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Dante Alighieri Trivia

Brain Snacks: Tasty Tidbits of Knowledge

In Canto XXV of Inferno, the pilgrim encounters a thief "making the fig" with both hands. "Making the fig" is an obscene gesture, equivalent to "flipping the bird," that Italians still enjoy today.8

In Canto XXI of Inferno, when the pilgrim and Virgil are escorted into the next circle by the demons, the lead demon signals that it's time to go when he makes "a trumpet of his ass"—that is, when he farts.9

Paradiso, Purgatorio, and Inferno all end with the same word—stars.10

Dante's body was not allowed to rest in peace after his 1321 death in Ravenna. After he was buried in Ravenna's San Pier Maggiore Church (now St. Francesco's), the city of Florence decided that they wanted the poet's body back. Ravenna said no way. The matter seemed closed until 1865, when a construction worker demolishing a wall at St. Francesco's discovered Dante's coffin, with Dante's remains still inside. Apparently church officials had hidden Dante in a wall to prevent Florentines from kidnapping his corpse. Weirder still is that - during the time it took to rebury the body - several people helped themselves to pieces of the poet. In 1878, the former town clerk of Ravenna returned a box of Dante's bones that he had stolen twelve years earlier. Ewww!11

Translators won't leave Dante alone. More than 50 English editions of Inferno appeared just in the twentieth century alone.12 Still, a perfect translation of Dante's rhymes and poetic language remain elusive. "No one has ever licked it, and so many famous poets have tried,"13 Columbia literature professor James V. Mirollo has said.

T.S. Eliot learned Italian just so he could read Dante in the original Italian. Show off.14

Michelangelo is said to have listened to a reading of The Inferno while he painted "The Last Judgment" in the Sistine Chapel.15

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