Part 1: Infernal Road Trip
So there I was at a crossroads in my life, pretty bummed out about how my beloved city of Florence had ruined itself with politics – I had a feeling my neighbors had it in for me next – and I was “lost in the woods”, so to speak. And then, three “animals” – let us say they were a lion, a she-wolf, and a panther, because symbolism – came after me and I was then “trapped” against a “mountain” (use your imagination). What to do, what to do – suddenly, he appeared!
“Greetings, Dante – I am Virgil.”
“The Virgil?! The idol of poets’ idols?! This is awesome; I wish cameras had been invented so I could take a picture for the folks at home if they let me come back! Not to sound ungrateful, but why did you travel all the way from the afterlife to help me, currently an almost-nobody in the world of literature?”
“Your dead girlfriend Beatrice pulled a few strings in Heaven and strongly suggested that I come and guide you.”
“Ah, my one, my only, Beatrice! Please don't let my wife find out that I still have a thing for her.”
“Then maybe you shouldn’t write about her in literally everything you publish. Right now, in order to escape these metaphorical animals, you must follow me as I take you through Hell.”
“Wait, what? As in, actual Hell?”
“That's the one. With nine circles.”
“You do realize this whole thing is an allegory, right? You’re not going to take me through the bona fide, abandon-all-hope Hell, are you?!”
“This epic is not going to write itself, so less talking and more walking.”
“But I don’t wanna goooooo!”
Seeing as it was the Virgil, though, I really couldn't say “No” to him – after all, as a poet, I was planning to be the next him, so I had better put my florins where my mouth was. So he led me straight into Hell, which was no picnic, let me tell you. Virgil himself actually resided in the “best” level of it, if you could consider any part of it not so bad: just because he had been born during a time and in a place where people believed in gods different from the one ruling my world now, he has to spend eternity wistfully sighing with his fellows. Could be worse, I suppose.
In fact, there was worse – much, much worse, and if you want details, buy my book (I hear that some editions cost as low as five units of your currency, plus whatever needs to be rendered unto Caesar). I guess for my education, Virgil made me get the life story of tormented souls in each and every circle, sub-level, etc. – the areas got bigger as we descended lower, and Circles 7 and 8 had so many categories of sinner that they took forever to get through. I don't know what sadistic mind thought up the punishments for the people down there: as if their sins in life weren't bad enough, the eternal torment with flames, and whippings, and muck, plus there was that one incident with the snakes swapping bodies with those guys – really sick – made me question my own sanity and whether there was any goodness left in the world. I had to keep telling the employees there that I was still alive just so they wouldn't take me for one of their charges – which would be most undeserved, I must add.
Virgil, who by then was my best bud and we even called each other “Father” and “Son” just so we had someone sane to keep track of, finally got us out of there by – no lie – climbing down Satan’s back. Apparently, the big guy’s three heads were so preoccupied munching on history’s favorite traitors that he didn't notice our spelunking off of him to the other side of the Earth. If he did notice, he probably was too shocked at the whole thing to do anything about it.
I actually am kind of thankful for this days-long experience. If I had been considering a life of sin before, I definitely was forever cured of that notion.
Part 2: Purgatory Is Quieter
Not much to say on this one: the journey was parallel to the one we just took in Hell, only we were going up instead of down and the inhabitants mostly were biding their time to rise through each level, and I still kept having to explain to everybody that I was a living person just passing through. One event of note was that Virgil up and disappeared on me (I think he reached his maximum altitude and had to go back to the hole), and suddenly, there she was! Beatrice, the epitome of my vita nuova, my tragic lost love, the purest soul that ever existed who descended from Heaven just to guide my unworthy self onward! My wife is never going to read this, right?
Part 3: Heavens Above
I got to be the first astronaut! I travelled through space, and planets, and stars, and the Sun, and the moon, and got to see all the holy people who are now in Heaven, and my lovely Beatrice grew lovelier and lovelier, and I just know that this self-referential epic poem will convert the world to goodness and make my name greater than that of even my mentor Virgil (no slight on him, but the son always must overthrow the father). Small comfort while I'm in exile from Florence, but I'm certain that one day they'll forget all about it and let me come home again. Meanwhile, I acclimate to life back on Earth as I look up to where I so recently had left the stars.