“In Visions of Heaven, renowned scholar Martin Kemp investigates Dante’s supreme vision of divine light and its implications for the visual artists who were the inheritors of Dante’s vision. The whole book may be regarded as a new Paragone (comparison), the debate that began in the Renaissance about which of the arts is superior. Dante’s ravishing accounts of divine light set painters the severest challenge, which took them centuries to meet. A major theme running through Dante’s Divine Comedy, particularly in its third book, the Paradiso, centres on Dante s acts of seeing (conducted according to optical rules with respect to the kind of visual experience that can be accomplished on earth) and the overwhelming of Dante s earthly senses by heavenly light, which does not obey his rules of earthly optics. [. . .] Published to coincide with the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death, this hugely original book combines a close reading of Dante’s poetry with analysis of early optics and the art of the Renaissance and Baroque to create a fascinating, wide-ranging and visually exciting study.” — Amazon (retrieved October 18, 2021)
Daniel Berrigan, The Discipline of the Mountain: Dante’s Purgatorio in a Nuclear World (1979)
“In The Discipline of the Mountain Daniel Berrigan offers ‘ways of imagining our plight’ through the poetic vision of Dante’s Purgatorio. There can be found ‘a faithful vision, an alternative, a truthful image of God, of ourselves, of history.’ Berrigan employs free, poetic adaptation of the original–its themes, moods, discourses, encounters–with a prose commentary relating the text to political-moral issues of the present day. With its themes of lust and hatred, religious strife and ecclesiastical corruption, military power and oppression, the Purgatorio is an apt allegory of modern society. Thirteenth-century kings and princes shade into twentieth-century colonels and shahs and juntas.” —Description from Wipf and Stock Publishers
In a review published in the magazine Sojourners, Lionel Basney writes, “Berrigan writes that he went to the Purgatorio in search of “ways of imagining our plight.” Looking for new vision in an old work is a familiar activity; but when it means reforging that work to make a new vision, it becomes complicated for both writer and reader. Unlike translation, an ‘imitation’ does not replace the original text. Instead it offers a new work through which the old text is still visible; to read it is to read two texts. Its author writes in the confidence, or hope, that the vision of the older text is still valid, assuming that for his readers as for himself the vision’s fundamental values remain true and compelling.
“But are we close enough to Dante to make this complicated process work? That depends on what we need from him. Berrigan needs terms in which to grasp the barrenness and violence of a way of life that constantly threatens war. Wanting Christian terms for this, terms powerful to Christian consciences, he naturally turns to Dante as the great poet of the Christian vision. And certainly Dante’s world was no less violent than ours.” –Lionel Basney, “Berrigan’s Reawakening of Vision” (Review), Sojourners, August 1980
Tom Stoppard’s Bookshelf
“Stoppard is a maniacal reader who collects first editions of writers he admires. Asked on the BBC radio show ‘Desert Island Discs’ in 1984 to choose the one book he’d bring to a desert island, he replied: Dante’s Inferno in a dual Italian/English version, so he could learn a language while reading a favorite. His idea of a good death, he’s said, would be to have a bookshelf fall on him, killing him instantly, while reading.” –Dwight Garner, “‘Tom Stoppard’ Tells of an Enormous Life Spent in Constant Motion,” New York Times review of Hermione Lee, Tom Stoppard: A Life (February 15, 2021)
Contributed by Guy Raffa (University of Texas, Austin)
A.J. Hackwith, The Library of the Unwritten (2019)
“A Library of the Unwritten by A. J. Hackwith tells the story of a librarian and her assistant from the ‘Unfinished Book’ wing of the library of Hell tracking down escaped characters from the books, attempting to meet their authors or change their stories. Towards the beginning of the story, as they are about to depart the library of hell for Earth so they can track down an escaped character, a figure appears and quotes most of the inscription which is written on the gate of Hell in Dante’s Inferno.” –Contributor Robert Alex Lee
Here is the synopsis of the 2019 novel, from Penguin Random House: “In the first book in a brilliant new fantasy series, books that aren’t finished by their authors reside in the Library of the Unwritten in Hell, and it is up to the Librarian to track down any restless characters who emerge from those unfinished stories.
“Many years ago, Claire was named Head Librarian of the Unwritten Wing—a neutral space in Hell where all the stories unfinished by their authors reside. Her job consists mainly of repairing and organizing books, but also of keeping an eye on restless stories that risk materializing as characters and escaping the library. When a Hero escapes from his book and goes in search of his author, Claire must track and capture him with the help of former muse and current assistant Brevity and nervous demon courier Leto.
“But what should have been a simple retrieval goes horrifyingly wrong when the terrifyingly angelic Ramiel attacks them, convinced that they hold the Devil’s Bible. The text of the Devil’s Bible is a powerful weapon in the power struggle between Heaven and Hell, so it falls to the librarians to find a book with the power to reshape the boundaries between Heaven, Hell….and Earth.” —Penguin Random House
Contributed by Robert Alex Lee (Florida State University ’21)
Darrell Falconburg, “Overcoming Lust With Dante’s Divine Comedy“
“’Midway along the journey of our life / I woke to find myself in a dark wood, / for I had wandered off from the straight path.' So begins the Divine Comedy, the story of Dante’s journey into Hell, up the mountain of Purgatory, and through Heaven. In the poem, Dante finds himself in a dark forest that is tangled, wild, and miserable. Having wandered off from the straight path, he is blocked by three beasts: a leopard, a lion, and a wolf. These three beasts embody the three sins that caused Dante to become lost in the first place: The leopard represents lust, the lion pride, and the wolf avarice.
“Here I will focus on the capital sin of lust as it is presented in the poem. Dante’s journey, as many readers may already know, is the journey of the human person’s pilgrimage to God. As a result, we can take away from the Divine Comedy timeless wisdom about the human person and the devastating consequences of sin. In the Divine Comedy, Dante descends into Inferno to see the sin of lust for the ugly whirlwind that it truly is. He then struggles up the mountain of Purgatory to overcome his lust and finally ascends into the purity and joy of Heaven.” [. . .] –Darrell Falconburg, The Imaginative Conservative, September 5, 2020.
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