Friday, July 16, 2010


Canto V: After passing through Limbo, Dante encounters Minos, who hears the sins of those going to Hell and indicates which circle they will spend eternity in by wrapping his tail around the sinner a number of times corresponding to the level to which the shade will descend. Poetically, Minos is interesting because this Cretan King was the judge of the dead in Hades; Dante has placed his pre-Christian figure (as he does in so much of his poem) into a Christian Hell.

In the poem, Minos stops his judging to offer a quick warning to Dante—one line long in Pinsky’s translation—and Virgil, Dante’s attentive guide, essentially gives Minos a verbal smackdown and the pair go on to the first circle of Hell, Lust.

But not in the game, oh, no. Dante’s no weak-ass poet waiting for his guide to save him here. He’s the action hero, jumping in, talking back to Minos himself (think Bruce Willis in Die Hard telling off the terrorists or whatever the bad guys were), then jumping into battle. After lots of random button pushing and jumping, fighting off other demons coming into the arena, etc., there’s another of those Pavlovian scenes where you press the buttons quickly as they are indicated on the screen, and you end up wrapping Minos’s tongue around a spiky wheel which you then turn to pull his head into the spikes. And it’s yippie-etc., as Bruce Willis would have said, on into Hell.

Okay, so, here’s an issue I have with the narrative concept (of the game, not the poem): Poem-Dante is on this intellectual, spiritual quest, so he seems to have carte blanche into Hell. Essentially, he seems to be a witness. Game-Dante, I guess, belongs in Hell because of lust, yet he’s on that quest to find Lucifer and steal Beatrice back. Fine, but why doesn’t he say to Minos, “I’m going to straight to level negative-nine, please,” and wait for the elevator down? Or say, “Yep, I’m lustful, send me on to the first circle.” Save some of that fighting strength for the next battle, right?

No, when you’re an action hero, you leave destruction in your wake. When you’re a buffed-out dude with a cloth crusader cross sewn onto your skin, you can’t engage in subterfuge, right? For example, in the old TV show The A-Team, they’d never send Mr. T undercover, would they? Big guy with a bad-ass mohawk and jewelry that weighs as much as two or three German shepherds trying to be inconspicuous? No way. So, Dante is leaving a path of destruction in his wake—but now who will judge the sinners? Is there going to be a long line waiting, wondering what happened to Minos up ahead, they way I get pissed off at Wal-Mart (which is like Hell in many ways) when the cashier leaves the register to check on a price or when someone brings 45 items into the express lane? This is the narrative problem, I think: how can you kill off these shades/demons/beasts in the eternal underworld? Do they go on to a next afterlife?

Afterthought: why is it so difficult to get into Hell, anyway?

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