Don Draper does Dante

Has there ever been a more destined pairing than Don Draper and Dante on the beach? The appearance of Florentine … Continued

Has there ever been a more destined pairing than Don Draper and Dante on the beach? The appearance of Florentine poet Dante Alighieri’s most celebrated work “Inferno” in Mad Men’s season six premiere was enough to induce sighs and swells from medieval scholars (who rarely see their man on the small screen.) Don Draper, sprawled out on a towel on Waikiki Beach, read the first line of Canto One before ending his torment.

At least, he tried to read “Inferno.”

But now that Dante’s in the picture, it’s possible that the show’s creator Matthew Weiner may be using “Inferno” as a blueprint. After all, he’s been ticking off sins since season one, circle by circle, providing a checklist of damnation straight from 1308.

Dante’s “Inferno” is a poet’s midlife journey to the depths of hell, depicting nine circles of sin—lust, gluttony, greed, among others —before beginning his quest up to paradise. “The Divine Comedy” isn’t exactly a laughable matter, and indeed, its presence on a Hawaiian vacation is highly unrealistic. “Paradiso,” the third and most mystical part of the epic poem, would make great reading for sipping frozen Mai Tais in the sand. But Inferno? Inferno was written for pain: for Washington during debt crises and the New York Subway in July. Reading Dante in Hawaii reeks of self-flagellation, the sort critics are telling us we’re likely to see throughout the season.

With Dante, too, comes dreaded theological questions, the ones about the death, the afterlife and where it all goes from here. “The hop off point,” Don calls it. They’re the perfect questions for the penultimate season.

Until now, religion and redemption were issues that only Peggy explored (before deciding she wanted to “live in sin,” to use the term favored by her devout Catholic mother.) This season, it seems, Don is poised for a conversion of sorts, or at least reflection.

“I had an experience,” Don begins when he returns from his Waikiki vacation. “I don’t know how to put it into words.”

Amazingly, though, Dante does. Don has never shown much interest in religion, but he’s reading what some call the pinnacle of Catholic and Italian literature, a work that razes the hierarchy of church politics, while meditating on spiritual truth.

Still, Dante and Don are worlds apart. Dante, unlike Don, was a mystic in pain, in deep search for truth in politically- fraught Florence. He had a mentor, Virgil, guiding him through “Inferno”; Don has Roger Sterling on a couch, cursing the path’s “many doors.” Dante had his muse Beatrice guiding him to Paradise. Don has a new mistress who gave him “Inferno” for a vacation with his wife.

But Don, while lying on bed with his newest Francesca (See Canto 5!), admits he needs to stop “doing this.”

The presence of “The Divine Comedy” opens doors to self-awareness that “Mad Men” has yet to explore. And if we doubt that Don isn’t looking to Dante for a little guidance, he tells us: “Heaven is a little morbid. How do you get to heaven? Something terrible has to happen”

Dante would ‘Amen’ to that.

More on: ,
  • RiPaFe

    I thought I was the only one. This is what I truly love about Mad Men.

    Yes, Don-te’s Inferno. There are lots of clues in this episode. One client even says Don’s preliminary ad is “poetic”. Who is Beatrice? Joan on the staircase? The heart surgeon’s wife who says “I know you want to stop being like this.”

    Where is Don-te’s spiritual guide? Or perhaps Don is Virgil…

  • ntrlsol

    With commercials playing what seemed like every 5 minutes during last night’s Mad Men premier, Don may as well have been reading Sex and the Single Girl for all the difference it made. The constant interruptions resulted in something akin to a “clip show” and any continuity between the various scenes was lost to me.

  • wren_57

    I couldn’t agree more. At times, it seemed like there were dual plots taking place at the same time.

Read More Articles

Valle Header Art
My Life Depended on the Very Act of Writing

How I was saved by writing about God and cancer.

Sociologist: Religion Can Predict Sexual Behavior

“Religion and sex are tracking each other like never before,” says sociologist Mark Regnerus.

The Internet Is Not Killing Religion. So What Is?

Why is religion in decline in the modern world? And what can save it?

river dusk
Cleaner, Lighter, Closer

What’s a fella got to do to be baptized?

Magical Thinking and the Canonization of Two Popes

Why Pope Francis is canonizing two popes for all of the world wide web to see.

An Ayatollah’s Gift to Baha’is, Iran’s Largest Religious Minority

An ayatollah offers a beautiful symbolic gesture against a backdrop of violent persecution.

Screenshot 2014-04-23 11.40.54
Atheists Bad, Christians Good: A Review of “God’s Not Dead”

A smug Christian movie about smug atheists leads to an inevitable happy ending.

Ten Ways to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly

The author of the Church of England’s autism guidelines shares advice any church can follow.

Pope Francis: Stop the Culture of Waste

What is the human cost of our tendency to throw away?

chapel door
“Sometimes You Find Something Quiet and Holy”: A New York Story

In a hidden, underground sanctuary, we were all together for a few minutes in this sweet and holy mystery.

Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

From Passover to Easter: Why I’m Grateful to be Jewish, Christian, and Alive

Passover with friends. Easter with family. It’s almost enough to make you believe in God.

Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.