Why Is Don Draper Reading The Inferno?

Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 25 2012 2:25 PM

Why Is Don Draper Reading The Inferno?

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Jessica Paré and Jon Hamm as Megan and Don Draper

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A few photos from the filming of the sixth season of Mad Men hit the web today, and one of them showed Don Draper indulging in a not-so-light beach read alongside his wife, Megan. The book? Dante’s The Inferno. The version in Don’s possession is John Ciardi’s English translation—specifically, the paperback version, which was first published in 1964. (The hardcover came out a decade before.) Ciardi’s version remains highly respected and is still in print. So why is Don reading it? And when?

Don has occasionally flashed a literary side, most notably, perhaps, when he dipped into the work of Frank O’Hara in Season 2. And Ciardi, while hardly a household name today, nearly was one back then: He had his own radio show, Accent, from 1961 to 1962, and wrote a bi-weekly column, “Manner of Speaking,” for the Saturday Review throughout the decade. He was a popular lecturer, and even made a couple of appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

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Perhaps Don saw a late-night appearance and figured he would give the book a try? Or maybe someone just quoted to him Ciardi’s version of The Inferno’s opening lines: “Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray / from the straight road and woke to find myself / alone in a dark wood.” Sounds like a book Don could relate to.

Aisha Harris is a Slate staff writer.