Dante Explains the Divine

Consider your origin;
you were not born to live like brutes,
but to follow virtue and knowledge.

Dante Alighieri, Canto XXVI, lines 118-120, Inferno

(I posted this at The American Catholic and I thought the Dante mavens of Almost Chosen People might enjoy it.)

A great video on Dante’s Divine Comedy which the two participants proclaim as perhaps the greatest work of human art.  That of course is a matter of opinion, but for me it will always be the greatest poem, and the best guide to understanding the human condition that I have found outside of Scripture.

The Church has recognized this work of one of most brilliant of her sons.

IN PRAECLARA SUMMORUM, an encyclical in praise of Dante was issued on April 21, 1921 by Pope Benedict XV to mark six centuries since the death of the great Florentine poet.  Dante of course had been the mortal enemy of Pope Boniface VIII, one of the bolder rascals ever to sit in the chair of Peter.  It should be noted, however, that after Pope Boniface had been captured and physically assaulted by French troops, a shocked Dante compared the incident to the slapping of Christ before the Sanhedrin, Dante always being a loyal, if occasionally outspoken, son of the Church.  Dante had a rocky relationship with the Church after his death.  The Divine Comedy would sometimes be attacked by critics in the Church, but the main target of adverse opinion  was De Monarchia in which Dante called for the rule of the Holy Roman Emperor over all of Italy.  That work was placed on the papal list of proscribed literature from 1554 until 1881, when Papal secular rule was a dead issue.  The Divine Comedy on the other hand was long hailed, and continues to be, as the best poetic treatment of Catholicism’s view of the afterlife, and the enduring masterpiece of vernacular Italian which Dante, in no small part, helped shape.  The Divine Comedy makes excellent reading at any time, especially during Lent, although I would recommend an edition that is annotated since there are many obscure references to contemporary events for Dante that are now seven centuries in the past, and unknown now except to extreme history nerds such as myself.  For those like myself who cannot read Italian, a translation is a must, and there are plentiful translations, both in poem and in prose.

My love affair with Dante began when I was in Junior High, a half century ago.  Each Saturday I would go to the Good Will store in Paris, Illinois.  Paris did not have a book store, but second hand books could be purchased at Good Will, a quarter a hard back and a dime a paperback (which was good since my allowance was a buck a week) and there I made my first acquaintance with authors like Herodotus, Thucydides, Plato, Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas and Dante.  The volume of Dante I first purchased was Purgatorio in paperback.  Fortunately for me it was well annotated and I was stunned by it.  In the words of one of Dante’s other works it opened the door to a new life for me and I happily scampered through.

On Friday I purchased a 1948 edition of The Divine Comedy, Pantheon Books, translation by Lawrence Grant White, and with 60 Gustave Dore illustrations.  Fortuitously the video above was released on October 20, 2020.  This will be the first of a series of posts I intend to write this year and the next to observe seven hundred years since the death of Dante.  Dante the man departed this vale of tears;  Dante the author is deathless as a valuable guide post here below to help us on our way to God.

Published in: on October 25, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Dante Explains the Divine  
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