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
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
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
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.
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. …