Historyteachers, “The Divine Comedy” (Blondie, “Rapture”)

historyteachers-the-divine-comedy-blondie-rapture

Click image above to watch video.

Contributed by Lisa Flannagan

A.N. Wilson, “Dante in Love” (2011)

an-wilson-dante-in-love-2011“Dante is considered the greatest of all European poets–yet his most famous work, The Divine Comedy, remains widely unread.
Fueled by a lifetime’s obsession with Dante Alighieri and his work, the distinguished historian A. N. Wilson tells the remarkable story of the poet’s life and passions during the extraordinary political turbulence of thirteenth-century Europe. An impoverished aristocrat born in Florence, then the wealthiest city in Europe, Dante was the most observant and articulate of writers and was as profoundly absorbed in his ambition to be a great poet as he was with the central political and social issues of his time. The emergence of independent nation-states, the establishment of a modern banking system and currency, and the rise of Arabic teachings and Greek philosophy were all momentous events that Dante lived through. Amid this shifting political terrain, Wilson sets Dante in context with his great contemporaries–Giotto, Aquinas, and Pope Boniface VIII–and explains the significance of Beatrice and the part she has played in all our Western attitudes toward love and sex.”    —Powells

“The Classics as the Antidote to Modern Malaise”

dreyfus-and-kelly-all-things-shining“. . . Though brief, this is an ambitious book, offering insightful readings of authors including Homer, Dante, Descartes and Kant, as well as the novelists Herman Melville and David Foster Wallace. Mr. Dreyfus and Mr. Kelly believe that great books are the ‘gathering places’ where the major forces of a culture are focused, and so they are able to chart our descent from Homer’s gratitude before many gods to Wallace’s paralysis before a plethora of choices. . .
Great books are there to reconnect us. Mr. Dreyfus and Mr. Kelly admire Dante’s focus on the saving power of various forms of desire, but find that his ultimate emphasis on the overwhelming bliss of contemplating God ‘makes all other earthly joys irrelevant.’ Dante’s achievement turns out to be ‘not the answer to nihilism but another step in its direction.’ Similarly, the philosophical focus after Descartes and Kant is on the autonomous self as the basis for knowledge, but the authors explore how the idea of a human subject able to bestow meaning on inert objects winds up undermining our openness to the world.” [. . .]    –Michael Roth, The New York Times, January 3, 2011

“Jean-Claude Trichet: Like the Single Currency, Our European Culture Binds Us Together”

jean-claude-trichet-like-the-single-currency-our-european-culture-binds-us
“I am convinced that economic and cultural affairs, that money and literature and poetry, are much more closely linked than many people believe. We should recall that writing came into being in Sumer, the cradle of civilisation between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, 6,000 years ago. Sumer’s administrators made a record of everyday items, of quantities, of transactions, on clay tablets. By recording these economic activities, these ‘proto-accountants’ created the first documents in human history and paved the way for all of the world’s written literature.
There is a relationship between poetry and money which has always struck me. Poems, like gold coins, are meant to last, to keep their integrity, sustained by their rhythm, rhymes and metaphors. In that sense, they are like money – they are a ‘store of value’ over the long term. They are both aspiring to inalterability, whilst they are both destined to circulate from hand to hand and from mind to mind.
Both culture and money, poems and coins belong to the people. Our currency belongs to the people of Europe in a very deep sense: it is their own confidence in their currency which makes it a successful medium of exchange, unit of account and store of value. Our culture is the wealth of literature and art that the confidence of the people has decided to preserve over time.
European-ness means being unable to understand my national literature and poetry without understanding Dante, Cervantes, Shakespeare. And as the Spanish philosopher Jose’ Ortega y Gasset wrote in his The Revolt of the Masses in 1930: ‘If we were to take an inventory of our mental stock today – opinions, standards, desires, assumptions – we should discover that the greater part of it does not come to the Frenchman from France, nor to the Spaniard from Spain, but from the common European stock.’
It is no coincidence that the European Central Bank chose European architectural styles to illustrate our banknotes. These architectural styles were born in very different areas of Europe. They provide another powerful illustration of this unique concept of unity within diversity, which is the central trait of our continent.
European Central Bank president Jean-Claude Trichet was speaking at the Centre for Financial Studies in Frankfurt earlier this week.”    —The Independent, March 19, 2009

Review of Susan Gubar, “Judas: A Biography” (2009)

review-of-susan-gubar-judas-a-biography-2009“In Judas: A Biography, Susan Gubar has amassed a long, grim and often nauseating catalog of the ways in which the Christian imagination has vented its wrath on the disciple who betrayed his master. . . The author of the medieval Golden Legend imagined Judas’s early life, which included killing his father and marrying his mother; an Arabic legend conjured an infant Judas obsessively biting himself. Medieval artists portrayed him as a slavering brute, deploying a racist arsenal of Jewish and African stereotypes to contrast him with the lily-white Jesus. No wonder that Dante placed Judas at the very bottom of the Inferno, where he is gnawed by Satan: ‘his head within and outside flails his legs.'” [. . .]    –Adam Kirsch, The New York Times, April 3, 2009

Anne Isba, “Gladstone and Dante: Victorian Statesman, Medieval Poet” (2006)

anne-isba-gladstone-and-dante-victorian-statesman-medieval-poet-2006“From the point at which he first read the Commedia, at the age of twenty-four, William Gladstone was to consider Dante Alighieri one of the major influences in his life, on a par with Homer and St Augustine, and to identify himself strongly with the poet. Both were statesmen as well as scholars, for whom civic duty was more important than personal convenience. Both were serious theologians as well as simple spiritual pilgrims. Both idealised women. This book shows how Gladstone found in Dante an endorsement of his own beliefs as he negotiated a path through life. Isba traces the development of his enthusiasm against the background of a resurgent Italy in a new Europe, and in the context of the Victorian fashion for all things medieval. She also examines the parallels between the two men’s attitudes to sex and religion in particular, and closes by analysing the quality of Gladstone’s own writing on Dante (he was to become an internationally recognised Dante scholar).”    —Boydell & Brewer

Contributed by Michael Richards

Matthew Pearl, “The Dante Club” (2003)

matthew-pearl-the-dante-club-2003“1865 Boston, a small group of literary geniuses puts the finishing touches on America’s first translation of The Divine Comedy and prepares to unveil the remarkable visions of Dante to the New World. The powerful old guard of Harvard College wants to keep Dante out–believing that the infiltration of such foreign superstitions onto our bookshelves would prove as corrupting as the foreign immigrants invading Boston harbor. The members of the Dante Club–poets and Harvard professors Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell and publisher J. T. Fields –endure the intimidation of their fellow Boston Brahmins for a sacred literary cause, an endeavor that has sustained Longfellow in the hellish aftermath of his wife’s tragic death by fire.”    —Matthew Pearl

Kimberly Heuston, “Dante’s Daughter” (2004)

kimberly-heuston-dantes-daughter-2004“When political upheaval forces her family to flee and separate, Antonia takes her brother’s advice to heart as she journeys through Italy and France with her father, the poet Dante Alighieri. She becomes a pilgrim who also embraces interior journeys: she struggles with her difficult, inattentive father; with her heart’s desire to paint as her father writes; and with her first tastes of young love. All the while Antonia harbors dreams that others tell her women are not entitles to dream. Dante’s Daughter portrays a life in full, one that beautifully answers Antonia’s own questions: “Had my journey made me wise? Had my secret griefs made me strong?” This highly imagined story–based on the few known facts of Antonia’s life–is set against the dramatic background of pre-Renaissance Europe, rendered in rich detail by storyteller and historian Kimberley Heuston.”    —Amazon