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Posts Tagged ‘Divine Comedy

“I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightfoward pathway had been lost”*…

Dante shown holding a copy of the Divine Comedy, next to the entrance to Hell, the seven terraces of Mount Purgatory and the city of Florence, with the spheres of Heaven above, in Domenico di Michelino‘s 1465 fresco [source]

What an early 14th century masterpiece can teach us today…

Dante Alighieri was early in recognising that our age has a problem. He was the first writer to use the word moderno, in Italian, and the difficulty he spotted with the modern mind is its limited capacity to relate to the whole of reality, particularly the spiritual aspects. This might sound surprising, given that his masterpiece, the Divine Comedy, is often described as one of the most brilliant creations of the medieval imagination. It is taken to be a genius expression of a discarded worldview, not the modern one, from an era in which everything was taken to be connected to the supreme reality called God. But Dante was born in a time of troubling transition. He realised that this cosmic vision was being challenged, and he didn’t seek to reject it or restore it, but to remake it.

The scale of this ambition partly explains why he wrote his three-part narrative journey – through hell (Inferno), purgatory (Purgatorio) and paradise (Paradiso) – in Italian, for a mass audience, not just the Latin-reading literati. The Divine Comedy was an instant hit. Hundreds of early manuscripts of the work survive, and people were soon demanding public readings of it. And it has continued to excite the imaginations of more recent poets, from T S Eliot to Clive James, as well as artists from William Blake to my favourite contemporary illustrator, Monika Beisner. Dante takes you somewhere you didn’t previously know. He does that because his epic verse is a self-conscious response to a shifting consciousness with which, in many ways – particularly when it comes to meaning – we are still wrestling…

At 700, Dante’s Divine Comedy is as modern as ever – a lesson in spiritual intelligence that makes us better at being alive. Mark Vernon (@platospodcasts) explains: “The Divine Dante.”

See also, “Mary Jo Bang Wonders Why It Takes So Long to Meet Beatrice in Dante’s Inferno,” in which the author ponders Dante’s modernity in a different dimension:

Several times in Purgatorio, Virgil defers to her when he reaches the limits of his pagan knowledge and can’t answer Dante’s questions, each time saying something like, “I’ve told you all I know. Ask Beatrice when you see her.” I took Virgil’s deference at face value: she’s Christian, she has Christian faith, she’ll know what a pagan can’t fathom. Of course, that was my mistake. Each time the poet Dante has Virgil say “ask Beatrice,” he is laying the groundwork for a character so psychologically astute that she’s nothing short of amazing…

As a character, she’s truly ahead of her time, and further proof that Dante as a poet was ahead of his. I was in awe watching her confront our hero and chip away at his defenses. It was like watching an old Perry Mason movie where we sit on the edge of our metaphoric seats as we get closer and closer to the complicated truth…

* Dante, Inferno, Canto 1

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As we muse on modernity, we might send insightful birthday greetings to a thinker who wrestled in our times with many of the same challenges of modernity as Dante did in his: Jean Baudrillard; he was born on this date in 1929.

A sociologist, philosopher, cultural theorist, political commentator, and photographer, Baudrillard is best known for his analyses of media, contemporary culture, and technological communication, as well as his formulation of concepts such as simulation and hyperreality.  He wrote widely– touching subjects including consumerism, gender relations, economics, social history, art, Western foreign policy, and popular culture– and is perhaps best known for Simulacra and Simulation (1981).  Part of a generation of French thinkers that included Gilles Deleuze, Jean-François Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Jacques Lacan, with all of whom Baudrillard shared an interest in semiotics, he is often seen as a central to the post-structuralist  philosophical school.

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“I hold it to be the inalienable right of anybody to go to hell in his own way”*…

 

Michelangelo Caetani’s “Cross Section of Hell,” an illustration of Dante’s Divine Comedy, and part of Cornell University’s P.J. Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography (“more than 800 maps intended primarily to influence opinions or beliefs – to send a message – rather than to communicate geographic information”).

An enlargeable version of the Cross Section is here; browse the full collection here.

* Robert Frost

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As we ruminate on repentance, we might note that today is the Feast Day of  Lucifer– more properly, of St. Lucifer of Caligari.  At least, it’s his feast day in Sardinia, where he’s venerated.  Lucifer, who was a 4th century bishop fierce in his opposition to Arianism, is considered by some elsewhere to have been a stalwart (if minor) defender of the orthodoxy; but by more to have been an obnoxious fanatic.

“Lucifer” was in use at the time as a translation of the the Hebrew word, transliterated Hêlêl or Heylel (pron. as HAY-lale), which means “shining one, light-bearer.”  It had been rendered in Greek as ἑωσφόρος (heōsphoros), a name, literally “bringer of dawn,” for the morning star.  The name “Lucifer” was introduced in St. Jerome’s Latin translation of the Bible, the Vulgate, roughly contemporaneously with St. Lucifer.  The conflation of “Lucifer” with “Satan” came later.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 20, 2017 at 1:01 am

“When I had journeyed half of our life’s way…”*

Surely the best-known artist to illustrate The Divine Comedy, Dante’s tour of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, was Gustave Doré, whose iconic folio was published in 1861.  But countless artists– from Botticelli to Dali– have been inspired by the poet’s visionary allegory.  The image above is from Jean-Édouard Dargent (also known as Yan’ Dargent), a rival of Doré’s, who also published (in 1870) a book illustrating Dante’s epic.  Instead of Doré’s polished, classical nudes and precise lines, Dargent strikes a more primitive, violent tone, a little rough around the edges.

See more of his Divine work at “Amazing 19th-Century Illustrations of The Divine Comedy“; and see (even) more of the images in larger format here.

*Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita When I had journeyed half of our life’s way,
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, I found myself within a shadowed forest,
ché la diritta via era smarrita. for I had lost the path that does not stray.
Canto 1, 1

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As we pack for an extended journey, we might send a witty birthday sketch to Aubrey Beardsley; he was born on this date in 1872.  An artist and illustrator, Beardsley was (with James MacNeil Whistler and Oscar Wilde, whose work Beardsley illustrated) a leading figure in the Aesthetic Movement.  His career was short– he died at 25 of tuberculosis– but his work was a formative influence in the development of both Art Nouveau and Poster Style.

“The Peacock Skirt”, for Oscar Wilde’s play Salomé (1892)

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 21, 2013 at 1:01 am

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