The Inferno

Dante’s Divine Comedy is a three part work written by the 14th century Italian Poet Dante Alighieri that describes the poet’s journey through hell, purgatory and heaven. In my highschool the senior AP English classes read the Inferno, the portion of the work that describes Dante’s journey through hell. Once we read it we all make projects (either by ourselves or in pairs) that depict hell as described by Dante. It’s the big project of the year and everybody in the school knows about. It was always fun to watch in the mornings and see seniors bringing in their projects cause everybody wanted to make their project bigger or cooler than everybody else’s. In my junior year one of the seniors made a full working model of hell, complete with flame spurts and pools of water, it was pretty darn cool and quite popular. When I was a senior my friend and I teamed up and made a quilt for the project. It’s a huge quilt, probably 4 feet in diameter, and almost totally round. Well, maybe that’s not so huge for a quilt but it’s big for a totally round quilt! And we made it in about a day and a half. We got pretty lucky and had a Friday blizzard that was bad enough school was called off so my friend Liz got a ride over to my house and we spent the whole day working on it. Lots of the pieces are actually glued on and it’s definitely not a pinnacle of sewing or quilting art, but it’s pretty damn cool.

So, there are 9 circles in Dante’s version of hell, that all get colder as they get closer to the center. In the very center is Satan who is frozen in a lake of ice and the beating of his wings is what freezes everything. Being some sort of ultimate evil you’d think the guy might be smart enough to stop flapping his wings so the ice could melt, but that’s a different issue. Now, pictures! And I promise I won’t go through the meanings in all of the circles and sub-circles (partly cause I don’t remember them) but I just have to show some close ups of my favorite bits and the more famous bits from the story.

This is the full quilt, it hangs on the wall in my apartment. Actually it’s gotten a few comments from pizza delivery guys since you can see it from the door :-). Hanging it was a little tricky because it’s round, but I ended up sewing velcro onto the back and then I just stick the opposite side of the velcro to the wall. That seems to work quite well, although can be kind of hard on the paint when you pull the velcro off.

This is a close up of the forest that the story starts in and the vestibule, which is the little black dome shape. The forest and vestibule are the reason the quilt isn’t completely round, which annoys me sometimes, but it had to be there for the project and I’m not going to remove it now.

You can see the gates here (the red almost bridge-shaped piece) which, in the story, have the famous saying written on them “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”. Also the blue squiggly bit is the river Styx with Charon the ferry-man on it. Dante’s rendition of hell is not especially popular with the Catholic church, for reasons that become more and more obvious as you read the Inferno.

I like this bit. It’s the ivory tower in the first circle of hell which is for “virtuous pagans”. Various famous pre-christian philosophers are in this circle because they have to be in hell since they weren’t baptized but since they were “essentially good” they get to be right at the edge and get things easier. The picture is actually upside-down from the way I took it but when the quilt is hanging this bit of the quilt hangs upside-down, it wasn’t really planned out with the thought of hanging it.

This is one section of the eighth circle. The sections are referred to as bolgias, although I don’t remember which bolgia this is and I don’t even remember what the sin was supposed to be. I’m pretty sure the punishment is supposed to be what we think of as the standard punishment in hell, eternally burning in flames. I just love the faces on this one and how the flames came out. The flames were quite fun to do as well, and are in at least one more bolgia, which I didn’t take a close up of.

This is a cliff that separates the ninth circle from the rest of hell and which is guarded by giants, hence the figure there. For this bit we actually cut a hole in the batting so that the ninth circle is actually lower than the rest of the quilt and there’s a lip here. I am quite pleased that we managed to do it, and many thanks go to my mother for helping us to make it work right.

This is the ninth circle, which has four rounds. In the ninth circle all of the sinners are frozen into the lake of ice that is around Satan. The difference is in how much of their heads stick out. In the first round the heads and necks are out of the ice, in the second only the heads, in the third they’re frozen up to their eyes and their tears freeze on their cheeks (we put little beads on to symbolize the frozen tears) and in the fourth round they are completely frozen, so they are only outlines. I think this is one of the more polished looking circles on the quilt, and just one of my favorites, I don’t know why exactly.

And at the very center is our cute little Satan doll. I suppose cute is a strange adjective to use, but he is quite adorable. When the quilt is laying flat, which is how it was made, Satan actually stands straight up. Which means that when the quilt is hung up he kind of flops down, so I had to hold him up for the picture. He has three faces and there is a sinner in the mouth of each face. I know they’re the really big sinners and if I knew my bible stories better I’m sure I could give you all their names, but I’m pretty sure one is Judas, and that’s all I got.

At the end of the Inferno Dante climbs down Satan’s leg and emerges on a cave that turns out to be in purgatory. For the project we needed to include that as well so on the back of the quilt are two little legs sticking out and the mountains of purgatory are drawn on, but I couldn’t get the quilt down and turned over easily to take a picture of that bit, so you’ll have to take my word for it. I have to ask that you keep in mind this was a project for school and none of it reflects my beliefs. I also ask that you don’t think I’m too strange for having favorite parts of a quilt that depicts hell, I tend to think of it as just another quilt. Although I am a little weird :-), but that’s a different story.

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