This blog post is adapted from our book, Secrets of Inferno: In the Footsteps of Dante and Dan Brown. Spoiler alert: It contains references to the plot and characters of Dan Brown’s Inferno as well as his prior novels. This is the first of three parts.
Dan Brown has endowed the evil genius character Bertrand Zobrist with green eyes and a beak-like nose. Zobrist is a great Dante enthusiast and so it is perhaps not surprising that three references in Inferno point to his green eyes. More than ten references point to his beaked-nose or to the Venetian plague mask’s beaked-nose that is a symbol for Zobrist. These notable traits allude separately to Dante and his muse and ideal woman, Beatrice. Several of the most notable portraits of Dante show him with a very pronounced beaked-nose, or what in history was called an aquiline nose (referring to the Latin word for eagle). In Purgatorio 31, Dante suggests that Beatrice has emerald eyes. A few paintings depict Beatrice with green eyes. Green is also part of the color coding of Dante’s great poem. The Divine Comedy has a variety of references to green, red, and white (and to emeralds, rubies, and diamonds) with each corresponding to a particular Christian virtue (hope, charity, and faith). Incidentally, the modern Italian flag incorporates these colors.
The integration of male and female is a signature theme with Dan Brown, who made many references to the metaphor of “chalice and blade” in The Da Vinci Code (DVC), which also stressed the importance of the female spirit in early religions and specifically in early Christianity. Mary Magdalene figured prominently in DVC as the partner and wife of Jesus; Brown’s Robert Langdon character seemed to believe in the theory that Mary was seated next to Jesus in Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper painting, and that Leonardo had integrated chalice and blade shaped spaces into the image in ordere to illustrate the unity of male and female. Langdon is always paired with a beautiful, brainy female counterpart: Sophie Neveu in DVC, Vittoria Vetra in Angels & Demons (A&D), Katherine Solomon in The Lost Symbol, and now Sienna Brooks in Inferno. Even before the Robert Langdon novels, Brown used the same formula of a male-female partnership to try to save the world from some outsized impending disaster in Digital Fortress and Deception Point.
Inferno provides a direct moment of sexual fusion for Langdon and Sienna when Langdon dons Sienna’s blond wig (she is bald because of her medical condition, which is given as telogen effluvium, a stress-related kind of hair loss). Although her stated intent is to make him look like an aging rock ‘n roll singer, the fact is they are sharing the same wig and the same blond hair that the reader is led to believe makes her particularly feminine and attractive.
Many of Brown’s books dissect images of sexuality in art and the role of gender in the history of religion. Examples abound in his fiction of his efforts to show the process by which the Mother Goddess typical of archaic religions (and the respect given to the “sacred feminine”) was superseded and obliterated by the male-oriented focus of modern Western religions.