Charlie McKinney of DeMatha Catholic High School (Hyattsville, Maryland) built a text-based video game based on Dante’s Purgatorio. The game was created as a project for ethics and theology teacher Homer Twigg’s unit on Dante’s Purgatorio in 2021. Check out the game here.
“Almost everything I know about hell’s eschatological aspects I learned from watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer — sort of an interactive Divine Comedy. Valley-girl Buffy Summers and her Virgil (embodied by tweedy professor Rupert Giles) battle soulless creatures that slither out of the ‘hell mouth’ (conveniently located under the high school), returning the creatures to blazing torment forever.
“I would feel bad about this pop theological education, except I’m not alone.
“For 700 years, Dante’s epic poem — mainly the Inferno — has been the source of inspiration for preachers, pastors, and not a few theologians, who promoted hell as a physical place with its own address, zip code, and smoking embers. Add to their oratorical brimstone the fiery images from artists — Gustave Doré, Hieronymous Bosch, or Buffy producer Joss Whedon — and you’ve got a potent pedagogy.” –Rose Marie Berger, Sojourners, 2015
Read the full article here.
Of his composition, Cheng writes: “This small movement, which is only around six-and-a-half minutes long, was incredibly difficult to complete despite its length. I returned to it many times over quarantine though I could not seem to find any musical ideas that would stick with me. That changed for the better when I returned to the work in late August and decided to shift my approach. Instead of specifically cataloguing the tale of Dante, I decided to use music to describe the general environment of the Mountain of Purgatory. This ended up giving me more musical freedom. I also shifted the orchestration from a traditional orchestra towards something I am much more familiar with, that being the wind ensemble. The specific movement here encapsulates the base of the mountain (Canto I) up to just before the Valley of Princes (Canto VII).”
The DeMatha Wind Ensemble (pictured) recorded a performance of Scenes from the Mountain in April 2021.
Many thanks to Zachary Cheng and his teacher, Mr. Homer Twigg of the Department of Theology at DeMatha Catholic High School, for permission to share the composition.
“Taking ideas and putting them into action is a specialty of Baltimore, Maryland, English teacher Dan Christian. In his quarter century of teaching at The Gilman School, Christian has successfully merged his two passions, the music of Harry Chapin and the teaching of Dante’s poem the Divine Comedy. The result is a thought-provoking and insightful spiral-bound book of student essays called All My Life’s A Circle…A Harry Chapin & Dante Alighieri Anthology.
Until this year, Christian’s in-class efforts had been informal, with references to Harry being made as ideas arose while teaching. Recalling a concept that emerged from a 1990 seminar for teachers of Dante’s work, this year Christian formally put ‘celestial cross-pollination’–the intersection of art and literature–into place. Christian notes, ‘I asked my students to answer the question: Why and in what ways could a character in Dante’s poem have benefited from or been enriched by listening to this particular song?'” –Linda McCarty, Circle!, Summer 2006
Dan Christian was the 2017 winner of the Durling Prize of the Dante Society of America, which recognizes exceptional accomplishments by North American secondary school teachers who offer courses or units on Dante’s life and works. Read more about Dan’s teaching philosophy on his website https://danteiseverywhere.com/.
“Dante’s Purgatorio Through Music” showcases a piano composition by Adam Zgol (DeMatha High School ’21, Hyattsville, MD), created as an assignment for DeMatha ethics and theology instructor Homer Twigg’s unit on Purgatorio. The composition was presented at the Academic Symposium at Catholic University (Washington, D.C.) in Spring 2020.
The whole composition is available to listen to on Soundcloud.
We thank Adam Zgol and Homer Twigg for their permission to share these files.