This is the second presentation (see the first) of a new collaborative series between the winsome ne’er-do-wells on the Writing team and the woefully ocular photographers. The explanation is simple: the photographer provides the photo, the writer spins the story.
I was a high school sophomore when I first read Dante’s Inferno. Looking back, it was really too early to read something that long and complex — or at least it was for me. However, as a budding history geek — and perhaps amateur medievalist — there was nothing that could intrigue me more, especially since Will had recommended it to me. “I think you’d like it,” he had told me — that was an expectation to live up to.
Of course it was easy for someone like him to recommend it. By now he was a senior and had already been accepted into Columbia. I had always looked up to his intelligence, even more so than his accomplishments, and to turn down his request would have been an embarrassment that my innocent pride would not have been able to handle.
Struggling through each awkwardly translated verse, and plowing through the endless footnotes, I descended with Dante and Virgil through their early modern phantasmagoria of eternal damnation. As exciting as a volume-lengthed description of hell initially seemed, however, I somehow managed to get bogged down not too far into it.
But one image stuck with me for a while — that of the deceased lovers of the second circle. Watching them flee from a raging storm for all of eternity had been enough to make the overly sensitive Dante pass out, but it had a different effect on me. All I could think of was how wonderful it would be to be with a loved one forever—hardly the punishment Dante intended it to be.
I, of course, had not yet known “love,” but had certainly experienced enough “infatuation” to approximate its effects in my imagination. There was that unfortunate detail of constantly being pursued by a storm, but to me that part seemed scarcely different from real life. What form of infatuation wasn’t inevitably accompanied by a storm of anxieties and doubts? Love and flight seemed to be one and the same thing to me.
As I contemplated the second circle, my thoughts involuntarily drifted from the Inferno to he who had recommended it to me. I wondered what Will thought when he read the same passage. I imagined him having the same thoughts as myself and pictured him whirling around amongst Dido and Isolde for the longest infinities of time. Of course, someone like him probably wouldn’t think of something as silly as that. After all, he was probably smart enough to read it only with the critical eye of an academic. I chastised myself for thinking of something so immature as the two of us together in hell — what would he think?
I saw him in the hallways on the way to class a few days later. He was certainly glad to learn that I had in fact begun reading Inferno, though not so delighted as I had hoped. “That’s great,” he said, with as much enthusiasm as one can artificially muster, followed by the obligatory “how do you like it?” I murmured a few lines in response before using the pretext of getting to class as an excuse to leave. I had definitely hoped for a stronger reaction, though quite frankly, it took me a while before I could even admit to myself how disappointed I felt from this singular encounter. I never finished reading Inferno.
I didn’t see too much of Will for the rest of the year before he graduated. After that, he went to school in the city, so we still saw each other, but we did so very infrequently. Naturally, the burden of staying in contact fell on me. I couldn’t say why I felt the need to keep in touch with him; like the souls of Dante’s second circle, I felt pursued by something that seemed powerful enough for me not to question it.
By now, it’s been several years since my failed attempt at reading Inferno, but I’m still in the second circle of hell. No, I haven’t been forced into an eternal circumvection of a giant funnel — instead, the city is my hell. In the tempest behind me rages a gridlock of doubts and anxieties that only spurs me further on. I’m always nervous, but at my happiest. Everything rushes past me as I race to meet him.