more rough drafting stuff …
Ok, while we’re still poking around in Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, no reason not to start approaching Dante’s Divine Comedy.
“Approaching Dante’s Divine Comedy“
aka “getting our arms around Dante’s Divine Comedy“
aka “getting a sense for roughly what it is, what it looks like, how it’s structured, roughly what it says, why it probably was written, when, by whom, what else was happening at the time, what had happened before it, what happened after it that seemed to be caused by it, who said and wrote what about it at the time and later, and such.” ; )
Always, of course, looking for clues to answer the ever-interesting big question: Who and what was the author in the sense of the William James classic, The Varieties of Religious Experience?
Dante Alighieri 1265-1321. Italian. Author. Poet. Dante is pronounced in American English as “DONN-tay.” He wrote Divine Comedy during the period 1308-1321, the last 13 years of his 56-year life. When you see the lengthy table of contents for the Divine Comedy later on this page, you’ll really believe he could spend 13 years on this little ditty.
Finding A Translation
Looking around for a annotated online edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy that’s as good as Dartmouth University Tom Luxon’s website for Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained … Ok, this looks promising.
It has translations from Dante’s middle ages Italian into several languages including three in English. The three English translations are by British scholar and translator, Rev. H. F. Cary (lived 1772-1844, published translation 1805-1814), American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (lived 1807-1882, published translation 1867), and Allen Mandelbaum (translation published 1980-1984). Interesting that Longfellow, who must have had Cary’s translation available to him, felt another and better translation was needed. Wonder what it was about Cary’s translation vs. his own reading of Dante in Italian that made him think this? Ditto for Mandelbaum.
This is cool. When you select “edition” on this site, you can select individual editions or side-by-side displays of two editions. You can select, for example, Longfellow-Cary, and have verses from them side-by-side.
VERY quick side-by-side reading of the three English translations gives rise to views that: (1) Mandelbaum doesn’t really change much from Longfellow’s meanings of words and virtually no difference in readability and (2) Longfellow chose different English meanings than Cary did for Dante’s Italian words and Longfellow somewhat (to my eye) increases readability.
All of this, plus my impression that Tom Luxon prefers the Longfellow edition, says I’ll be focusing on the Longfellow English translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Finding Some Background Info
There’s a chart in this wikipedia article that indicates there have been quite a few English translations. For example, Dorothy Sayres published another English translation during the period 1949-1962 with a purpose of making the story more accessible (aka easier) for a “wider audience.”
Longfellow translation gets the nod
I’ll assume, unless I get indication otherwise, that all the English translations have something good to offer, for some purpose, for some audience, but that — for my usual agenda of getting a translation that is as “close” as possible to the meaning and structure and “flavor” of the original work in its original language — I’ll use Longfellow. By the way, if Longfellow sounds familiar, he should. He’s the fellow (pun intended) who gave us the classic, but not really epic, poem, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.”
Divine Comedy is three books – starts, apparently, in Hell (“Inferno” in Italian), moves into Purgatory (“Purgutorio” in Italian), and concludes in Heaven (“Paradiso” in Italian).
The first thing that jumps out at me from the 3 book titles is that Paradiso, a Paradise Latin/Italian/English cognate (i.e., a similar word, with similar meaning, from a related language, in this case, both Italian and English deriving words from Latin), is being used for Heaven. Thinking of King James Version (KJV) Genesis creation story, Milton’s Paradise epics, Divine Comedy, and usual everyday meanings of words all together, I’m thinking … wait, Dante’s going to say Paradise is Heaven, an afterlife “place”? … while Paradise, Garden of Eden are usually a place on earth? … oh, but paradise was maybe probably never literally a place on earth anyway, was probably always symbolic/allegorical/fictional … and not everybody agrees an afterlife of heaven and hell and purgatory exists outside the judeo/christian/islamic imagination either … and spiritualPlane/astralPlane types, both meditation style and TimLeary/MoodyBlues style, and Swedenborg/Stefani natural style, view Heaven as astral travel and such during a life vs. after life … and buddhists and others think of tranquil mind as heaven on earth during life … and tantra/goddess/wic/Madonna types see momentary and between-moment love/sex/ecstasy and Milton seems to be saying getting back to Paradise is … what is Milton saying? … getting back to Paradise in experience during life (so far, I’m thinking that’s more a Swedenborg or Madonna or Buddha or Alan Watts interpretation than a Milton interpretation) or getting back to Paradise in Heaven after life? (so far I’m guessing that’s where Milton’s going) …
meta — knots, clusters, tangles, little baskets — the prior paragraph that starts out with the paradise/paradiso cognate idea began as a knot, a cluster, a tangle, a little basket of impressions/reactions/questions/overlapping terms/different uses and meanings/possible answers delivered all in a bunch by associative memory … such knots show up all the time, and instantly … takes a microsecond for one of these useful knots/clusters/tangles/littleBaskets to come to mind … takes a few minutes to describe them … : ) … they’re confusing to describe “linearly” (with a sequence of words), but aren’t confusion … they are little baskets of opportunities to notice old or new ideas in the subject of present attention … some of the impressions/thoughts actually apply … some don’t … the ones that apply add connections among related things to memory … the ones that don’t apply are opportunities to make new distinctions or make old distinctions more clear … what happens is we pick one or a few to deal with next … or not … if not, attention just continues along the lines that produced the knot/cluster/tangle/basket … which will pretty soon produce some more of them … ]
So it remains to be seen if Milton or Dante … or both … introduce … experiential/introspective/psychological … asides, analyses, discussions, impressions, symbols, or metaphors into their works … or whether they work more along the lines of … some combination of … more eloquent, more comprehensive, more persuasive, more attractive, or more impressive … retellings of Judeo-Christian concepts … of Paradise, Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell.
Maybe see how Inferno, the first of The Divine Comedy‘s three parts, begins.
Oh, before that, I thought it was interesting that Dante himself never called his famous work, Divine Comedy. He titled it simply, Comedia. Someone later added “Divine” and the name has become standard.
First Taste of Dante’s Verse
Ok, the first dozen or so (16) lines of Dante’s Inferno:
A DARK WOOD
MIDWAY upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost. 
Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear. 
So bitter is it, death is little more;
But of the good to treat, which there I found,
Speak will I of the other things I saw there. 
I cannot well repeat how there I entered,
So full was I of slumber at the moment
In which I had abandoned the true way. 
But after I had reached a mountain’s foot,
At that point where the valley terminated,
Which had with consternation pierced my heart,
Upward I looked, and I beheld its shoulders
Vested already with that planet’s rays
Which leadeth others right by every road. 
So I guess the narrator, presumably Dante himself, is in a dark wood which i guess is the inferno, is hell — not seeing any fire right away, but that may be being a little picky — he thinks he fell off the “right way”, he thinks he got there when he wasn’t paying attention, and he sees at the top of the mountain a better place, presumably heaven, and the light, presumably God’s will or christian belief of behavior that has guided others, but, at least so far, him. You read it any other way? Too soon for conclusions. But interesting to get a quick initial taste.
First thing that “jumps out at me” (ah, these, what are they? American English idioms? metaphors? i guess an idiom can be a metaphor … maybe a lot of them are … anyway … the first thing that jumps out at me …) is the phrase, “the true way.” I could be wrong, but it makes me think Dante’s headed toward a grand and elegant retelling (that’s ok) of medieval christian dogma (not as interesting) vs. giving us interesting introspective and social perspective insights into life, personality, and physical/mental/spiritual experience (which is interesting whether the retelling is grand or not, elegant or not). Can’t be sure. It’s way too early. Just thinking/guessing/predicting/makingTrialConclusions as part of the fun of participating in the study of the work. Studying can be difficult and a drudge or easy and interesting and fun. For me, a big part of the difference that makes it always fun is letting my mind engage the material, think about it, guess about it, guess right and that’s cool, guess wrong and get a cool surprise, note similarities, note differences, spot trends, and such.
There’s also “straightforward pathway” that had been lost. And “leadeth others right” by every road.
I started to write, “well, it’s only the 1300’s, so it’s a little early in history for interesting analytical introspective writing, since Sartre and other existentialists don’t come for another several centuries,” but then I thought, well, what about Socrates and other Greeks (wondering about Epicurus and maybe others), and some Romans (wondering about Marcus Aurelius and maybe others), or Spinoza … Spinoza *definitely* gives interesting introspective analytical stuff, but Spinoza comes later too, 1632-1677 … anyway, it remains to be seen who Dante is experientially and where he goes with this …
Noticing there are no annotations in this online addition. Several translations. But no annotations. Don’t know if they’re needed. They were nice on the Dartmouth Milton reading room site.
Longfellow translation on Project Gutenberg.
Also had a little trouble copying and pasting those 16 lines into the wordpress blog here due to the way the Dante site and WordPress handle HTML tables (a geek issue … there are epic poetry geeks … digital geeks … geeks galore!). That motivated me to see if there was a plain text version of the Longfellow translation on Project Gutenberg. There is. Not looking for annotations on Project Gutenberg. There’s a lot of legal and administrative front matter in every Project Gutenberg version of a classic. That’s not a problem, but it makes them less pretty than the elegant annotated single-language single-translation Dartmouth Milton reading room site and the very pretty unannotated multi-language multi-translation DivineComedy.com site above. Here’s the Proj Gut version:
Detailed Table of Contents
NICE NICE NICE table of contents there in the Gutenberg edition! It’s huge. I’ve posted it below. Imagine how long the poem must be. Before I got good at reading and thinking, which was also before I wrote my own book, I was sort of not interested and bored by tables of contents. Truth, though, is reading a detailed Table of Contents like this is a pretty fast way to get the idea of how a huge and complex work progresses. Like reading the 12 “the argument” summaries in the 12 books of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Either Dante himself gave us this table of contents to help us master his work, or some smart reader/translator made it for the same reason. Either way, without reading the work itself yet, we’ll know a LOT about Dante’s three Divine Comedy books after we’ve taken about 3 minutes … make that 10 minutes … my pal, td, timed it for me … to read through the “boring” (not boring) table of contents. Here we go. Take a deep breath and dive in.
I. The Dark Forest. The Hill of Difficulty. The Panther,
the Lion, and the Wolf. Virgil.
II. The Descent. Dante’s Protest and Virgil’s Appeal.
The Intercession of the Three Ladies Benedight.
III. The Gate of Hell. The Inefficient or Indifferent.
Pope Celestine V. The Shores of Acheron. Charon.
The Earthquake and the Swoon.
IV. The First Circle, Limbo: Virtuous Pagans and the Unbaptized.
The Four Poets, Homer, Horace, Ovid, and Lucan. The Noble
Castle of Philosophy.
V. The Second Circle: The Wanton. Minos. The Infernal Hurricane.
Francesca da Rimini.
VI. The Third Circle: The Gluttonous. Cerberus. The Eternal Rain.
VII. The Fourth Circle: The Avaricious and the Prodigal.
Plutus. Fortune and her Wheel. The Fifth Circle:
The Irascible and the Sullen. Styx.
VIII. Phlegyas. Philippo Argenti. The Gate of the City of Dis.
IX. The Furies and Medusa. The Angel. The City of Dis.
The Sixth Circle: Heresiarchs.
X. Farinata and Cavalcante de’ Cavalcanti. Discourse on the
Knowledge of the Damned.
XI. The Broken Rocks. Pope Anastasius. General Description of
the Inferno and its Divisions.
XII. The Minotaur. The Seventh Circle: The Violent.
The River Phlegethon. The Violent against their Neighbours.
The Centaurs. Tyrants.
XIII. The Wood of Thorns. The Harpies. The Violent
against themselves. Suicides. Pier della Vigna.
Lano and Jacopo da Sant’ Andrea.
XIV. The Sand Waste and the Rain of Fire. The Violent against God.
Capaneus. The Statue of Time, and the Four Infernal Rivers.
XV. The Violent against Nature. Brunetto Latini.
XVI. Guidoguerra, Aldobrandi, and Rusticucci. Cataract of
the River of Blood.
XVII. Geryon. The Violent against Art. Usurers. Descent into
the Abyss of Malebolge.
XVIII. The Eighth Circle, Malebolge: The Fraudulent and
the Malicious. The First Bolgia: Seducers and Panders.
Venedico Caccianimico. Jason. The Second Bolgia:
Flatterers. Allessio Interminelli. Thais.
XIX. The Third Bolgia: Simoniacs. Pope Nicholas III.
Dante’s Reproof of corrupt Prelates.
XX. The Fourth Bolgia: Soothsayers. Amphiaraus, Tiresias, Aruns,
Manto, Eryphylus, Michael Scott, Guido Bonatti, and Asdente.
Virgil reproaches Dante’s Pity. Mantua’s Foundation.
XXI. The Fifth Bolgia: Peculators. The Elder of Santa Zita.
Malacoda and other Devils.
XXII. Ciampolo, Friar Gomita, and Michael Zanche.
The Malabranche quarrel.
XXIII. Escape from the Malabranche. The Sixth Bolgia: Hypocrites.
Catalano and Loderingo. Caiaphas.
XXIV. The Seventh Bolgia: Thieves. Vanni Fucci. Serpents.
XXV. Vanni Fucci’s Punishment. Agnello Brunelleschi,
Buoso degli Abati, Puccio Sciancato, Cianfa de’ Donati,
and Guercio Cavalcanti.
XXVI. The Eighth Bolgia: Evil Counsellors. Ulysses and Diomed.
Ulysses’ Last Voyage.
XXVII. Guido da Montefeltro. His deception by Pope Boniface VIII.
XXVIII. The Ninth Bolgia: Schismatics. Mahomet and Ali.
Pier da Medicina, Curio, Mosca, and Bertrand de Born.
XXIX. Geri del Bello. The Tenth Bolgia: Alchemists.
Griffolino d’ Arezzo and Capocchino.
XXX. Other Falsifiers or Forgers. Gianni Schicchi, Myrrha,
Adam of Brescia, Potiphar’s Wife, and Sinon of Troy.
XXXI. The Giants, Nimrod, Ephialtes, and Antaeus.
Descent to Cocytus.
XXXII. The Ninth Circle: Traitors. The Frozen Lake of Cocytus.
First Division, Caina: Traitors to their Kindred.
Camicion de’ Pazzi. Second Division, Antenora:
Traitors to their Country. Dante questions
Bocca degli Abati. Buoso da Duera.
XXXIII. Count Ugolino and the Archbishop Ruggieri. The Death
of Count Ugolino’s Sons. Third Division of the Ninth Circle,
Ptolomaea: Traitors to their Friends. Friar Alberigo,
Branco d’ Oria.
XXXIV. Fourth Division of the Ninth Circle, the Judecca:
Traitors to their Lords and Benefactors. Lucifer,
Judas Iscariot, Brutus, and Cassius. The Chasm of Lethe.
I. The Shores of Purgatory. The Four Stars. Cato of Utica.
II. The Celestial Pilot. Casella. The Departure.
III. Discourse on the Limits of Reason. The Foot of the Mountain.
Those who died in Contumacy of Holy Church. Manfredi.
IV. Farther Ascent. Nature of the Mountain. The Negligent,
who postponed Repentance till the last Hour. Belacqua.
V. Those who died by Violence, but repentant.
Buonconte di Monfeltro. La Pia.
VI. Dante’s Inquiry on Prayers for the Dead. Sordello. Italy.
VII. The Valley of Flowers. Negligent Princes.
VIII. The Guardian Angels and the Serpent. Nino di Gallura.
The Three Stars. Currado Malaspina.
IX. Dante’s Dream of the Eagle. The Gate of Purgatory and
the Angel. Seven P’s. The Keys.
X. The Needle’s Eye. The First Circle: The Proud.
The Sculptures on the Wall.
XI. The Humble Prayer. Omberto di Santafiore.
Oderisi d’ Agobbio. Provenzan Salvani.
XII. The Sculptures on the Pavement. Ascent to the Second Circle.
XIII. The Second Circle: The Envious. Sapia of Siena.
XIV. Guido del Duca and Renier da Calboli. Cities of
the Arno Valley. Denunciation of Stubbornness.
XV. The Third Circle: The Irascible. Dante’s Visions. The Smoke.
XVI. Marco Lombardo. Lament over the State of the World.
XVII. Dante’s Dream of Anger. The Fourth Circle: The Slothful.
Virgil’s Discourse of Love.
XVIII. Virgil further discourses of Love and Free Will.
The Abbot of San Zeno.
XIX. Dante’s Dream of the Siren. The Fifth Circle:
The Avaricious and Prodigal. Pope Adrian V.
XX. Hugh Capet. Corruption of the French Crown.
Prophecy of the Abduction of Pope Boniface VIII and
the Sacrilege of Philip the Fair. The Earthquake.
XXI. The Poet Statius. Praise of Virgil.
XXII. Statius’ Denunciation of Avarice. The Sixth Circle:
The Gluttonous. The Mystic Tree.
XXIII. Forese. Reproof of immodest Florentine Women.
XXIV. Buonagiunta da Lucca. Pope Martin IV, and others.
Inquiry into the State of Poetry.
XXV. Discourse of Statius on Generation. The Seventh Circle:
XXVI. Sodomites. Guido Guinicelli and Arnaldo Daniello.
XXVII. The Wall of Fire and the Angel of God. Dante’s Sleep
upon the Stairway, and his Dream of Leah and Rachel.
Arrival at the Terrestrial Paradise.
XXVIII. The River Lethe. Matilda. The Nature of
the Terrestrial Paradise.
XXIX. The Triumph of the Church.
XXX. Virgil’s Departure. Beatrice. Dante’s Shame.
XXXI. Reproaches of Beatrice and Confession of Dante.
The Passage of Lethe. The Seven Virtues. The Griffon.
XXXII. The Tree of Knowledge. Allegory of the Chariot.
XXXIII. Lament over the State of the Church. Final Reproaches
of Beatrice. The River Eunoe.
I. The Ascent to the First Heaven. The Sphere of Fire.
II. The First Heaven, the Moon: Spirits who, having taken
Sacred Vows, were forced to violate them. The Lunar Spots.
III. Piccarda Donati and the Empress Constance.
IV. Questionings of the Soul and of Broken Vows.
V. Discourse of Beatrice on Vows and Compensations.
Ascent to the Second Heaven, Mercury: Spirits who for
the Love of Fame achieved great Deeds.
VI. Justinian. The Roman Eagle. The Empire. Romeo.
VII. Beatrice’s Discourse of the Crucifixion, the Incarnation,
the Immortality of the Soul, and the Resurrection of the Body.
VIII. Ascent to the Third Heaven, Venus: Lovers. Charles Martel.
Discourse on diverse Natures.
IX. Cunizza da Romano, Folco of Marseilles, and Rahab.
Neglect of the Holy Land.
X. The Fourth Heaven, the Sun: Theologians and Fathers of
the Church. The First Circle. St. Thomas of Aquinas.
XI. St. Thomas recounts the Life of St. Francis. Lament over
the State of the Dominican Order.
XII. St. Buonaventura recounts the Life of St. Dominic. Lament
over the State of the Franciscan Order. The Second Circle.
XIII. Of the Wisdom of Solomon. St. Thomas reproaches
XIV. The Third Circle. Discourse on the Resurrection of the Flesh.
The Fifth Heaven, Mars: Martyrs and Crusaders who died fighting
for the true Faith. The Celestial Cross.
XV. Cacciaguida. Florence in the Olden Time.
XVI. Dante’s Noble Ancestry. Cacciaguida’s Discourse of
the Great Florentines.
XVII. Cacciaguida’s Prophecy of Dante’s Banishment.
XVIII. The Sixth Heaven, Jupiter: Righteous Kings and Rulers.
The Celestial Eagle. Dante’s Invectives against
XIX. The Eagle discourses of Salvation, Faith, and Virtue.
Condemnation of the vile Kings of A.D. 1300.
XX. The Eagle praises the Righteous Kings of old.
Benevolence of the Divine Will.
XXI. The Seventh Heaven, Saturn: The Contemplative.
The Celestial Stairway. St. Peter Damiano. His Invectives
against the Luxury of the Prelates.
XXII. St. Benedict. His Lamentation over the Corruption of Monks.
The Eighth Heaven, the Fixed Stars.
XXIII. The Triumph of Christ. The Virgin Mary. The Apostles.
XXIV. The Radiant Wheel. St. Peter examines Dante on Faith.
XXV. The Laurel Crown. St. James examines Dante on Hope.
XXVI. St. John examines Dante on Charity. Dante’s Sight. Adam.
XXVII. St. Peter’s reproof of bad Popes. The Ascent to
the Ninth Heaven, the ‘Primum Mobile.’
XXVIII. God and the Angelic Hierarchies.
XXIX. Beatrice’s Discourse of the Creation of the Angels,
and of the Fall of Lucifer. Her Reproof of Foolish and
XXX. The Tenth Heaven, or Empyrean. The River of Light.
The Two Courts of Heaven. The White Rose of Paradise.
The great Throne.
XXXI. The Glory of Paradise. Departure of Beatrice. St. Bernard.
XXXII. St. Bernard points out the Saints in the White Rose.
XXXIII. Prayer to the Virgin. The Threefold Circle of the Trinity.
Mystery of the Divine and Human Nature.
Well, that’s impressive. Greeks, Romans, philosophy, prior poets, muse Beatrice, quite a few real historical personages in hell, purgatory, and heaven, groups of people, saints, particular popes. So that says my idea of Dante possibly being only medieval church dogma isn’t right. Whatever his core views are, he’s pretty eclectic in how he’s going to go about expressing them.
It also occurs to me that Milton, writing Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained in the 1600’s would undoubtedly have mastered, practically memorized, if not memorized word-for-word, memorized like US Navy Rickover Nuclear Propulsion reactor operations people “memorize” the Reactor Plant Manual for their particular reactor, that is, they know from memory what’s in the shelf of reactor plant manual books, know when to look things up, and know how to find stuff in them. Like a lot of Bible students know the Bible. Like many Talmud students know the Talmud. Anyway, there’s a LOT of rich detail of hell, purgatory, and heaven here. So this could be a partial answer to the question of where Milton got all that detail for Paradise Lost when Genesis 1:26-3:24 is so very short! Getting the impression from just a few sample of Milton, and one sample and detailed Table of Contents from Dante, that there’s rich tradition of detailed ideas about angels, devils, saints, and sinners — partly from classical Greece and Rome, and partly from early through medieval christianity — that christian theologians and epic poets pretty much all know and draw on.
Most of my life I had little patience with that kind of stuff. I shared the attitude of the enlightenment era freethinkers (Voltaire and such) that was summed up with the famous philosophical diss on christian theologizing, that the christian theologians spent a lot of time debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. : ) Don’t know if they actually debated that, but, some of the circular logic, poorly-defined terms, lack of clear links/relevance of concepts to life introspective individual and physical individual and social experience, lack of clear points, all these things made me say, “right”, when I read the “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” thing.
Distinction: I believe Christianity was very valuable and really worked to do A LOT of good in the world despite the fact that much, maybe most, maybe virtually all, of Christian theological argument is a lot of confused thrashing around in circles. Love works. Miracles of certain kinds, within and among people, do happen. Prayer often works even if there’s no anthropomorphic deity “there” “listening”. Over the past two centuries or so, a lot of people have been doing a handful of very powerful right things without being aware of the work of theologians. The theologians, politically required to do back flips to deal with the unfortunate end of Jesus’ life, various past conferences, various past policies, expectations of people who have grown up with all that inherited past, write really silly stuff because, to tell the truth about why Christianity worked and works, would create all sorts of serious misunderstandings and problems because it would show that the part that works could also be viewed as a form of “humanism.” Leave in love, prayer, a form of faith, a form of hope, charity, kingdom of god within, a selective interpretation of miracles, make the leadership and role models more inclusive, and a few dozen more selected things that work well together, take out the trinity idea and virgin birth, a lot of the specific rules, and it still works. [don’t have time right now to go back over this … may not be right or not be clear yet … my main point is Christianity is good even if much of its expert theology sort of isn’t … needs a better theology writer … maybe i should volunteer … maybe i did … maybe that was part of the problem … 😉 …]
Things don’t have to make logical/conceptual “sense” to work. Lots of apples fell down (not up) from trees before Newton — it was Newton, wasn’t it? — came along and invented the concept of “gravitational force” and “gravity” so that falling things everywhere would make predictable “logical sense.” A lot of important things in life that don’t make “logical sense” — at some usual level of analysis or some usual frame of reference — work or happen. They simply work. They simply happen, no matter what or how we think about them. Which means, by the way, that — at the right level of analysis and within some right frame of reference — you might say, with a better physics and better logic — they DO make “logical sense.” “Logic” is also a concept. “Makes sense” is a concept. When something clearly happens or works in the world, and we think or say, “that’s not logical” or “that doesn’t make sense”, it’s not what happens that’s wrong, it’s our thinking about it that’s wrong. That’s the situation with Christianity and much or all of Christian theological writing and argument. Christianity worked, works, and the theology will make an intelligent person’s hair curl.
But now I’m more patient poking around in this stuff because my interest now is not seeking insight for myself in these works — I’ve taken other paths to see what I see and know what I know, though I’m always open to new insights from anywhere, just not expecting them in christian dogmatic theological works. My interest now is coming from a different direction — wondering why the big names of Milton and Dante were big. More curious about who they were, in terms of William James’ brilliant idea of The Varieties of Religious Experience, what their works were along the same lines, and how they played a role in the world becoming what it became. From that perspective, I’m not disappoint-able about whether there’s great old or new insight there. I’m just curious to know what was/is there in these famous “great” “classic” works by Milton and Dante.
Reading through the table of contents again, noticing a few interesting things.
Dante has himself as the narrator and main character. He’s telling the story as if it’s a journey he actually made. Interesting, clever, story-telling device. He seems to be making the trip with Roman Latin epic poet, Virgil, the author of the Aeneid, the epic myth that tells a story about the formation and early history of what became the Roman Empire. Virgil leaves toward the end of the second book when Dante’s muse, Beatrice, shows up.
Wikipedia says Virgil couldn’t continue into Paradise/Heaven with Dante because he was a pagan.
He uses Limbo in an interesting way. He positions some of the great Greek and Roman pagans in Limbo. Which is kind of funny if you’re familiar with the limbo concept in Roman Catholicism. Limbo is one of those theoretical back flips christian theologians do. More on this in a while.
Basically, the theology is, if one is not baptized into Christianity, one goes to Hell. But, at some point, many Catholic kids hear that and ask,
“But what about babies who die before they can be baptized, Mommy? They didn’t do anything wrong. They shouldn’t go to Hell forever, should they, Mommy?”
“They can’t go to Heaven because they weren’t baptized. But they don’t go to Hell either. They just go to Limbo.”
“Oh. I guess that’s not so bad.”
“Right, Dear, that’s not so bad.”
“Mommy, are the babies happy in Limbo?”
“Yes, honey, they are happy in Limbo.”
“Hmm … Mommy, can I go outside and play now?”
That answer works fine for the moment and the question doesn’t come up again for a few years. Then, at some point, as teens or adults, it occurs to the kids that there are millions, maybe billions, of people in other countries who never hear about the Bible and certainly never get baptized into Christianity. Do they all go to Hell and not go to Heaven? If I remember correctly, the answer is, Well, if they never had anybody tell them about the Bible, then they couldn’t make a choice, so they don’t go to Hell. If the person isn’t really involved in being interested in the issue, that’s another, “Oh ok”, and they go on with the next thing in their busy lives. But, at some point, continuing to ignore that question … produces an impractical geopolitical diplomatic result … as the world becomes internationalized and then smaller and then more diverse … since it puts billions of christians in the position of having to just sort of ignore … in order to get along in life … the theological view that billions of non-christians are pagans who are going to go to Hell for not embracing the Bible and not being baptized. Also, in order to get along in the world … the billions of non-christians … very large numbers of buddhists, shintoists, hindus, confucianists …moderate numbers of african religionists … and somewhat smaller numbers of humanist, and various pagan and earth-centered religions … have to ignore it too.
This is true not just in christianity, but in all religions. In the modern smaller diverse globalized world, the liberal and somewhat secular portion of each religion had to take the lead and the power … in order to cooperate with all the other liberal and somewhat secular portions of the other religious groups.
Christianity works just fine without all of this stuff about going to hell if not baptized.
As I’ve written before, Christianity as a practical way of living is a lot more powerful, valid, simple, practical, and good than Christianity as an inherited theology. The formula is emphasize (scale of importance from TOC, theory of constraints) the basic attitude, perspective, experience, habits, and practices of love, hope, charity, faith, good samaritan, forgiveness, certain important kinds of realistic miracles within and among people, and a lot more stuff and … dramatically de-emphasize … certain theological things like … this going to Hell if not baptized, going to hell and being something less or bad if not christian, virgin birth, jesus as God vs. jesus as being in some ways close to God or advanced soul or very fully human, and some other stuff … oh, such as most of the New Testament Book of Revelations … and, while I’m at it here, there’s also adding a pinch of making a practical balance on certain comments made in early christianity about sexuality, money, self-defense, role of women and gays … this is mostly not a new formula … it’s mostly a verbalization of what the billions of people in the christian-influenced liberal secular western democracies are already doing … all of which is another way of saying the countries of the western world have cultures that are essentially christian-based and christian-influenced secular cultures that are increasingly able to include, embrace, and celebrate the full range of the world’s religious, ethnic, and cultural diversity.
it’s important not to leave out that this formulation of a practical modern christianity evolving by emphasizing some aspects, de-emphasizing other aspects, and making a few small changes makes christianity have a lot in common with how other religions of the world have evolved in the same way. they have all evolved in a direction that can be explained as supporting an individual, national, ethnic, religious, and global goal of well-being for all.
But the situation in the 1300’s for Dante was very different. This 20th and 21st century globalization/technology/diversity evolution hadn’t happened yet. Even the 18th century (1700’s) Enlightenment hadn’t happened yet. Not only that, even the 16th century (1500’s) Reformations hadn’t happened yet. And that’s still not all. Even the 15th century (1400’s) Renaissance hadn’t happened yet. (I may not have these events and times exactly right, but they’re pretty close). Jesus went public in 30 AD/CE and died in 33 AD/CE. The Roman Empire converted to Christianity around 300 AD/CE and was destroyed around 400 AD/CE. The following period of about 1,000 years in Europe — called the Middle Ages and Dark Ages — was one of rule by the “barbarians” who destroyed Rome, eventual Church dominance, eventual Christian monarchies, and illiteracy. (There was literacy in the church monasteries where, printing press not yet invented, Christian monks made limited numbers of copies of classics by copying them by hand … there was also literacy in Islamic centers, but the Islamic part of history, outside and within Europe — that leads to development of one of the minds and cultures called “eastern”, minds very different from the “western” minds and cultures that grew out of Middle Ages and Renaissance Europe — is another story.) Anyway, in the 1300’s, Dante is living and writing at the end of the medieval “dark ages” where monarchy and the catholic church dominated life, just prior to the “renaissance” when greek and roman thinking and other freedoms got added back into the “western” picture.
So Dante was hip deep in the illogical and impractical christian theological quagmires I’ve been discussing. We’re going to be seeing an exercise here in religious, national, and ethnic hegemony (since there will be an attitude of christian superiority to non-christians of all kinds, including greek and roman pagans, muslims, and eastern religions) and diplomacy (being polite about the attitude of superiority).
That’s what we’re seeing so far. On the one hand, he’s acknowledging the brilliant Greek and Roman pagan geniuses. On the other hand, he’s saying the brilliant Virgil can’t go with him to Heaven/Paradiso and he is relegating other “virtuous” Greek and Roman pagans to Limbo, the place where innocent babies go if they die before they’re baptized.
So it’s kind of cute that Dante had the brilliant Greek and Roman pagans in Limbo.
I’m wondering how he’s going to be handling Mahomet and Ali (which are alternative names for Mohammed the Prophet and founder of Islam and Ali, a successor to Mohammed accepted by the Shi’a muslims and not accepted by the Sunnis). Mahomet and Ali are mentioned in the table of contents. Islam has a Heaven and Hell, so, it will be interesting to see what Dante’s story is saying about whether Muslims can go to heaven and how.
Notable: No mention of Jews so far, at least in the table of contents. Milton mentions them right away (“the chosen seed”) in early verses of Book 1 of Paradise Lost. Islam’s Qu’ran/Koran mentions Jews directly as well.
I’m also noticing in the Table of Contents, there’s a succession of types of people. Example: The Inefficient or Indifferent at the gate of Hell. That’s funny. I can’t wait to find out if they’re inside or outside the gate! : ) Again, in the First Circle of Hell, Limbo, The Virtuous Pagans and the Unbaptized. Then the Wanton in the Second Circle of Hell. The Gluttonous, Avaricious and Prodigal, Irascible and Sullen. The Violent. Tyrants. Userers. Fraudulent and Malicious. Seducers and Panders. Flatterers. Soothsayers. Peculators. Hypocrites. Evil counselors. Alchemists. Other Falsifiers and Forgers. … and probably more just in the first of three books. : )
There’s a succession of a LOT of named individuals: including Mohamet and Ali
There are names and numbers for the “rings” in each place – hell, purgatory, and heaven
In William James terms, who was Dante?
William James wrote a book called, The Varieties of Religious Experience.
Dante elevates Virgil and the leading Greek and Roman pagans. Maybe that makes him an early part of the Renaissance. But he also puts them beneath devout baptized Christians. Virgil can’t go with Dante to Heaven/Paradiso. The “virtuous” Greek and Roman pagans are in Limbo, not Heaven.
Jesus is not mentioned in the table of contents. Interesting. Milton makes strong reference to the role of the events of Jesus’ life. Dante doesn’t … oops … careful … that table of contents isn’t necessarily provided by Dante …
Columbia University Online Edition
Looking for the Columbia University online version to see if I can figure out if the table of contents in the Gutenberg Longfellow translation is from Dante, from Longfellow, or from Columbia University …
It has the Longfellow and Mandelbaum translations, not the Cary. That’s fine. We’ll poke around in those two translations to see about the table of contents and maybe also whether Jesus or “son of God” or something like that is in the Divine Comedy.
Columbia University is the one to work with
Ok, this is good. Very nice format. Has nice annotations window at bottom like the Dartmouth University Milton reading room. Easy to cut and paste.
Looks like table of contents is not from either Dante or Longfellow. Columbia, I guess, just added it to the version they contributed to the Project Gutenberg site.
On the Jesus and Son of God question, the easiest one to Ctrl-F “find” on is the Project Gutenberg version. There’s already a link to it on this page, but here it is again:
2 hits on “Jesus”. First in a quote from Beatrice:
Smiling thereafterwards, said Beatrice:
“Illustrious life, by whom the benefactions
Of our Basilica have been described,
Make Hope resound within this altitude;
Thou knowest as oft thou dost personify it
As Jesus to the three gave greater clearness.”
speaking of Beatrice, said to Dante’s muse, a woman in real life, shows up in later portions of divine comedy … ss suggests that this “puzzle” of who and what and how Beatrice was to Dante suggests Dante had some Swedenborg mode of experience in him. as ss to m/c in practical magic epic.
But says in thought, the while it is displayed,
“My Lord, Christ Jesus, God of very God,
Now was your semblance made like unto this?”
Just two Ctrl-F (Find) webpage search hits on “Jesus”. Could see there was at least a little more indirect poetic mention nearby the hits. Not sure how much of the epic overall. Could be some of the many individuals named in the table of contents refer to him.
Point of checking on this was (1) seemed odd in a christian epic to see other names prominent in table of contents, but not Jesus and (2) how a writer deals with the subject of Jesus often provides interesting insight about his/her public position on religion, personal religious concepts/assumptions, and personal experience of life.
Dante, at end of Dark Ages, is part of Renaissance
As I was revising some of the above comments, I realized I was positioning Dante at the very end of the Dark Ages, just prior to the Renaissance that brought the Greek and Roman thinking back into mainstream European thought. I realized from the table of contents he deals a lot in Divine Comedy with Virgil and other Greek and Roman thinkers. It made me think maybe Dante was more part of the Renaissance than the Dark Ages. That he was playing a role in “selling in” the value of the pagan Greek and Roman thinkers to a world dominated by old-style Roman Catholic dogma. I googled a bit and it looks like he is, in fact, considered to be part of the Renaissance. Who knew? Answer: Everybody but me. : ) Well, that’s why I’m studying about Dante. If I already knew everything about him, I wouldn’t be learning about him, now would I? ; )
Deborah Parker’s book, Commentary and Ideology, looks excellent
Apparently a scholar, Deborah Parker, has done a great job of reviewing and commenting on the various things written (the “commentary” and “criticism” and “literature”) about Dante’s work. The discussion of her book at the bottom of this Amazon page has pretty much sold me on it. Here’s the link:
Hmm … reading the Amazon overview … This is very interesting book. It’s not only about the commentary, the writing/criticism (the word, “criticism”, as used in literature is different from our everyday use of the word. In everyday use, “criticism” has a negative meaning. Literary “criticism” comes from the word, “critic”, which is someone who evaluates things — as good, bad, or some combination — not just negative) about Dante, not only about the criticism in Medieval and Renaissance times, but is description, discussion, conceptual model, and history of literary criticism in general. And a discussion of how what people write about writing has a lot to do with their ideology. As it happened, I learned enough about the “commentary” aka “criticism” aka “the literature” about literature and every other subject in life in other ways and could probably write a book about “criticism” like Parker’s. In other words, without having read it myself, I recommend it. Here’s the quote from the Amazon page:
From some unnamed writer for Amazon: “Dante’s Divine Comedy played a dual role in its relation to Italian Renaissance culture, actively shaping the fabric of that culture and, at the same time, being shaped by it. This productive relationship is examined in Commentary and Ideology, Deborah Parker’s thorough compendium on the reception of Dante’s chief work. By studying the social and historical circumstances under which commentaries on Dante were produced, the author clarifies the critical tradition of commentary and explains the ways in which this important body of material can be used in interpreting Dante’s poem.
“Parker begins by tracing the criticism of Dante commentaries from the nineteenth century to the present and then examines the tradition of commentary from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. She shows how the civic, institutional, and social commitments of commentators shaped their response to the Comedy, and how commentators tried to use the poem as an authoritative source for various kinds of social legitimation. Parker discusses how different commentators dealt with a deeply political section of the poem: the damnation of Brutus and Cassius.
“The scope and importance of Commentary and Ideology will command the attention of a broad group of scholars, including Italian specialists on Dante, late medievalists, students and professionals in early modern European literature, bibliographers, critical theorists, [ tom is adding the following bold face and italics because he thinks the next two are, in increasing order of being really interesting, even more interesting than the rest : ) ] historians of literary criticism and theory, and cultural and intellectual historians [ tom: cool! ].”
From the back cover: “The vast corpus of medieval commentary on Dante has for far too long been either ignored, misunderstood, marginalised, or read for supposedly significant details, which wrenched from their context, have been made to serve needs of modern editors and critics—needs which are very different from those of the original commentators. It is time that this corpus was seen whole and in its proper historical context. Deborah Parker’s book represents a major step in that direction. It should be read not just by Dantists but by anyone with an interest in medieval hermeneutics.”—Alastair Minnis, University of York
Looks good. Oh and it looks like Amazon lets us have a look “inside the book” so we can read a little of it — maybe a lot of it — before buying it.
Who knew? You and I are Dantists! (Great! We are what?!)
Oh here we go. This is good. Notice from the comments on Amazon that we, by undertaking our little study of Dante here on these pages, have become — among other notable and impressive things — Dantists, cultural and literary historians, scholars, late medievalists*, students of early modern European literature, Italian specialists, critics, commentators, baked potators, and geekaliciously nerdalectable students of “the literature” on Dante and his Divine Comedy. I’m sooooooooooo proud of us! …
*incidentally, if a female medievalist is late, does that mean, you know, that she begins to worry she might be, well, you know, pregnant? … … … get it? … late medievalists? … late … what? you got it the first two times? ok. jeez …
Might be a good time to create a new page.
One last time: was Dante a major Renaissance figure? (yes)
On this matter of whether Dante is to be considered part of Middle Ages or part of Renaissance, wikipedia has:
“Most historians agree that the ideas that characterized the Renaissance had their origin in late 13th century Florence, in particular with the writings of Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) and Francesco Petrarca (1304–1374), as well as the painting of Giotto di Bondone (1267–1337).” Ok. That’s pretty clear.
That statement is clear, but it still uses the word, “most.” The reason I looked it up again is that, on the one hand, I’ve seen that most places say Dante was part of Renaissance, and my observation that he not only includes, but elevates and compliments and diplomatically handles, Virgil, “virtuous Greek and Roman pagan” thinkers in Limbo, and probably other classical Greek and Roman stuff … and … on the other hand … one source I saw recently called him the fulfillment or fullest elaboration (or something like that) of the Middle Ages while another place I looked just now didn’t mention him like I thought it would for Renaissance. I think I’m getting the picture now. Like with most questions in life, there is a simple answer if someone’s not really interested in precision or nuances … and a longer and more detailed answer if someone is interested in being precise, comprehensive, accurate, etc.. So, if the question is: Was Dante one of the leading figures in the Renaissance? The short answer is yes. The long answer, as I see it so far, is also yes, but with a caveat that some consider him the exemplary figure of the late middle ages. Hmm … No conflict there. Taking all of this together, we get a picture of someone who had thoroughly and eloquently mastered both the older content of middle ages christian theology and the Greek and Roman classics which put him in a position to be a powerful and eloquent force in the early (and later) years of the 300 – 400 years of Renaissance transition in culture and the arts.
As to length of Renaissance, wikipedia: “The Renaissance (French for “rebirth”; Italian: Rinascimento, from ri- “again” and nascere “be born”) was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Florence in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe.”
Excellent. Yet another dead horse throughly beaten to death! ??? Wait. That’s not right. That’s like saying, “piece of cakewalk.” Somebody I know actually said that. ; )
So, yep, yes, absolutely, affirmative, oh yeah, yes indeedy, oh my my, oh hayil yeahsss, surely, no doubt — we can and should color Dante as one of the leading figures in the Renaissance.
Maybe now it’s a good time to create a new page …
just watched vh1 movie about temptations, moved by the music, fascinated by the back story … explored/met dennis edwards a bit … sam and dave … song, soul man … thought noticed steve cropper guitaring style … yep … cropper story, photos, lol that he was guitarist for belushi/ackroyd blues brothers band otfl … all good … back to context which doesn’t always change the way we’d like … ❤ ss, !mCh! …
ok, given all that, i’m going to columbia university online edition, jumping to the last canto of paradiso, the last part of divine comedy, using combined dante/hawthorne edition … http://dante.ilt.columbia.edu/comedy/ (repeat of above link) … to see what we might find …
well, Pardiso canto 33 starts out with lots of flowery talk about Mary, the mother of Jesus …
I may come back to it to see what it’s saying, but, in the past, I haven’t been much interested in the various “Marian” (as in Mary-ist) themes within Christian theology … [STARTcomeBackToThisSection] …I respect Mary for her role in bearing and raising a boy who became a beautiful man. Certainly her example — who she *was*, her mode of experiencing herself and of relating to other people, her way of *being* — plus what she said and did with her child, all these things undoubtedly played an important role in his becoming what he became … but that’s not a basis to pray to her … it’s a basis to understand and respect her role as a mother, not for billions of people two thousand years later to pray to her and relate to her with a reverence that goes beyond a respect and, if you’re that way (i can be) deep love for the idea of her and him … there’s another type of reverence that strikes me as going beyond what makes sense … unless you can also believe she’s still alive in some spiritual sense … even then, you’d still be relating to her as a person, as the living spirit of a person, not as a God or force that can intervene in the world … if you for some reason believe her spirit lives, you can chat with her, but praying to her for miracles seems not correct even if you believe she still lives … the theological error of equating Jesus the man with God, and praying to Jesus to intervene, gets compounded somewhat by treating his mother as being more than a mother whose son, partly because of her, but partly due to him and undoubtedly other influences, became one of history’s most interesting and brilliant and influential advanced human spirits/souls … since I don’t subscribe to the Virgin Birth and I attribute Jesus’ elevated experience mode to a combination of … wise men know and come before birth suggests in-the-womb spiritual presence detectable by spiritual folk [ENDcomeBackToThisSection]
let’s see how Pardiso canto 33 ends …
ok, i chose combined Dante/Longfellow Italian/English with the idea of getting a sense of sense for how close the translation is to the original by looking for cognates and similar/dissimilar phrase sequence. I don’t know Latin, but cognates (like paradise/paradiso) jump out at anyone plus my work with French, Italian, Spanish, Latin, and Portugese a few years ago gave me no real fluency but a general sense of how all the “Latin” languages work. not sure if i want to keep it though … there no single version choice though … could go to the project gutenberg “one web page for the entire three books” version to scan read more efficiently …
http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/1004/pg1004.html (repeat of above link)
At the end …
Well, I read backwards from the last line of the canto, line 33.145, to line 33.024 before something struck me as something with maybe some practical interpretation … the rest comes across on fast reading as fluffy, very pretty, very elegant, but fluffy, words of, what … not sure … that’s part of the point … that i wasn’t seeing a point is part of the point … hm … but this is part of the process … telling yourself the truth about your impressions, bitching, praising, whatever … and, as you express yourself, more ideas flash into mind … werner erhard would say, communicating, he would say sharing, creates the space for new thinking … hadn’t thought about it in this context before … anyway, as i’m writing that i didn’t get much or anything substantive from the first, actually last, 120 lines, an opposite thought occurs, as if there were someone else in the room saying, but … so … hm… reflecting, maybe, if Dante reached an ecstatic point of experience that he’s trying to share as in describe or share as in evoke (important difference between those two, btw), or thinks his reader has been led to one, or to a new perspective … that’s possible … than those 120 or lines of pretty words might make some sense … as always at the beginning of checking something out, get the impressions, don’t feel obligated to have any particular impressions, but get what you get (echoes of werner), but mostly reserve judgement, assuming other parts of the writing might illuminate these, or thinking might, or re-reading might … just dip in and get what we get … dip in some more and get what we get … wait for the silent blam blam blam connections among things to just happen as the dipping in and getting what we get goes on … makes reading a book like doing the est training “follow the instructions and take what you get” [within your experience … it wasn’t about taking anything in an object or property sense … take, without judgement, what shows up in experience as a result of following the instructions in the guided process] 🙂 … getting to be a bit James Joyce-ian here, or Proust-ian … stream of consciousness … while scanning the 120 lines backwards, also noticed a “Neptune startled by the shade of Argo” phrase, apparently a reference to a story in Greek or Roman mythology … also something elegant comparison of something going away in the sun as wind scatters leaves that gave rise to “soothsayings” and the “Sibyl”, so there’s another classical Greek or Roman story to know about there and a note to find out what’s scattering like snow and soothsayings, a memory of a vision? this could be a reference to some human process, or not … just getting what i get and holding it for now … and something about somebody named Bernand by Longfellow (Dante spelled it Bernardo) associated with looking up … so Dante and Longfellow are tossing these three references out like everybody knows what they are … like we would toss out a reference to John Paul George and Ringo and Britney Spears or Madonna or Gwen Stefani and expect everyone to know who we mean … so that focuses a few lookups … but not for now … which was what I got from line 33.145 to 33.024.
At 33.024, saw expressions that made me wonder if what Dante’s doing is saying his “journey” with Virgil and then Beatrice up through Inferno/Hell, Purgatorio/Purgatory, Paradiso/Heaven?/Paradise? was describing modes of experience people can be in in their lives … I doubt it … but the “heaven and hell are ways of experiencing life on earth” view is a major conceptual/theological alternative to the “yes there’s a heaven vs. hell after-life after death” view. in other words, what’s coming out in verbalization here is the possibility to keep in mind that Dante’s epic is not intended just as a pretty retelling of Christian belief, but intended as a psychological survey of humanity, with some people living hellish lives and others living heavenly … i doubt it … but i’m keeping it in mind …
the words that made me think of that possibility were, 3:124:
Now doth this man, who from the lowest depth
Of the universe as far as here has seen
One after one the spiritual lives,
We know from our quick scan of the first lines of Inferno that the Divine Comedy is a journey that starts in hell … the image in the first few lines of Inferno was being lost in a dark woods at the base of a mountain … that could fit “lowest depth” … and “one after one of the spiritual lives” … that could mean either after-life lives or during-life lives depending on whether Dante is building his story around an understanding of christian belief or his psychological or social view, or some combination of all that … [another line of thought for later … macy gray … maya angelou … michelle … darlene …]