Skip to main content

Just Listen: Readings from The Decameron and Dante's Inferno

Dante Alighieri, whose visions of Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell have entertained and inspired readers for centuries, is widely considered one of the greatest poets of Western civilization. In Dante’s time, most European writers wrote in Latin, the language of scholarship and of the Catholic Church. Dante believed that poets should write in the vernacular—or the language of the people—in his case, in Italian. His crowning achievement, The Divine Comedy, is an Italian work that has been translated into numerous languages worldwide. Today’s reading, taken from The Inferno, that part of the story in which the poet Virgil escorts Dante through the lower regions of Hell, describes the two reaching the ninth circle of Hell, where those guilty of the worst sin, treachery, are found. These include Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus, and Brutus and Cassius, two Roman senators who plotted to assassinate the Roman leader Julius Caesar. They also include the angel-turned-devil Satan, here called Lucifer, the ultimate traitor who rebelled against God.

Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron, another Italian work, reveals his impressive literary versatility while exploring deeply human universal themes of love, loss, deception, fate, and honor. In 1348, bubonic plague swept through Europe, killing more than half the population of Florence, Italy, including Boccaccio’s parents. The Decameron begins with a group of ten young aristocrats, seven women and three men, taking up residence on a country estate where they hope to wait out the plague in Florence. To entertain themselves, each of them tells one story a day for ten days—the name Decameron means “ten days.” Each day they elect a “king” or “queen” to preside over the day’s storytelling and suggest the theme of the stories. “Federigo’s Falcon” is told on the fifth day. In addition to this great and entertaining work, Boccaccio is credited, at least in large part, with the popularization of the sonnet form in poetry, a poetic form that has weathered almost seven hundred years of continual beloved use among writers and readers. From Inferno by Dante Alighieri and The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, “Federigo’s Falcon”… we begin….