies with snakes and lizards. And the sowers of discord—a.k.a. Internet trolls, Beliebers, and the casually gluten-free—are hacked apart by a sword-wielding demon.
  • Somehow, most of Dante’s political enemies make cameos in Hell. Coincidence??
  • Lucifer, for his part, takes the form of an enormous beast with three faces. He weeps from his six eyes and chews traitors to shreds with his three mouths. Among them are Brutus and Cassius, as well as Judas himself.

  • Purgatory is often referred to as “Heaven’s waiting room.” Dante’s is full of lazy Christians, and all those who repented of sin just in time to die.
  • The seven terraces of Purgatory represent the Seven Deadly Sins, and the souls of Purgatorio have the opportunity to address the error of their ways through work and prayer. The slothful, for example, are forced to run, the envious are blinded, and the gluttonous are starved. (So yes, in this sense, Purgatorio is basically Seven, and Dante is basically Brad Pitt.)
  • At the top of Mount Purgatory lies the Garden of Eden. There’s a weird parade of allegories, including a griffin (for Christ), three circling women (for Love, Hope, and Faith), and an old man (for Revelations), and then Dante is handed off from his former guide (Virgil) to his new guide (Beatrice—Dante’s muse).

  • The nine spheres of Dante’s Paradiso are the planets and stars, which represent the angelic hierarchy. We can spot the likes of Emperor Justinian, Charlemagne, Thomas Aquinas, and the Virgin Mary up here.
  • Heaven is, frankly, pretty boring, until Dante “proves” his faith at Heaven’s gates and St. Peter does a little dance.
  • Dante eventually stands before God face to face, described here as a trinity of circles, and has this to say about it:

I saw within Its depth how It conceives
all things in a single volume bound by Love
of which the universe is the scattered leaves.

Which just, like, WOW.

At its core, then, The Divine Comedy is all about celeb-spotting, just rewards, and math. In other words, this is a classic you won’t want to miss. Consider these fun facts:

  • Dante is often called the father of the Italian language. With The Divine Comedy, he helped to unify the various regional dialects behind one form and established Italian as a literary alternative to Latin.
  • The Divine Comedy is the source of the famous line “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” The words are inscribed on the gates of Hell.
  • Each cantica (Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso) ends with the word “stars” (stelle in Italian).
  • Michelangelo’s biographers believe that he listened to a reading of The Divine Comedy while painting “The Last Judgment” in the Sistine Chapel. (You know, before audiobooks.)

Now try to tell me that’s not a book you want to read.

I highly recommend the John Ciardi translation to anyone who decides to take the plunge into Dante’s afterworld. And I highly recommend that, too—if only for the FOMO.

Is It One of the Greatest Books of All Time? 

It looks straight in the faces of the other 99 and laughs.

Favorite Quotes (Note that you’re in for a fair few. This is fucking Dante):


Whether it was my will, or chance, or fate
I cannot say.

I stay on in doubt with yes and no
dividing all my heart to hope and fear.

Follow your star, for if in all
of the sweet life I saw one truth shine clearly,
you cannot miss your glorious arrival. 


I hear love’s voice in every word you say.

At the hour, I think, when Venus, first returning
out of the east, shone down upon the mountain—
she who with fires of love comes ever-burning—
I dreamed I saw a maiden…

there is a lady wins us grace, and I,
still mortal, cross your world led by her love.

At each step I took
I felt my feathers growing for the flight.

Here let dead poetry rise once more to life.


My course is set for an uncharted sea.

Now hear this and, beyond all doubt, believe it
the good of grace is in exact proportion
to the ardor of love that opens to receive it. 

The beauty I saw there transcends all measure
of mortal minds. I think only her Maker can wholly comprehend so great a treasure.
Here I concede defeat. No poet known,
comic or tragic, challenged by his theme
to show his power, was ever more outdone. 

Already I could feel my being turned—instinct
and intellect balanced equally as in a wheel whose motion nothing jars
the Love that moves the Sun and the other stars. 

Read: 2014