Divine Comedy of Our Time

the-divine-comedy-for-our-time-2017“This summer, in Mississippi, I sat by my father’s bed for three weeks and watched him die. After that, I drove one of my kids from Kentucky to New England for a college visit. Along the way, we climbed a mountain and spent the night in a rest area when we couldn’t find a motel room. Then, with five-sixths of my family and three weeks’ worth of camping gear packed into (and onto) an aging minivan, we drove to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. Along the way, in British Columbia, we went through an active wildfire and saw a tree explode into flames about 50 feet from our van. At Banff we saw a moose, two grizzly bears, and the vast acres of gravel left behind by the rapidly receding Columbia Icefield.

“On every step of this long, strange trip, I carried with me a big, fat, well-worn paperback book, its margins filled with my youngest son’s class notes. So, what did I do this summer? I read The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. Every night—well, most nights—I spent 15 or 20 minutes accompanying the poet of the early 1300s down into the depths of Hell, up the winding mountain trails of Purgatory, and on to the beatific vision of Paradise.” [. . .]    –Danny Duncan Collum, SOJOURNERS, December, 2017.

Silk stole illustrations by Marco Brancato for Orequo

Illustrator Marco Brancato’s Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso silk stoles for the luxury Italian fashion company, Orequo.

Contributed by Angela Lavecchia

Magnum X Dante– Limited edition ice cream pops inspired by the Comedy

Limited edition ice cream pops made in honor of the 700th anniversary od Dante’s death.  Purgatorio pop arriving in May-June, and Paradiso pop in July-August.

“Magnum, la più alta espressione del piacere nel mondo del gelato, celebra Dante con un omaggio alla sua Divina Commedia, la più alta espressione d’arte della storia della letteratura italiana.  A 700 anni dalla morte del Sommo Poeta, arrivano tre limited edition dedicate alle tre cantiche Dantesche, per vivere un’esperienza coinvolgente e sorprendente.  Un viaggio che inizia dal gusto intrigante dell’inferno, per poi assaporare la dimensione multi-sensoriale del purgatorio e raggiungere il suo apice con il piacere puro e delicato del paradiso.”   —Magnum

Contributed by Brandon Essary

James Torrens and Brenda Schildgen on Par. 23 for “Canto per Canto”

“While in the two preceding cantos Peter Damian and Saint Benedict vehemently incriminate the corruption of prelates and monastic orders, in Paradiso 23 invective gives way to rhapsody. The canto begins with Beatrice looking up eagerly at the saints – a looking up which is part of the outside of the mind experience that Dante’s guide encourages him to have. In their conversation on the canto, James Torrens and Brenda Schildgen discuss the various registers that Dante uses to express this experience of going beyond the mind as well as to speak of the Virgin Mary. The language goes from sublime to humble for ‘the Virgin herself represents that humility, on the one hand, and the sublime on the other’. As Dante uses a wide range of poetic registers, so does he use a wide range of images of the Virgin – early images as well as images drawn from the vernacular versions. Enjoy!” —Leonardo Chiarantini

Watch or listen to the video of “Paradiso 23: Preview of the Finale” here.

Canto per Canto: Conversations with Dante in Our Time is a collaborative initiative between New York University’s Department of Italian Studies and Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò, and the Dante Society of America. The aim is to produce podcast conversations about all 100 cantos of the Divine Comedy, to be completed within the seventh centenary of Dante’s death in 2021.

Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks and Books About Walking

“It’s also a book about walking. Macfarlane is nothing if not boots on ground, following one path or another as he hoofs it from orchard to cottage to inn to pub, talking to the people who know the land best, the ones who live and work on it. Of course, he is not the first person to connect walking with writing. The first writers didn’t have any choice. Before cars and trains and airplanes, they could choose economy travel (by foot) or business class (via mule or horse); only the well-off could travel in first class (coach). Not that walking is a bad thing for a writer: ‘My wit will not budge if my legs are not moving,’ writes Montaigne.

Keats often walked as many as 12 miles a day, even when his consumption was raging. Dickens trod the streets of London all night ‘to still my beating mind,’ as he said. And before the Dante of the Divine Comedy legged it through the Inferno on his way to Purgatory and Paradise, the real-life Dante Alighieri wandered for years after his exile from Florence, crossing swamps where one might sicken and die in hours and following roads that gave way to paths dense with briars and thick with trees hiding thieves.”    –David Kirby, The Smart Set, August 10, 2020

Check out Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane on Amazon here.

“The Most Harrowing Paintings of Hell Inspired by Dante’s Inferno

“Dante Alighieri’s depiction of the afterlife has inspired generations of readers since the Divine Comedy was first published in 1472. In the 14,233 verses of this poem, Dante envisions a trip to the afterlife, guided first by the Roman poet Virgil, who leads him through Hell and Purgatory, and then by his beloved Beatrice, who leads him through Paradise. His detail-rich descriptions of Hell, envisioned as nine concentric circles containing souls of those “who have rejected spiritual values by yielding to bestial appetites or violence, or by perverting their human intellect to fraud or malice against their fellowmen,” have inspired artists for the last five centuries. Here are some of the most poignant visualizations of Dante’s Inferno.

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Stradanus, Canto VIII (1587-1588)

Flemish painter Jan van der Straet, known by his Italian name ‘Stradanus,’ completed a series of illustrations of the Divine Comedy between 1587 and 1588, currently preserved at the Laurentian Library in Florence. This illustration refers to Canto VIII, where the wrathful and slothful are punished. Stradanus combines elements of Italian Mannerism, such as painstaking attention to detail, with distinctive Flemish traits like the physiognomy of the demonic figure steering Dante’s boat, who shows a deeply harrowing expression.”    –V. M. Traverso, Aleteia, July 17, 2020

Dante’s Hell

“Soon, the world will be able to see an extraordinary film based on Dante Alighieri’s literary masterpiece, the Divine Comedy – Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise.  Dante’s Hell is the first slate of a vibrant and historic documentary trilogy, which could be the blockbuster of the year.  Not until now, has this story been told so descriptively by visual art from artists of the highest caliber and an array of celebrities and known scholars.

Dante’s Hell, produced and directed by Boris Acosta, is a compelling four-quadrant and spectacular documentary like no other, presented as a visual and narrative journey to InfernoDante’s Hell is a rare and unique film featuring an amazing international cast such as Eric Roberts and Franco Nero, among more than 30 celebrities, scholars and artists from Italy, US, UK, including Monsignor Marco Frisina from The Vatican.”    —

“The Dante Code”

“Renaissance art fans will note that this sketch evokes Botticelli’s famous 1495 portrait of Dante Alighieri, the medieval author of the Divine Comedy. In this cornerstone of Italian literature, Dante describes his mythical journey through hell, purgatory, and paradise, guided first by the shade of the Roman poet Virgil and later by the ghost of Beatrice Portinari, the girl Dante loved in childhood but never married. Among other things, the Divine Comedy is an allegory of Christian suffering and redemption, a romantic love story, a veiled account of Dante’s political exile from his beloved Florence, and a cultural manifesto that established the Italian language as a legitimate literary alternative to Latin. There are no obvious references to Iceland in the Divine Comedy, an epic poem of more than 14,000 lines whose original manuscript has never been found, or in any of Dante’s other works. Nowhere in the various accounts of Dante’s life is it mentioned that he ever visited Iceland. So why are we here?

We’re here because Gianazza has spent the past decade trying to prove his theory that the Divine Comedy is not a mythical story about the afterlife but rather a factual, albeit coded, account of a secret journey to Iceland Dante made in the early 1300s. Why would Dante shlep all the way from exile in sunny Ravenna to a cold, foggy island populated by Scandinavian farmers and their livestock, and not tell anyone? Gianazza believes that Dante was following in the footsteps of medieval Christian warriors called the Knights Templar. He hypothesizes that these knights had visited Iceland a century earlier carrying a secret trove that they concealed in an underground chamber in the Jökulfall Gorge.

The Templars picked Iceland for their hiding place, Gianazza believes, because it was one of the most distant and obscure places known to medieval Europeans, who sometimes identified it with the frozen, semimythical Ultima Thule of classical geography. The Templars calculated the exact coordinates of the chamber and identified landmarks to orient future visitors. Years later Dante acquired the secret knowledge, made a pilgrimage to the site, and then coded the directions into his great epic so that future generations might follow in his footsteps. Like Dante before him, Gianazza is searching for what some might call the Holy Grail, a term that he avoids. Having cracked Dante’s code, he expects to find early Christian texts and perhaps even the lost original manuscript of the Divine Comedy, all sealed in lead to guard them from the damp Icelandic weather. Gianazza launched his quest several years before Dan Brown published The Da Vinci Code, but in some ways he’s a more cautious, real-life version of symbologist Robert Langdon, the hero of Brown’s best-selling thriller.”    –Richard McGill Murphy, Town & Country, January 18, 2013

Empyrean by Alexandra Carr

Hell, Heaven and Hope: A Journey through life and the afterlife with Dante is now open to the public in the Palace Green Galleries at Durham. The exhibition features a fabulous range of copies of Dante’s works, as well as contemporary artwork. Alexandra Carr’s Empyrean features as part of the section of Paradise. Completed as part of Alexandra’s Leverhulme Trust Artist in Residence programme, the sculpture represents the spheres of the medieval universe, drawing on Grosseteste and Dante: sculpting with light on the grandest scale in the creation of the universe.”    —Ordered Universe, December 4, 2017

“Why we should read Dante as well as Shakespeare”

“Dante can seem overwhelming. T.S. Eliot’s peremptory declaration that ‘Dante and Shakespeare divide the modern world between them: there is no third’ is more likely to be off-putting these days than inspiring. Shakespeare’s plays are constantly being staged and filmed, and in all sorts of ways, with big names in the big parts, and when we see them we can connect with the characters and the issues with not too much effort.

Dante is much more remote – a medieval Italian author, writing about a trip he claims to have made through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise at Easter 1300, escorted first by a very dead poet, Virgil, and then by his dead beloved, Beatrice. and meeting the souls of lots of people we only vaguely know of, if we’ve heard of them at all. First he sees the damned being punished in ways we are likely to find grotesque or repulsive. And then, when he meets souls working their way towards heavenly bliss or already enjoying it, there are increasing doses of philosophy and theology for us to digest.

[. . .]

The addictiveness is evident from the fact that Dante enthusiasts, Christian or not, find it hard to imagine Hell in any other way, and spend happy minutes musing about which circle is best suited to some particular friend, enemy or public figure. Dante thought Paradise was much more difficult to get into and much more difficult to describe. We are certainly not accustomed to prolonged evocations of happiness. Paradiso gives us one way, and an astoundingly dynamic one, of thinking about what human happiness might ultimately be.”    –Peter Hainsworth, Oxford University Press Blog, February 27, 2015