Dinaw Mengestu, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (2007)

“Dinaw Mengestu belongs to that special group of American voices produced by global upheavals and intentional, if sometimes forced, migrations. These are the writer-immigrants coming here from Africa, East India, Eastern Europe and elsewhere. Their struggles for identity mark a new turn within the ranks of American writers I like to call ‘the in-betweeners.’ The most interesting work in American literature has often been done by such writers, their liminality and luminosity in American culture produced by changing national definitions (Twain, Kerouac, Ginsberg), by being the children of immigrants themselves (Bellow, Singer), by voluntary exile (Baldwin, Hemingway) and by trauma (Bambara, Morrison).

[. . .]

“Judith, a white woman who moves into the predominantly black Logan Circle, becomes Sepha’s Beatrice, and, as with Dante, she leads him from his exile to purgatory and, eventually, to redemption. They meet over the counter in Sepha’s store, which is where all the community eventually comes together – to buy, to hang out, to shoplift, to receive and pass along gossip. Sepha’s relationship with Judith is facilitated by the wonderful connection he has to Judith’s precocious daughter, Naomi. And like Dante and Beatrice, they have a love that remains fraught and unconsummated but powerful and transformative nonetheless. Part of the difficulty is that Judith represents the new wave of gentrification and Sepha’s decision to date her is seen as an act of betrayal by the other residents. Neighborhood tensions build because of Judith (since she symbolizes the oppressor), and her home is firebombed by local thugs. Sepha’s own redemption and the choice he makes in this matter are what shape his new self.”   –Chris Abani, “Dante, Beatrice in a narrative of immigration,” The Baltimore Sun (March 11, 2007)

Contributed by Francesco Ciabattoni (Georgetown University)

“Dante Alighieri racconta la politica”

See the whole “Dante Alighieri racconta la politica” Facebook page here (last accessed January 13, 2021).

Martin Luther King, Jr., on Nonviolence (March 31, 1968)

“It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence. And the alternative to disarmament, the alternative to a greater suspension of nuclear tests, the alternative to strengthening the United Nations and thereby disarming the whole world, may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation, and our earthly habitat would be transformed into an inferno that even the mind of Dante could not imagine.   Martin Luther King, Jr., “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” Address delivered at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. (March 31, 1968)

Read the full transcript at the website of the King Institute, Stanford University.

The image above comes from here, courtesy of the DC Public Library.

Adam Zgol’s Purgatorio Score

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.

Mountain of Purgatory in Minecraft

In 2019, Juniors Jack Batton and Connor Smith of DeMatha High School (Hyattsville, MD) designed a playable Minecraft version of the Mountain of Purgatory as their final project for DeMatha theology instructor Homer Twigg’s unit on the Purgatorio. The mountain is organized by terrace, each labeled with corresponding cantos. The terraces depict figures of the penitents engaged in their purgations; pictured at left is the wall of fire on the terrace of Lust. The project was presented at the Academic Symposium at Catholic University in Spring 2019, and a video walkthrough of the world is accessible on YouTube (last accessed April 24, 2020).

In early 2020, Jonas Long, Chris Allen, Thomas Mesafint, Gray Griffin, Seth Barnes (DeMatha HS) took the original concept developed by Batton and Smith and greatly expanded on it in terms of size, detail and complexity. They also have made their map publicly accessible for other teachers and students of Dante to explore and contribute to in the future. Screenshots (right; below) are of the server, and instructions to access the server can be found here (last accessed April 24, 2020).

We thank the designers and Homer Twigg for their permission to share the documents.

“Wandering from the Straight Path of Clarity,” review of “The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists”

“You may feel, at times, as if you’ve been handed a map, and then told that the map may or may not be accurate, may or may not relate to anything in the real world, may or may not be entirely a fiction, or a random design concocted by some clever trickster to mislead you. That is how the title of a new show at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art — ‘The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists’ — relates to the work on view, by more than 40 artists from 18 African countries.

“The exhibition is shoehorned into spaces not quite big enough for anything to breathe comfortably, filling temporary galleries, stairwells and passage spaces on four floors of the mostly subterranean museum. The current exhibition, curated by Simon Njami, is slightly smaller than the original Dante exhibition he presented in Frankfurt last spring, but it still sprawls, both in its physical layout (the route through its various rooms requires careful navigation) and intellectually.

“Consider one of the best works in the show, a large-scale drawing by Julie Mehretu, in which a finely etched suggestion of architectural facades is overlaid with a storm of delicate lines, smudges and erasures. In the catalogue, published in conjunction with the Frankfurt display, her work is listed as belonging to the ‘Purgatory’ part of the presentation; in Washington, it is in the ‘Inferno’ room. It isn’t the only work to migrate from one celestial realm to another, and those migrations suggest that the basic template borrowed from Dante is not to be taken too seriously.” […]    –Phillip Kennicott, The Washington Post, April 17, 2015

See also our post on the first iteration of Njami’s exhibition, featured at the Savannah College of Art and Design’s museum.

The Nine Circles of Campaign Hell

“You aren’t imagining things — this campaign season has been hell on earth.

“During the State Dinner the White House hosted for the Italian prime minister Tuesday, President Barack Obama compared presidential campaigns to Dante’s Inferno.

“If choosing the punishment for this circle of political hell were up for a vote, having to sit in the front row of a never ending presidential debate seems like a pretty strong contender.” [. . .]    –Brenna Williams, CNN, October 19th, 2016

You can read the full list here.

How a Museum Reckons With Black Pain (2016)

A woman passes a display depicting the Mexico Olympic protest during a media preview at the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, U.S., September 14, 2016. The museum will open to the public on September 24. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. - RTSNR10

A woman passes a display depicting the Mexico Olympic protest during a media preview at the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, U.S., September 14, 2016.

“The Smithsonian’s new memorial of African American history and culture is at once triumphant and crushing.” […]

“The descent and ascent achieve an effect similar to Dante’s harrowing journey in Inferno, and the walk upwards through Reconstruction, Redemption, the civil-rights movement, and into the present day is a reminder of the constant push and pull of horror and protest.”    –Vann R. Newkirk II, The Atlantic, September 23, 2016

Contributed by Pamela Montanaro

Hillary’s Hell

“When the story of Hillary Clinton’s second run for the presidency is written, it may come to resemble Dante’s Inferno more than a customary campaign book. We’ve seen greed — lots of greed (the fourth circle). We’ve seen the destruction of material, the failure to live up to her agreement with the State Department and misleading tax returns from the Clinton Foundation. In Dante’s hell, the corrupt politicians got to the eighth circle. We’ve seen flashes of anger (“At this point what difference does it make!”) — that’d be the fifth circle.” [. . .]    –Jennifer Rubin, The Washington Post, May 14th, 2015.

Ettore Ximenes’ 1921 statue, Meridian Hill Park (Washington, D.C.)

Ettore-Ximenes-Dante-Alighieri-Washington-Meridian-HillDante Alighieri stands in Meridian Hill Park in Washington, D.C.  Commissioned by Carlo Barsotti as a gift on behalf of “the Italians in the United States,” Italian artist Ettore Ximenes sculpted the monument in 1921, the 600th anniversary of the poet’s death.

The statue was included in the Smithsonian’s Save Outdoor Sculpture D.C. survey in 1994, and was featured in a 2014 Washington Post editorial called “Monument Madness,” where it lost to a statue of Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog in the Elite 8.

Contributed by Aisha Woodward (Bowdoin, ’07)

XimenesMonumentMadness