A Winter Straight Out Of Dante's 'Inferno'

Writer Sally Franson compares Minneapolis winters to the many stages of hell in Dante's Inferno. She tells NPR's Scott Simon that reading the epic poem is her way of getting through an especially harsh winter.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We generally think of hell as hot, but with the polar vortex sweeping through the country, many Americans may feel that hell is these bleak, cold days of mid-winter. Sally Franson is a write who's felt besieged in her apartment in Minneapolis. She says, "Dante's hell and winters are the same thing." And that's a direct quote from a blog post that she wrote this week. Sally Franson joins us now from Minneapolis. Thanks very much for being with us.

SALLY FRANSON: Pleasure.

SIMON: What about this winter moved you to read Dante's "Inferno?" You're just trying to get warm?

FRANSON: Yeah, I was looking for economical way to get warm. It's been the coldest winter that I've ever been in before. Been snowbound in my house many nights, and so I figured I would pick up the "Inferno" and go to the warmest place anywhere, which is of course hell.

SIMON: You cite some specific similarities between Dante's version of hell and this Minnesota winter. Let's take a few one by one if we could, all right?

FRANSON: Absolutely.

SIMON: In the second circle, Dante's journey through hell, we find lust.

FRANSON: Yes. Lust is a place in the inferno where people who have enjoyed the fruits of other's loins too often are blown around in a giant windstorm. When you live in a northern climate, that is exactly what happens as you walk through the tall buildings of any downtown, so as I was walking up Nicollete Avenue one day I thought to myself, oh, I'm in the lust circle of hell right now. But it takes so long here in Minnesota to take off our clothes that when we get home we usually just lie in bed and watch TV.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Well, all right. Then let me carefully bring up gluttony, because you suggest, you know, I mean, this is often when people are kind of blithering and mindlessly looking at anything, a bag of Doritos helps.

FRANSON: A bag of Doritos really does help. And everyone needs a little extra insulation in winter. The problem is, when you eat too many Doritos, you are damned to a circle that is just full of sleet and rain and icy slush that you must lie down in alone, which seems very fitting for where we are right now.

SIMON: And the little orange flakes of whatever kind of flavoring there is on the Doritos. To reflect on it a bit more, do you find reading about another version of misery helps you get through this misery that happens to be cold?

FRANSON: Isn't that the only reason we read; to know that there are...

SIMON: You know, come to think of it, you're right. That's an act of empathetic identification, isn't it? You're absolutely right.

FRANSON: Exactly.

SIMON: All right.

FRANSON: It makes us smarter and more empathetic, and of course there's nothing like quoting Dante at cocktail parties.

SIMON: Boy that helps, doesn't it. And particularly it's been my experience you can finish the sentence any way you want. If you begin it by saying, "As Dante said..." very few people in that conversation...

FRANSON: Nobody knows.

SIMON: Right. No one will contradict you. As Dante said, "A stitch in time saves nine," no one's going to say wait one minute, Dante didn't say that.

FRANSON: Exactly. For all you know, I didn't read the "Inferno." I just read the Wikipedia article.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: You know, that's all I read before I interviewed you, but still, that's a very fruitful conversation. Sally Franson is a writer and a composition teacher in Minneapolis. You can find a link to her blog post on our Facebook page. Sally Franson, thanks very much for being with us.

FRANSON: Thank you. It's my pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HIGHWAY TO HELL")

AC/DC: (Playing)

SIMON: As Dante once said: You're listening to NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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