What Rod Dreher Ought to Know About Dante and Same-Sex Love

“Dante saved my life,” testifies Rod Dreher, senior editor and blogger at The American Conservative, in his recent book, How Dante Can Save Your Life (Simon & Schuster, 2015) about how the poet’s Divine Comedy can save yours as well. His soul-baring account of how Dante Alighieri and two other spiritual guides — a Christian Orthodox priest and an evangelical therapist –helped him escape a dark wood of stress-induced depression and physical illness is smart, moving, and thoroughly engaging. Dreher’s Dante, like Virgil in the poem, does the lion’s share of the guiding, and so earns top billing and occupies most of the narrative’s prime real estate. In showing how the poem brought deeper understanding of himself and his relationships with his father, sister, and God, and in sharing the substance of those life lessons with readers (mostly in appendices to the chapters), the author does not disappoint.

“For those of us who have studied, taught, and written on Dante’s works and their legacy over many years, Dreher’s understanding and use of the Commedia will undoubtedly raise legitimate doubts and objections. However, I found myself more often than not nodding in recognition at his deft discussion of characters, scenes, and themes of the poem. Most of his sharpest points pierce the surface of famous inhabitants of Hell — amorous Francesca, proud Farinata, worldly Brunetto, and megalomaniacal Ulysses are among the highlights; oddly for a book on rescuing lives and souls, he devotes fewer words to the saved individuals in Purgatory and Paradise.” […]    –Guy P. Raffa, Pop Matters, January 21, 2016

Pascal’s Wager 2.0

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“[…] But the ethical value is a matter of my own judgment, independent of religious authority. And the understanding may be only a partial illumination that does not establish the ultimate truth of the ideas that provide it, as, for example, both Dante and Proust help us understand the human condition, despite their conflicting intellectual frameworks. None of this will interfere with a commitment to intellectual honesty. […]”    –Gary Gutting, The New York Times, September 28, 2015

Rod Dreher, How Dante Can Save Your Life (2015)

DreherDanteIn his 2015 book, How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History’s Greatest Poem, writer Rod Dreher explores, from an ex-Catholic perspective, how the Commedia helped him come out of a deep depression.

“Dante helped Dreher understand the mistakes and mistaken beliefs that had torn him down and showed him that he had the power to change his life. Dreher knows firsthand the solace and strength that can be found in Dante’s great work, and distills its wisdom for those who are lost in the dark wood of depression, struggling with failure (or success), wrestling with a crisis of faith, alienated from their families or communities, or otherwise enduring the sense of exile that is the human condition.”    —Simon & Schuster

Contributed by Marija Petkovic, Stanford University ’18

Rod Dreher, “The Ultimate Self-Help Book”


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“Everybody knows that The Divine Comedy is one of the greatest literary works of all time. What everybody does not know is that it is also the most astonishing self-help book ever written. [ . . . ]

“The practical applications of Dante’s wisdom cannot be separated from the pleasure of reading his verse, and this accounts for much of the life-changing power of the Comedy. For Dante, beauty provides signposts on the seeker’s road to truth. The wandering Florentine’s experiences with beauty, especially that of the angelic Beatrice, taught him that our loves lead us to heaven or to hell, depending on whether we are able to satisfy them within the divine order.

“This is why The Divine Comedy is an icon, not an idol: Its beauty belongs to heaven. But it may also be taken into the hearts and minds of those woebegone wayfarers who read it as a guidebook and hold it high as a lantern, sent across the centuries from one lost soul to another, illuminating the way out of the dark wood that, sooner or later, ensnares us all.”

Rod Dreher, “The Ultimate Self-Help Book: Dante’s Divine Comedy“, Wall Street Journal, April 18, 2014

Contributed by Allen Wong (Bowdoin ’14)

 

Jessica Lamb-Shapiro, Promise Land (2014)

promise-land-jessica-lamb-shapiro-2014“It’s ingrained in human nature to look at ourselves with a weary awareness of all that’s wrong within, and the optimism that someone, somewhere can tell us how to fix it. As Jessica Lamb-Shapiro points out in her ambitious if unfulfilling new memoir-cum-odyssey, Promise Land, we’ve been gobbling up self-help advice for nearly as long as the written word has existed, devouring it in the ancient Egyptian Sebayt writings and the Book of Proverbs. But our contemporary mania for the wisdom of Dr. Phil is different from what generations past gleaned from Epictetus or even Dale Carnegie, and Lamb-Shapiro aims to explain how. Along the way, she’s on a quest to fix herself. Lamb-Shapiro, who has written for The Believer and McSweeney’s, is a witty and enjoyably self-aware writer. She’s certainly a far more entertaining guide through hellish terrain — like a preshow interrogation by a ‘Dr. Oz’ producer — than Dante was given.” [. . .]    –Mary Elizabeth Williams, The New York Times, January 3, 2014

“Dante’s Self-Help Book”

william-blake-inferno-26-wall-street-journal.jpg“There are monuments to Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) everywhere in Italy, where three years of study in Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ are required for young people to learn how to lead the best possible life. One cannot imagine Italy’s culture without Dante’s 14th-century work — any more than one could imagine Britain’s without Shakespeare or America’s without the Declaration of Independence.
Unlike most other world classics, The Divine Comedy is a self-help book. People read Shakespeare with no expectation that they will become Shakespeare. But many read Dante expecting to mimic his results and transform themselves from seekers, lost in their own questions, into poets, certain and transcendent.” [. . .]    –Harriet Rubin, Wall Street Journal, July 28, 2007

Contributed by Jake Bourdeau

Schaub and Schaub, “Dante’s Path: A Practical Approach to Achieving Inner Wisdom” (2004)

schaub-and-schaub-dantes-path-a-practical-approach-to-achieving-inner-wisdom“Dante’s Path: A Practical Approach to Achieving Inner Wisdom is primarily a self-help book. However, it is a self-help book with a difference. Authors Bonney Gulino Schaub and Richard Schaub use their perceptive, though simple reading of Dante’s Divine Comedy to guide their readers through a process that allows them to access their internal wisdom, or ‘wisdom mind,’ to achieve liberation from their fears and to realize their deeper potential.” [. . .]    —Amazon

Daniel Dorman, “Dante’s Cure: A Journey Out of Madness” (2004)

daniel-dorman-dantes-cure-a-journey-out-of-madness-2004“Catherine, nineteen years old and suffering from severe schizophrenia, sat in a mental hospital—mute, catatonic, and hearing voices. Her psychiatrist, Dr. Daniel Dorman, was convinced that his patient’s psychotic behavior was not merely rooted in chemical imbalances but rather in the dramatic circumstances of her family history. He was therefore determined to avoid the mind-numbing medications that had been so detrimental to Catherine’s well being. Dorman fought adamant opposition and criticism from his peers and superiors for a chance to guide Catherine out of madness. Dante’s Cure is the riveting true story of a woman’s triumph over her schizophrenia without medication, written by the psychiatrist who helped her.”    —Amazon