Hail to the Florentine!

by Michael Potemra


I just received word (via e-mail from the publisher, Random House) that Dan Brown’s next book — scheduled for release on May 14 — will be called Inferno, and that it has to do with Dante’s great work of the same name. I think this is great news, because I think it will do much to re-popularize the work of my favorite poet of all time, who died seven centuries ago and has still not been surpassed. The Dan Brown book will be a suspense novel featuring his recurring leading character, Robert Langdon, and the usual elements of codes and symbols. Dante’s Divine Comedy (of which the Inferno is the first of three parts) is the work of a spectacular intellect — its own symbols and allusions have always been a fruitful battleground for scholars – but it is also a captivating human narrative that can be read with great enjoyment by non-scholars. Its secrets are inexhaustible, and I learn more every time I read it; but it is not a work only for lovers of literary puzzles. I know personally a number of educated readers who shy from it, thinking it a medieval version of Finnegans Wake; nothing could be further from the truth. Dante made the revolutionary choice to write in Italian rather than Latin, a decision with massive consequences for the history of literature; and this was not the decision of a man who wanted to communicate only to those we might call the intellectual “1 percent” (and I think Finnegans Wake was designed to communicate with a much smaller audience even than that; I can’t make head or tail of it, even with the help of commentaries). All Dan Brown books end up on top of the bestseller list; this one will perform an important cultural service if it lets a vast audience know about this great writer of the Middle Ages.