Sienna Brooks and Siena, Italy

(Warning: This item may contain spoilers related to Dan Brown’s Inferno.)

There’s always multiple layers and levels in Dan Brown’s choices of names for his major characters (and frequently anagrams as well). A variety of commentaries in our book, Secrets of Inferno, address some of the interesting nuances in character names (in particular, see Glenn Erickson’s essay, “Letting the Genre out of the Bottle: Dan Brown’s Inferno as Modern Parody”).

When it came to naming the brilliant, beautiful woman at Robert Langdon’s side (all four Langdon books feature a different brilliant, beautiful female partner for the adventure), “Sienna” is an interesting choice. In Dante’s day, the city of Siena, with one “n”, was a Ghibelline stronghold and a frequent rival in bloody conflicts with Dante’s Guelph-held Florence. Florence tended to look down on Siena, which was the young upstart in the rivalry, but Dante comments at several points in the Divine Comedy that Siena’s government actually does many things better than his native Florence, which Dante believes has become riddled with moral and political corruption.

In choosing the name Sienna, and introducing her very early in the story, Dan Brown is giving us an early warning that she will turn out to be a double agent with a different agenda. Dante’s Commedia is filled with discussions of treachery, an issue that Dante was very concerned with: There is a special place and special punishments in the Inferno for those who committed acts of treachery during their lifetimes. Although we don’t learn that Sienna is Zobrist’s lover/disciple/helpmate until we are three-quarters of the way through the book, Brown has actually tipped us off from the very beginning. And, since Dante is two-sided about the city of Siena, Brown has also conveyed something of the ambiguity of the Sienna character.

As for the surname, Brooks, this may allude to the multiple rivers taken from Greek mythology and reworked by Dante into the landscape of the Inferno in order to serve different psychological and literary purposes. For example, Cocytus, a Greek mythological river in Hades, becomes a frozen lake that is home to the most treacherous sinners in Dante’s Inferno. These sinners have committed four different kinds of treachery in their lifetimes, having betrayed relatives, country, guests, and benefactors/masters. All the rivers are important, but the other one with particular resonance for the relationship between Langdon and our Miss Brooks is the Lethe, another allusion to the Greeks. Toward the end of Purgatorio, Dante is bathed in this river, which induces amnesia. Meanwhile, in the Brown novel, Sienna and her colleagues have induced amnesia in Langdon. Shortly thereafter, Beatrice (partially analogous to Sienna), chides Dante for his amnesia and not realizing what a sinner he is, much as Sienna will later chide Langdon for not seeing the urgency and importance of the mad genius Zobrist’s plan to “save” the world.

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