Will Dan Brown's 'Inferno' Be Heavenly for Dante and Florence?

Article excerpt

It promises to do for Florence and Dante what "The Da Vinci Code" and "Angels and Demons" did for the Vatican and Leonardo.

Dan Brown's new book, "Inferno," went on sale around the world on Tuesday, with expectations that it will be as wildly popular as his previous blockbusters.

It is based on Dante's "The Divine Comedy," the epic poem that takes the reader on a journey through Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory.

Scholars, however, are divided over whether Brown's populist thrillers encourage greater interest in history, art, and Renaissance culture, or cheapen the legacies of some of the Western world's cultural giants. While some welcome the spotlight that Brown shines on the likes of Leonardo or Dante, others argue that he distorts historical reality by postulating conspiracies, codes, and enigmas where they do not exist.

A Florentine puzzle

Dante was born in the Tuscan city in the 13th century and much of "Inferno" is set amid its piazzas and palazzi. The book begins with a character called "the Shade" racing through the streets of Florence while being pursued by nameless enemies.

"Along the banks of the River Arno I scramble, breathless ... turning left onto Via dei Castellani, making my way northward, huddling in the shadows of the Uffizi. And still they pursue me," Brown writes. "I pass behind the palazzo with its crenellated tower and one-handed clock ... snaking through the early-morning vendors in Piazza San Firenze. Crossing before the Bargello, I cut west toward the spire of the Badia...."

We then find Robert Langdon waking up in a hospital with a serious head wound and memory loss. Initially he assumes he is in Massachusetts General Hospital but is then told that in fact he is in Florence.

Mr. Landon is then swept up in a race against time to prevent a deadly plague-like virus from being spread around the world by an evil genius determined to prevent the planet from being overpopulated.

But instead of battling the evil Illuminati or the Priory of Sion, he is up against another shadowy group of international conspirators - The Consortium. Langdon has to solve mysterious codes that allude to passages from Dante's poem.

Scholarly debate

Dante scholars might have reason to be sniffy about all this, but in fact the Italian Dante Society has welcomed "Inferno," saying anything that brings "Il Somma Poeta" (the Supreme Poet, as he is known to Italians) to a broader audience is a good thing.

"The book will focus attention on Dante, an extraordinary Florentine who was not just a writer but also a politician. There is great anticipation in Florence for its publication. I'll certainly buy a copy," says Eugenio Giani, the president of the society. …