Antonio Rossini has spent the last 10 years in hell with his research on Dante’s poem, the Divine Comedy, and recently had a chance to talk about eternal damnation in the Canadian documentary, Hell: A Survivor’s Guide, which aired on VisionTV last month.
Dr. Rossini, head of UWindsor’s Languages, Literatures and Cultures department, commented on the 14th century Italian poet Dante Alighieri and his influential and enduring depiction of hell.
“It was a discussion about how hell is arranged in the mind of Dante as a poet, who created one of the most famous and appealing images of hell,” he says.
Rossini was approached by the documentary team to talk about the particularly vivid images of hell depicted in Inferno (Hell)—the first section of the Divine Comedy.
The researcher says Dante interprets hell as a reverse cone, where sinners are arranged by the severity of their sin.
“The lighter sins that concern our appetite or lack of control, like envy, wrath and sloth—these are considered lesser sins,” he says. “For Dante, who was extremely immersed and invested in the life of his city, the worst and most serious sins pertained to the civic sphere and to those who betrayed their fatherland by disrupting civic life—these sinners go deeper into hell.”
Rossini says people can relate to Dante’s use of the pain of hell to describe what people feel in their daily lives.
“The reality of heaven is so ethereal and difficult to describe, but hell is easy to relate to, because being immersed in hot liquid or being pierced by a devil with a pitchfork—these are things someone could relate to when it comes to violence or the brutal discomfort of life,” says Rossini. “It is more tangible.”
He says Inferno remains one of the most illustrated texts and has survived countless incarnations, from early Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli to modern culture, music and Hollywood movies.
“Inferno is captivating with its explicitly brutal images that stick to our minds,” he says. “Each country and each century has expressed at least one illustrator who has dealt with the Divine Comedy, which has proved to be extremely effective with audiences and has exhibited enormous staying power.”
The documentary explores various artistic constructs of how people perceive and conceive of the imagined place of punishment and features scholars, writers and theologians commentating on why the idea of hell influences people’s behaviour.
“This was my first foray into such an in-depth interview and it was nice to share my scholarship,” says Rossini. “It was an interesting production. I am proud to be a part of this really well-done film.”
Hell: A Survivor’s Guide, was produced by Asterisk Productions Ltd. A website featuring extended interviews from the documentary is available at: www.hellsurvivorsguide.com, including a webisode that features Rossini’s commentary on What was Dante’s inspiration? The full documentary aired on VisionTV in February 2016.