Jews in Dante


“This year, commemorations of the 700th anniversary of the death of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, author of The Divine Comedy, have scarcely addressed the subject of how Dante wrote about Jews.

“Dante places a number of Old Testament Jews, including Abraham, Sarah, Rachel and Joshua in Paradise. Because some of the limited space is left empty there for Christians, the complement of Jews who prefigure the New Testament is full; so there are, at least temporarily, more Jews in Dante’s Paradise than Christians.

“Dante’s Purgatory includes the story of Mordecai and Haman to decry the sin of anger, whereas Daniel is praised for his temperance. In his Paradise, Dante likewise lauds Joshua and Judas Maccabeus as combatants for righteousness, while King David and Hezekiah from the Second Book of Kings and Second Book of Chronicles are exalted as just monarchs.” […].   –Benjamin Ivry, The Forward, July 18, 2021

See the rest of this essay for many more references to Jews in Dante’s works, and Jews who have cited Dante as inspiration for their work and thought.  It is debatable, however, that there are no Jews in Inferno.

Controversial “Kiss of Dante and Beatrice” portrait, Roberto Ferri (2021)

“One of the most legendary love stories never happened. Ice cream brand Magnum has reimagined history by commissioning an original artwork inspired by Dante Alighieri and his muse Beatrice.

“For International Kissing Day (July 6) and the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death, Magnum asked the renowned Italian artist Roberto Ferri—dubbed the modern Caravaggio and portrait painter of Pope Francis—to realize the love story between the poet and Beatrice.” [. . .]    –Brittaney Kiefer, Adweek, July 7, 2021

Brief video here:

Beatrice by William Dyce

“This painting was commissioned by [Dyce’s] friend, the Victorian prime minister WE Gladstone, a great Dante enthusiast. The model for Dante’s heroine was – at Gladstone’s request – Marian Summerhayes, an artist’s model and former prostitute “rescued” by the Liberal politician. It is possible that Dyce also used some photographic studies of the sitter to work from, which could explain the pensive stillness of his Beatrice, who is painted in three-quarter view and has a sculptured quality about it.

‘Dyce’s Beatrice sits serenely, her downcast eyes concentrating on something we cannot see within the picture space, thus elevating herself from this present to another time and place.” [. . .]    –Griffin Coe, The Guardian, May 3, 2021

This entry is part of the Guardian’s Great British Art Tour 2021

Beatrice’s Eyes and Beauty in The Divine Comedy

“A scholarly essay published in VoegelinView describing the symbolism of Beatrice’s eyes in The Divine Comedy. The essay also has a few references to how such symbolism, and the role of Beatrice in general, are relevant to us today.”    –Darrell Falconburg, VoegelinView, December 22, 2020

Dante receives his COVID-19 vaccine

Posted to Instagram by La Repubblica and L’Espresso Settimanale illustrator Mauro Biani (@maurobia) on Dantedì (March 25) 2021. The image was also shared on La Repubblica.

Contributed by Carmelo Galati (Temple University)

how the night came, Dante’s Purgatory (2019 album)

how the night came is a soundscape creator and instrumental music artist based in Japan. In fall 2019 how the night came released three albums based on each of the three canticles of Dante’s Commedia: Dante’s Inferno (September 7, 2019), Dante’s Purgatory (October 12, 2019), and Dante’s Paradise (October 27, 2019). Each of these (especially Inferno and Purgatory) are grounded in close interpretation of and serious reflection on the poem, as evidenced by the descriptions given in the liner notes.

Of particular interest is how the night came’s sonic interpretation of Dante’s Purgatory. The description explains, “Since the setting of Purgatory is an earthquake prone mountain covered with walls of rock, massive boulders, stone steps, white marble carvings, the prideful being punished by bearing the weight of heavy rocks, stone effigies, and pavements, I wanted to incorporate stone into my composition.” Some of the album’s sounds are created using acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, keyboard, stones, chopsticks, and silence. Of the theme “BEATRICE,” which marks the arrival of Beatrice in Purgatorio 30 (15:57-16:30 in the album’s single track), the artist writes:

BEATRICE is 33 seconds of silence. Her demolition of Dante is a staggering moment of world literature. Here, we read a medieval male poet attacking himself through the voice of a female. Initially, Beatrice turns to the angels to lambaste Dante, and when she finally addresses him… it is extremely painful for us to hear. I tried several musical themes for this moment, but they all failed miserably. I then recalled the scene in Taxi Driver when Travis (Robert De Niro) makes a humiliating phone call to Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) – Martin Scorcese has the camera turn away, as if to spare us seeing another human being suffer the pain of rejection. And thus silence – in this case, the musical equivalent of pulling the camera away – finally offered itself as the most fitting means for communicating Dante’s sense of loss, guilt, shame and inadequacy.

“(Perhaps this silence can also be heard as an expression of the absence of Virgil, who left Dante at the end of Canto 27).

“The silence is broken by the return of the Earthly Paradise theme, but this time it is quantized, the newly punctuated rhythms signifying the beginning of the strict realignment of Dante’s soul.”   —how the night came’s WordPress site (accessed May 18, 2021)

Listen on YouTube, bandcamp, or Soundcloud.

“Dante Alighieri, Florentine Exile and Writer”

dante-alighieri-florentine-exile-and-writer-2021Nowadays Dante Alighieri is primarily remembered as the author of the Divine Comedy, but there was a lot more to him than that. Politician and poet, he ended his life in exile from a city which he had once ruled. He elevated the language of the common man in order to give literature to the people, and laid the foundation stone that Italy’s Renaissance would be built upon. The exact year of Dante Alighieri’s birth isn’t recorded, but it’s been estimated as being around 1265 by working back from the age he gave for himself later in life. His father, Alighiero di Bellincione, was either a moneylender, a lawyer or both. Either way he was a solid middle-class professional, active in politics without being prominent enough to suffer consequences when those politics turned nasty. At the time there were two political factions in the independent Italian city-states, reflecting the two poles of power they were caught between. On one side were the Ghibellines, who supported the Holy Roman Empire. [1] On the other side were the Guelphs, who aligned themselves with the Pope and more generally with the idea of autonomy for the city-states. At least, that was the theory; by the 13th century they had become basically fronts for local rivalries and power-broking. That didn’t make the battles they fought any less vicious though, with thousands being killed in the Battle of Montaperta five years before Dante was born. Like most Florentines his father was a Guelph, and Dante would be raised in that faction as well.” [. . .]    —

Dinaw Mengestu, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (2007)

“Dinaw Mengestu belongs to that special group of American voices produced by global upheavals and intentional, if sometimes forced, migrations. These are the writer-immigrants coming here from Africa, East India, Eastern Europe and elsewhere. Their struggles for identity mark a new turn within the ranks of American writers I like to call ‘the in-betweeners.’ The most interesting work in American literature has often been done by such writers, their liminality and luminosity in American culture produced by changing national definitions (Twain, Kerouac, Ginsberg), by being the children of immigrants themselves (Bellow, Singer), by voluntary exile (Baldwin, Hemingway) and by trauma (Bambara, Morrison).

[. . .]

“Judith, a white woman who moves into the predominantly black Logan Circle, becomes Sepha’s Beatrice, and, as with Dante, she leads him from his exile to purgatory and, eventually, to redemption. They meet over the counter in Sepha’s store, which is where all the community eventually comes together – to buy, to hang out, to shoplift, to receive and pass along gossip. Sepha’s relationship with Judith is facilitated by the wonderful connection he has to Judith’s precocious daughter, Naomi. And like Dante and Beatrice, they have a love that remains fraught and unconsummated but powerful and transformative nonetheless. Part of the difficulty is that Judith represents the new wave of gentrification and Sepha’s decision to date her is seen as an act of betrayal by the other residents. Neighborhood tensions build because of Judith (since she symbolizes the oppressor), and her home is firebombed by local thugs. Sepha’s own redemption and the choice he makes in this matter are what shape his new self.”   –Chris Abani, “Dante, Beatrice in a narrative of immigration,” The Baltimore Sun (March 11, 2007)

Contributed by Francesco Ciabattoni (Georgetown University)

Victoria Ocampo, Autobiografía II: La rama de Salzburgo (1980)

“Victoria utilizará también una serie de referentes literarios, teniendo siempre como principal a la pareja Francesca y Paolo, dos amantes que aparecen en la Divina Comedia en el Canto V del Infierno. Dante habla con ellos y siente gran compasión por su amor, de modo que entabla un diálogo con ellos – algo que el autor no hace con casi nadie de los personajes en los tres libros. Asimismo, habla de Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen, Emily Brönte, entre otros.”   –Review on El buen librero (August 8, 2014)

Ocampo also published De Francesca à Beatrice, a commentary on Dante’s Divine Comedy, in 1923.

Heidi Wastweet’s Dante Medal (2006)

Dante Inventing Beatrice 10″ x 13″ Cast Bronze Limited Edition of 20

“I challenge this romantic notion of love. I see this Beatrice we know as an invention of Dante’s imagination. Here Dante, near death, is remembering the young beautiful Beatrice as he conjured her, never even having had an intimate conversation or ever having touched her. Did he regret having constrained himself by other peoples’ standards? Or did it bring him peace to keep her safely, purely, in his head? Did she know? Did she love him back? As he lay dying he imagines she is on the other side waiting to greet him. His isolated hand reaches out longingly but touches her only on the very pages that he wrote.”   —Heidi Wastweet

Heidi Wastweet is a leading American Medallist and sculptor working in the San Francisco Bay area. In conjunction with a wide variety of private mints she has produced over 1000 coins, medals, and tokens since 1987. […]”.
American Medallic Sculpture Association

Contributed by Ying Zheng