Table Tennis and Dante

2021-04-21 @Blog

Here’s a strange thought. I somewhat enjoy the game of Table Tennis. I also find Dante’s Divine Comedy a sensational piece of writing, though nothing yet strange in any of that.

Granted, I hold a few grudges with the medieval poem. Satan doesn’t converse much. Beelzebub doesn’t even make an appearance. I already felt the potential for this right-hand incarnation of vice unexplored in Paradise Lost, but here the devil has been reduced to parenthetical. Though that’s still beside the point.

More crucially, there’s not a table to be found. Anywhere. For such exuberant landscapes as the Inferno or the Purgatorio, I found the lack of even a cheap lump of wood, a pair of dismal rackets of stripped rubber and a single ball (per my High School gymnasium), a bit tough to reconcile.

Now the Inferno could present a series of challenges. Somewhere it continually rains acid or flaming drops. Somewhere, unusually strong winds grasp and mince flesh into unrecognizable forms.

Perhaps I exaggerate the last detail. But even the Limbo felt plain eerie… and melancholy.

Many of the nine circles feature unreliable footing: much of the tract cavernous, or abundant in scorching, frozen, poisoned, or fetid lakes. Somewhere we encounter burning sands.

Otherwise, heaps of bodies lay there in eternal damnation. Difficult it is to circumnavigate.

But what about the slightly calmer, more exclusive and element-resistant colonnade in Limbo, where the poets and the philosophers engage in respectfully poetic and philosophical (and timeless) discourse, rather than sulk on the ground all day?

Or the Wood of Thorns, which, short of the wailing trees and the grotesque harpies, felt relatively meet.

Or the infamous Eighth circle, the Malebolge, where the evil and the fraudulent find their respective abode among the ten valleys of poetically ranging torture? Juxtaposed next to a ‘citadel’ of ‘dikes’ and ‘moats’ with a deep (probably bottomless) well at the apex, I thought it might work.

I particularly imagined a table around the Fifth Bolgia where the Malebranches (those Devils with the cute Italian nicknames: Malacoda, Scarmiglione, Cagnazzo, Barbariccia, Graffiacane, etc…) menacingly wave those pointy contraptions.

You might consider the idea mildly sadistic, as much of that Bolgia (and the surrounding circle) finds men submerged in lakes, dismembered, under siege by serpents, contorted, or otherwise incapable of wielding a racket.

I recall men of heads 180 degrees twisted, compelled to eternal backwards motion. While I hadn’t captured the detail in my notes, I imagine these to have been the Soothsayers, as punishments in Dante’s rendition of Hell tend to, with a flair for clever symbolism, fit the sin.

The synthesis of ideas naturally occurred to me when, encumbered by slow and clumsy Table-Tennis motion, by the time of the counterstroke my back would come to nearly face the table, head unsoundly misaligned, the position hopelessly futile.

In hindsight, hell might appear unreasonably turbulent for the placement of a table. But what about Mount Purgatory? Perhaps along the lower rings of the coniferous mount (the rings of the Proud or the Envious), of still sufficient space for lateral movement? (Those rings grow increasingly slimmer as we ascend.)

Or better yet, along the shores or the woods by the bank? Plenty of opportunity midst such picturesque backdrop.

I could argue for the earthly paradise at the Mount peak, though there matters become overly theological. The Paradise I shouldn’t mention, as the angelic energies no longer demonstrate much interest in Earthly disport.

Maybe one day.

Questions, comments? Connect.