THE DARING, somewhat COMIC, and also DIVINE, INVENTIOIt is very difficult not to be lured by the highly intelligent craft of Durante degli Aliguieri DA And may be it is not a coincidence that he was the exact contemporary of Giotto, his fellow Florentine For if Giotto planted the seed for a pictorial representation of the world in which man, at the center, and through a window, delivers to us a naturalistic depiction of divine stories, Dante also used his writing to posit himself as the Author who through his fictional persona or Alter Ego, gives us the viewpoint to contemplate the full cosmos His cosmos, but for us to share.
Still, we modern readers, in spite of Modernist and PostModernist awareness, are still fooled by DA s handling of illusion, and easily become pilgrims and start on a literary tripthan ready to absorb everything that DA wants us to see, and think, and believe.
POLITICSSo, for example, we will learn his political views DA was exiled in 1301 and led a peripatetic life, outside Florence, until his death in 1321 He wrote the Commedia during the exile, from 1309 and finished it in time By masterfully welding the fact and mythologized fiction of the world of Antiquity, he cloths himself with the full robes of Auctoritas, and presents us the complex development of European politics during the thirteenth century He summons his views repeatedly either by the succession of visits to the traitors or in fully developed historical pageants.
Of course, Hell is populated by DA s enemies, with the very pope responsible for his exile, Boniface VIII, holding stardom in Circle 8th In this Inferno DA is the very Minos He is the one who with his pen of many tails wraps around his enemies and throws them down the pit to the Circle that DA believes the chosen sinners deserve Even if this spectacle horrifies his ingenuous Pilgrim.
The ranking of the Inferno Circles reflect also DA s values Lust is the least damaging while Treason, in particular political treason and the betrayal of friends, is the most despicable In comparison even Lucifer, a rendition that remains faithful to the medieval tradition, is not muchthan a grotesque, and not particularly hateful, monster Politics continue in Purgatory DA s audacity is again proved by the way he exploits to its fullest what was still a relatively new concept in Christian dogma 1274 If DA had been Minos in Inferno, he now is the discerning Cato of Purgatory He is the one holding the Silver and Gold keys, and who claims to know the very intimate thought of those who had the luck to repent the instance just before dying He awards then the transit ticket to Paradise Can we be surprised if some of the awardees had some relation to those figures who had welcomed DA during his exile DA s authorial knowledge is supplemented by the granting his protagonist with the role of Messenger of Hope The Pilgrim, as the only human in Purgatory, can bid forprayers to the still living relatives when he goes back to Earth He can effect a change in the duration that any purging sinner is to spend in the transitional stage, the only one of the three realms in which the clock is ticking.
Could one expect DA to finally drop the political discourse in Heaven No, of course not There it even acquires greater strength since the discourse is cloaked with a divine mantle In Paradiso it will be no other than Saint Peter himself who will denounce the path of degeneration that the Papacy had taken in recent years And if Boniface VIII died in 1303 had been repeatedly identified as the culprit for the evil in earth, now it is his succeeding popes, and contemporary to the writing of Commedia , who are selected by DA s saintly mouthpiece Pope Clement V was responsible for the transfer of the papacy to Avignon, and the cupidity of John XXII was for everyone to see Indeed, a secluded Apocalyptical 666 attests that politics forms a triptych in Commedia In agreement with the intricate framework of parallels, symmetries and balances in this work, DA devoted the three chapters 6 in each book to political diatribes.
Apart from his relying on Ancient Auctoritas, DA also accorded the full weight of history to his views, and it is mostly in a couple of major pageants and in the Valley of the Kings that he exposes the political disaster that the withdrawal from the Italian peninsula by the Empire had on the various city states It was left to the corrupt papacy and to the corrupt smaller kingdoms to spread crime along the full Europe His solution was clear The papacy had to govern only religious matters, and he extolled the Emperor Henry VII to hold the political reins of Europe It is DA s canonized Beatrice who has a reserved seat for this Emperor in God s White Flower if he does succeed in exerting his salvific political role.
DOGMABut the Commedia is not just about politics This extremely complex work is also soaking in Christian Dogma Of course politics and dogma were inextricably joined during the Middle Ages, and that was part of DA s very complaint And what is to me extraordinary about the immediate reception of Commedia, is that it was treated like Scripture Even the early editions were illustrated like illuminated manuscripts which in a way is most befitting if we remember that it is about the progress of a Pilgrim s as he approaches Light and gains a 20 20 vision elevated tho the Trinitarian power.
In his appeal to religious dogma DA was extraordinarily successful, even if some of his claims were shockingly daring He modified or added realms to the Christian Cosmos, with the peculiar understanding of the Limbo to accommodate revered figures from Ancient Antiquity, or added the Pre Purgatory for the unabsolved Rulers He designed his own ranking of the Sins, both for Hell and Purgatory But most importantly he proposed his understanding of Free Will and its conflicting relationship to Predetermination and God s vision Not by chance did he place the discussion of Free Will at the very center of the work, in Canto 16 of Purgatory.
But the most dangerous proposition, for him, was his vehement defense of the limitations of the Papacy on Earth He started writing in 1307 just a few years after the Papal Bull of Unam Sanctam the very controversial claim of papal infallibility Not this book, but Dante s Monarchia, in which he strongly attacked official tenet, was burned soon after Dante s death and was included in the list of forbidden books during the 16th century.
NARRATIVE SCHEMESTo us, however, it is not his proclamations on Dogma, and not even his political views except for historians , which offer the greatest interest What is most remarkable for literature addicts is how DA, the author, develops all these themes, and succeeds in weighing with the gravest authority his poetic treatise And this he does through his masterful manipulation of the power of fiction and the sophisticated uses of voices.
For a start, there is the protagonist DA s Alter Ego, and the only human in the full work His humanity, and his being in the middle of the moral mess in which he has placed himself is the perfect mirror for the reader But we can trust him to embody us because Virgil, the greatest Roman poet and chronologist of the foundation of Rome, will guide us We can trust him also because Christian Divinity has selected him as the, temporary, guide It is only when Virgil s powers have reached his limits, two thirds into the full work, that the pilgrim s identity is revealed to us He is Dante himself, or Dante the Pilgrim DP With his revealed identity he can say goodbye to the pagan guide who cannot, alas, have a place in Heaven Dante, however, will.
The spoiler provided by our general culture has damaged the way we read the work The astounding pretention of DA in assigning himself the powers in deciding who goes where in his system of divine retributions has been blurred to some naive readers Some of them try to excuse Dante precisely because they have been entirely convinced by his acting puppet The highly successful Dante the Pilgrim DP as a candid personality with the qualities of kindness, fear, anger and similar emotions, distracts our attention away from the real Dante, the Author.
The Pilgrim is an alibi mechanism for his creator He shows pity for the people DA condemns He can go beyond the Terrace of Pride, in which the rather proud DA may be still spending some of his time And he becomes the anointed messenger from the Heavens to deliver to us what DA is writing But we would also be mistaken if we did not recognized that not always him, but many other characters voice DA s opinion His brilliant dramatization with innumerable personages constitutes the choir of a ventriloquist In the sophisticated Narrative technique, the handling of time is also magisterial Apart from the symbolic unfolding of the action during Holy Week of the year 1300, and the references to eternal cosmic time, it is the numerous voices of this clever ventriloquist who continually foretell what is to happen to the sinners Most outstandingly the voices predict the eternal condemnation of DA s particular enemies Some of these were not yet dead at the time of the pilgrimage, but had already passed away when DA was writing his poem Such an example is the premonition that the most hated pope Boniface VIII will be damned He died three years later But there is also the shocking case of the soul that is already in penance while his body is still living on earth This personality died even after Dante.
Finally it is DP himself, once he has entered Heaven, who engages in this foretelling, and of course, it had to be in his warning to the Popes that were about to be in power in the years after the voyage of the Commedia, reminding them to stay out of politics and to forget material wealth.
The suitability of DP as our Alter egos to reach salvation is certified by his examinations on the Theological Virtues by the the Apostles Peter, James and John He passes them with flying colors, because DP acknowledges that his knowledge is based on the Holy Text.
And it is also with Text, and DA was very well versed in exploiting its four levels of interpretation Literal, allegorical, moral and anagogical , that is, with this new poetry that Dante Aliguieri is proposing a plan for his, and our, salvation Because after such a heavenly Graduation who can deny the Commedia its status as Prophetic and Scriptural May be we saw it coming, when the still anonymous Pilgrim posited himself, at the very beginning of the poem, as the 6th greatest poet after the likes of Homer, Ovid, Virgil etc So, may be it is not by chance that his identity as Dante is revealed until Virgil is used and expensed.
Several other poets also populate the triptychal poem representatives of the two pioneering schools of Proven al and Sicilian schools, as well as by those Florentines who with or just before DA, started formulating the sweet new style dolce still novo and exploring the literary possibilities of the still vernacular Tuscan tongue But if DA has been exploiting his abilities as ventriloquist, it is with his own voice as a poet that he makes a presence in Commedia A few of his fictional characters quote some of Dante s earlier verses.
Having reached the Empirium of the poem, we can stop and think about where Dante Alighieri has taken us Because, even if not eternal salvation, he has delivered us a most extraordinary feat of literature that we cannot but qualify as divine Further, he has done so in a newly coined language, to which he added some words of his own invention, and, most outstanding of all, he positioned the Author at the very center of that literary White Rose of fiction.
And this flower continued to exude its rich scent until, in a similar process to the displacement of Giotto s viewer, Roland Barthes, plucked it in the declaration formulated in his 1967 Essay The Death of the Author.
But before that, it had a long life.
The Divine Comedy Describes Dante S Descent Into Hell With Virgil As A Guide His Ascent Of Mount Purgatory And Encounter With His Dead Love, Beatrice And Finally, His Arrival In Heaven Examining Questions Of Faith, Desire And Enlightenment, The Poem Is A Brilliantly Nuanced And Moving Allegory Of Human Redemption Dante Alighieri Was Born In Florence InAnd Belonged To A Noble But Impoverished Family His Life Was Divided By Political Duties And Poetry, The Most Of Famous Of Which Was Inspired By His Meeting With Bice Portinari, Whom He Called Beatrice,including La Vita Nuova And The Divine Comedy He Died In Ravenna In THROUGH ME THE WAY INTO THE SUFFERING CITY,THROUGH ME THE WAY TO THE ETERNAL PAIN,THROUGH ME THE WAY THAT RUNS AMONG THE LOST.
JUSTICE URGED ON MY HIGH ARTIFICER MY MAKER WAS DIVINE AUTHORITY,THE HIGHEST WISDOM, AND THE PRIMAL LOVE.
BEFORE ME NOTHING BUT ETERNAL THINGSWERE MADE, AND I ENDURE ETERNALLY.
ABANDON EVERY HOPE, WHO ENTER HERE Botticelli s vision of Satan There are 92 illustrations by Botticelli, inspired by The Divine Comedy, of which this edition contains a selection.
I read Inferno while in college and had always intended to go back and read Purgatorio and Paradiso, but somehow the years passed and I never returned to Dante s masterpiece When my son went off to college and asked to borrow some classics to read, I sent him, along with my copy of The Divine Comedy, Canterbury Tales, Utopia, Paradise Lost, and several other important works of literature The rule with books, of course, is that there is no such thing as lending and returning The lending part goes fine, but the returning is usually the tricky part When I decided it was time to return to Dante, I didn t ask for my copy back from my son, though he would be one of the few people who would return a book I feel that giving a book to either of my children is an investment in all of our futures.
Since I decided to descend into hell with Dante, I was frequently glad to have Virgil as our guide He explained the explainable He provided a protective wing from the many monstrosities that we encounterGross hailstones, water gray with filth, and snowCome streaking down across the shadowed air The earth, as it receives that shower, stinks.
Over the souls of those submerged beneath That mess, is an outlandish, vicious beast,His three throats barking, doglike Cerberus.
His eyes are bloodred greasy, black, his beard His belly bugles, and his hands are claws His talons tear and flay and rend the shades As I was reading Dante s descriptions of various horrendous beasts, it reminded me of the fantastical medieval expressions of imagination that I ve encountered numerous times in the margins of holy books These early monk illustrators displayed such a vivid creativity in how they depicted their fears I can only wonder how terrifying their nightmares were and for them to believe that these terrors were real would only add wings and claws to their trepidation They were infected with these fears by Christianity, while being dangled the balm and possibility of heaven.
How about this for a living nightmareAs I kept my eyes fixed upon those sinners,A serpent with six feet springs out against One of the three, and clutches him completely.
It gripped his belly with its middle feet,And with its forefeet grappled his two arms And then it sank its teeth in both his cheeks It stretched its rear feet out along his thighsAnd ran its tail along between the two,Then straightened it again behind his loins.
No ivy ever gripped a tree so fastAs when that horrifying monster clasped And intertwined the other s limbs with its.
Then just as if their substance were warm wax,They stuck together and they mixed their colors,So neither seemed what he had been before After seeing some of the horrors awaiting us in hell, which has proved to be a much better scare tactic for considering improving my heavenly resume than Death on the Highway or Red Asphalt II were for improving my driving skills, we encountered the pantheon of classical writers Homer, Horace, Ovid, and Lucan Dante was so proud we will deal with pride in Purgatory that they accepted him as a member of their club I was starting to wonder if Dante may have already resigning himself to a life in hell Are great writers who don t use their gifts glorifying God doomed to hell One of the wonderful things about writing, to paraphrase Chaucer, is that you can eviscerate your enemies forever in print, and certainly the people who had most offended Dante in life were experiencing the tortures of everlasting hell Writers do play God Because of the fame of The Divine Comedy, their names will always be associated with a list of famous sinners I would say that Dante s revenge was served cold, but really it was rather warmly given We also meet some sinners who led pious lives worthy of heaven, but because they were never baptised for the reason they lived before Christianity existed, or fell under the catchall phrasedid not worship God in fitting ways,and were all, every one of them, consigned to hell God does seem to be very particular about all of his children fearing him, loving him above all else, and most importantly of all worshipping him So it wasn t about whether these people were good people, but that they showed proper reverence to his worshipness Later, when I visited heaven, I didn t see any issues with overcrowding, so I m not sure why a few get out of hell free cards couldn t have been surreptitiously handed out to those bereft of sin who didn t completely conform to his will How about even just a leg up to purgatory, where eventually one might after thousands of years of suffering earn a pair of wings It was with some relief, my deodorant was starting to give way, we ascended to Purgatory and confronted the seven terraced mountain, representing the seven deadly sins For those in need of a recap, there are the malicious uses of love, such as wrath, envy, and pride, and those where love is too strong, such as lust, gluttony, and greed Sloth is the only sin not based on excesses, but on a lack of enough self love or energy to be a contributing member of society As I weigh myself on these scales, I can honestly say that sloth and greed have never been sins of mine Pride, I will admit, was a struggle when I was younger, but life has a way of knocking the piss out of us and reminding us constantly that we are only half as smart as we think we are I ve had a few wrathful moments in my life, but being around human beings for too long will test the patience of the most sainted among us Lust I will plead the fifth, and gluttony well, food has never been an issue, but one could make a case that I do suffer from a serious case of book gluttony I did check out some of the real estate pricing while in Purgatory sigh It was with some relief that we discovered some angels in purgatory, bedraggled ones to be sure, but still ones doing what we want angels to do, which is protect us from marauding beastsI saw the company of noble spirits,silent and looking upward, pale and humble,as if in expectation and I saw,emerging and descending from above,two angels bearing flaming swords, of whichthe blades were broken off, without their tips Angels are badass warriors, and there have been several television shows in recent years that has depicted them as soft and warm cuddle buddies, but really angels aren t for clinking beers with, but for us to stand behind when winged, fire spitting beasts are attempting to turn us into crispy critters Dante shared an epiphany with me while in Purgatory that left me thinking about the creation of dreams and how important it is for all of us to continue to build new dreams as we leap the final hurdles of achieving a dream or find that other dreams may no longer suit usA new thought arose inside of me and, from that thought, still others many and diverse were born I was so drawn from random thoughtto thought that, wandering in mind, I shutmy eyes, transforming thought on thought to dream Virgil was replaced as our guide by Beatrice as we were about three quarters of the way through Purgatory I was sorry to see Virgil go, but I must admit I ve always wanted to meet Beatrice, just to see what type of woman would inspire such a lifetime of devotion from a man like Dante She was the daughter of a banker, married a banker, and with her premature death at 25 remained forever the very vision of beauty According to Dante, he only met her twice, but those sightings must have been magical because they left him with a permanent love hangover I wanted to ask Dante if he had ever even talked to the lass or if he just projected all of his visions of her from glimpses of her outer beauty, but then the fact that she is here in Paradise may answer that question for meIn ascent, her eyes All beauty s living seals gain force, and notesthat I had not yet turned to them in Mars,can then excuse me just as I accusemyself , thus to excuse myself and seethat I speak truly here her holy beautyis not denied ascent makes itperfect Heaven light, as it turns out, is even better than bar light We all look our best If you are considering reading Dante, I would recommend for sure reading Inferno Most likely when you encounter Dante references appearing in your reading, they will probably be from the Inferno This Allen Mandelbaum translation is wonderful and so easy to read, and there are copious notes in the back to help guide you if Virgil loses you in a flaming forest This is one of the classic works which I have felt for some time I ve needed to read There will be manythis year, including but not limited to War and Peace, Magic Mountain, and Les Miserables If a bit of flayed skin flies out from between the pages once in a while, don t be afraid it s just part of the adventure A word of caution though, be sure to buy some SPF1000 before you take this scenic walk with Dante If you wish to seeof my most recent book and movie reviews, visit also have a Facebook blogger page at Reading the Divine Comedy at seventeen was, for me, to see the world sub specie aeternitatis Apparently that s not okay in the World s eyes Writing it, in the 14th Century, was not considered okay either So Dante was banished for life from Florence.
In the Comedy eternal flame is the just deserts of corrupt conformity That doesn t seem quite right in the eyes of the comfortably politically correct, back then as now But they, like it or not, always have the final say And what they say, goes So reading this literary landmark for the first time, when I was seventeen, marked the inauguration of a colossal climacteric in my life The winds of change, back then, were howling all around me and as if in reaction Dante s vertical landscapes, ascending and descending, morphed within my mind to become the central mythos of my world and my young spirit.
For Dante s work states clearly from his symbolic POV that we CAN find lasting happiness in spite of the majority s comfortable perpetual nay saying to the contrary.
What we have to do to find it is pacify our dark impulses, work out our emotional trauma with diligence and awareness, and then aspire to reach the gates of Real and Lasting Happiness in the crown of our emotions and intellect Faith In the Face of the World.
That sums it up Hell Purgation And Paradise And it all takes place right here on the face of this unforgiving planet Sink or swim In the era of my first reading of it, my grandmother had a beautifully bound edition of the Longfellow translation with its wonderful nouveau Gothic plates by Gustave Dor which I carried all around my parents house, absorbed in its mystical milieu.
By the next summer I had graduated to a library loan of the much less bulky sized John Ciardi translation, in a limited edition with abstract modernistic illustrations.
You know, one or another edition has been with me all throughout the intervening 50 years between then and now, my literal sine qua non Vade Mecum in all of its multiple shapes and sizes At university, it was the must own tiny Everyman Library dual language edition, with its graceful Pre Raphaelite line drawings very easy to stick into my shirt pocket going to and from lecturesAnd, do you know, I recently realized that in all my many, many readings of the poetic translations available, I ve never been able to fully grasp the subtle complexities of Dante s Aristotelian Thomist philosophical arguments So I picked up Charles Eliot Norton s eminently accessible PROSE translation for my Kindle.
So, as well as the print edition pictured above another excellent translation THAT is the story of my life in One Book And now that the end of of my life is approaching Sooner rather than Later or that s the impression I now get , I can look back at my life, and the world I ve lived in, and agree with The Comedy s author that, as is inscribed in bold letters on the glorious facade of the old San Francisco Public Library La gloria di colui che tutto movePer l universo penetra, e risplendeIn una parte piu e meno altrove The glory of The Prime Mover penetrates throughout the entire universe in one part less, and anotherAnd He will guide you safely Home through the howling storms of this dark world.
Commedia Divine Comedy, Dante AlighieriThe Divine Comedy Italian Divina Commedia is a long narrative poem by Dante Alighieri, begun c 1308 and completed in 1320, a year before his death in 1321 It is widely considered the preeminent work in Italian literature, and is seen as one of the greatest works of world literature The poem s imaginative vision of the afterlife is representative of the medieval world view as it had developed in the Western Church by the 14th century It helped establish the Tuscan language, in which it is written, as the standardized Italian language It is divided into three parts Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso 1976 1335 Plumbing the crucible of happenstance.
I should give a quick intro and say that I rarely EVER, EVER re read a book I should also mention that 3 years ago I had never cracked Dante s Divine Comedy Now, I am finishing the Divine Comedy for the 3rd time I ve read Pinsky s translation of the Inferno I ve read Ciardi I ve flirted with Mandelbaum and danced with Hollander, but from Canto 1 of Inferno Hell to Canto XXXIII of Paradiso Heaven, I can t say I ve read a better version than the Clive James translation He replaced the terza rima A B A, B C B, C D C, D E D E E a measure hard to write without poetic stretch marks in English with the quatrain, and in doing so made the English translation his own It gives the Divine Comedy the verbal energy and the poetry that makes inferior translations a slog and makes Dante so damn difficult to translate well A mediocre translation might capture the stripes but lose the tiger Clive James pulled off a master translation of one of the greatest works of art in any medium ever.
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I once thought I d write an essay on how long it takes a serious author of fiction or nonfiction before he or she inevitably quotes Dante If I were to write a novel myself this is a hypothetical grammatical construction , I d probably manage about a page before I d exclaim that I am lost, and middle aged, and in the middle of a dark forest I d try to kill off annoying acquaintances and punish them severely for their lack of admiration for me and my creativity not to mention my sarcasm and irony , and of course I would meet my teenage love and be joined together forever in eternal happiness in the end or maybe not, come to think of it, I might skip that part , after spending a life travelling the underworld in the company of the most brilliant author I can think of Dante fulfilled all his and my dreams with the Divina Commedia, and I envy him his bravery and talent, not to mention his ability to write in that beautiful Italian However, not all parts of the poem were equally appealing to me.
I found myself loving Inferno, liking Purgatorio, and not quite identifying with Paradiso at all.
I always wondered why that is, and concluded that humans are much better at depicting hell than heaven, chaos than order, dystopia than utopia Reason being, in my not very important opinion there s no storyline behind real bliss, and without stories, we are not entirely connected to humanity and its questions any Paradiso is nice, but uninteresting, sort of Lasciate ogni speranza, voi che entrate the ticket to hell I doubt if there ever was a better advertisement for a rollercoaster adventure Update in Year One Of Post Truth Wall Building I am still lost in that dark forest of middle age, trying to make sense of life, and Dante comes to mindandoften, in the same way Orwell s 1984 does it growsrealistic with every day that passes This morning, The Wall Of Dis all of a sudden forced itself upon my thoughts, the great wall separating Dante s Upper and Lower Hell Upper Hell is for the Carnal, Gluttonous, Greedy, and Wrathful, whereas the other side of the wall contains the Heretical, Violent, Fraudulent and Treacherous It just struck me that every wall in the world has created that kind of mental division The typical representatives of upper hell , consumed by the everyday sins of wanting most of everything for themselves without being bothered by others, usually keep their moral upper hand by accusing the other side of the wall of worse crimes, such as the wrong religion , violence, and treason.
The funny or sad thing is that it works both ways You can turn hell upside down and have the same results egotistical, narcissistic angry men accuse others of treason and heresy to deflect from their own faults No wonder Inferno is a timeless classic after all, Dante based it on his own experience of a divisive, violent political situation.
I attempt to rewrite the Divine ComedyIn the middle of the journey of my lifeI came across a man named TrumpWho seemed bent on causing much strifeO how he was an unpleasant, fleshy lump Like some hobgoblin of the child s imaginationOr a thing that in the night goes bump.
But in spite of lengthy cogitationI find I have produced fewer words Than members of the crowd at an inaugurationI ve doubtless disappointed the Dante nerdsAnd before long may well concede defeatMy plan, I admit, was strictly for the birdsAlas Success will not these efforts greetI am totally running out of steamAnd will soon be mocked by some misspelled tweetI had despaired Then last night, in a dreamI heard a voice say, Manny, just have some fun.
Go on, I tell you, it ll be a scream Master, I said, I think I m not the one Fear not, he answered All things will be well.
Recount the tale of Trump and Kim Jong Un But first, I asked, What is the place in HellReserved, I hear, for Justin Trudeau s soulAnd what his punishment I beg, please tellTo be continued when I find new inspiration I am currently interviewing muses