50 books to read before you die discussion

The Divine Comedy
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Christine This is our 50 books group read for August 2016.


Christine Good luck with this you 'gluttons for punishment' - there are some good lectures on YouTube to help
https://youtu.be/679FGDpZBew


message 3: by Joy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Joy (audioaddict1234) This has been my "summer project" but I would love to finish this month. So far I'm about a third of the way into Purgatorio. I'm listening to a lecture series from the Great Courses to help me through this--the professor is Timithy Shutt. This helps a lot because there are so many references--to the church, to other literature, etc.--that I would not get without this.


Longhare Content | 107 comments The Mazzoto lectures (YouTube link above) are free and very good. EdX also offers free courses on Dante. Here's a link to the first archived course; hope it works. I'm going to check out the Great Courses lectures. I never get enough.

The Hollander translation is easy to read and has a ton of notes on the text.

It really does help to read the Vita Nuova first. If you don't want the extra homework, at least listen to a lecture or two on it so you know what is going on between Dante and Beatrice. In a nutshell, Dante as a young poet falls in love with Beatrice, who is a friend of a friend kind of deal. She knows who he is but, meh, he's not really on her radar. But this is the era of courtly love, in which the love object is supposed to be somewhere in the stratosphere beyond the actual reach of the poet's grubby paws. Dante writes her many poems, which his friends read (but not her, of course). He provides a commentary on each of his own poems, explaining their inspiration and meaning and failings and what he sees as particularly cool and what he hopes to accomplish. For a poet, it's all great fun and he uses it to crank up his chops as a Great Poet; as a lover, well, it's all very idealized and not very practical and who knows how crazy passionate he really was about Beatrice. I mean, he could have just asked her out. But then she dies, and Dante's muse really does enter the stratosphere. He promises her that someday he will write her the best darn poem ever, and he means it.

The Comedy opens with Dante in despair. He's hit mid-life and things are rough out there (he is politically active in Florence and things are bad) and worst of all, he hasn't written his Greatest Poem Ever, which is a failure of both his promise to Bea and his purpose in life. It is a very dark night of the soul, and he is on the brink of throwing away either his purpose or his life or both.

Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso are the working out of Dante's promise and the simultaneous fulfillment of his purpose as a poet. Most people enjoy Inferno, which is gruesome and has monsters and whatnot, but find Purgatorio and Paradiso too philosophical (light on blood and guts). It's the old conundrum of human existence--Hell is compelling and Heaven uninteresting. But both books definitely have their strong points and are worth tackling.

For Supernatural fans, you can get out your Bingo cards. You will find lots of familiar bits in the Comedy, though the tv show's adaptations of Dante's ideas are, let's say, pretty free.


message 5: by Joy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Joy (audioaddict1234) Great background info Longhare!


message 6: by Buck (last edited Aug 01, 2016 03:16PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Buck (spectru) Longhare wrote: "The Mazzoto lectures (YouTube link above) are free and very good. EdX also offers free courses on Dante. Here's a link to the first archived course; hope it works. I'm going to check out the Great ..."

Thank you for that Longhare. I hadn't really thought about educating myself on the Divine Comedy, but if it is difficult, then that is a good idea.

And thank you, Christine, for the link.

I also found, with Don Quixote, that the translation really matters. My library has at least two different editions of The Divine Comedy. I plan to check them both out, and then make my choice of which one to read.


Longhare Content | 107 comments Not difficult so much as full of stuff. You can read it as a story and it's great. There's more to it, though, if you're up for all those lectures. Dante was doing stuff with the meter and the rhyme (giving it the actual beat of footsteps, for example), which is tough to capture in translation--so it's a nice-to-know, but not a deal breaker. There's a bunch of symbolism involving the beasts who prevent him from leaving the forest--symbolism critics don't agree on, so there's lots of argument about it, but it doesn't really matter if you're not into that. Story-wise, Dante is stuck until Virgil comes along--but why Virgil? And how!? You may also notice (I didn't) that the journey down is all in one direction until something particular happens. And then there are all those monsters, each of whom has a history--which is fun to know; and Hell is full of interesting people, some of whom Dante knew in real life or hated or admired. Some folks are mythological. The sorting and punishing of the damned follows a certain logic, so it helps in places to know what is being punished. Dante was a Catholic and largely followed Catholic doctrine of the time, but in the Comedy he embraced some heresies, damned some popes, and put Saladin in the realm of virtuous pagans. It's a mistake to read Inferno as the ranting of an irritable Christian putting all the fun people in Hell, which without some context, it can seem like.


message 8: by Joy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Joy (audioaddict1234) Well I finished yesterday. I didn't get it but I finished. Maybe it was my translation (Clive James) but I didn't find it to read like a story at all. Maybe a story where you have no introduction to any of the characters.

I may try it again someday but for now I am crossing it off as done, though poorly done.


Longhare Content | 107 comments Joy, I hope you try it again some day, but next time get a well annotated version. Dante's characters were well known in his day--there was no need to introduce any of them to his audience. But they do have interesting stories of their own. Imagine you are a far-future reader from seven hundred years in the future reading a book stocked with characters you've never heard of--who's this Trump guy? you wonder. What was the deal with that Clinton chick? Why are they spending eternity eating each other's young? Back story would really help you, I think.


message 10: by Christopher (new)

Christopher Struck (struck_chris) | 37 comments I liked the idea of it more than the actual read. Though I must say Longhare, the points you bring up mean that I will still suggest it as reading.

The main issue that I had was the simple logic that if you are a virtuous pagan or essentially a simple pagan, you end up in Limbo. I mean I don't mind being a pagan if it ends me up in Limbo with Aristotle and Saladin. Sure, I can never cross that lake, but if you are unbelieving, you enjoy a different splendor.


Longhare Content | 107 comments Yes, for many Limbo sounds like heaven. You get to hang out with your peeps, choose ten people from history you admire to have dinner with, etc. However, those in Limbo are not unbelievers, per se. Now that they are dead, they have a bit more information to contemplate, but being dead they don't progress anymore than other residents of Hell. Virgil appreciates the divine scheme and sighs, but he cannot escape Limbo (though he is luckier than most in having twice wandered from it). Limbo is reserved for those who never had the opportunity to believe. There's no punishment but no approach to God, which makes for a static and stagnant eternity.

Interestingly, Dante does place some select virtuous pagans in Purgatory. But that's another story.


message 12: by Buck (last edited Aug 21, 2016 02:39AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Buck (spectru) I completed the Inferno this morning, the first part of The Divine Comedy. I downloaded two different audio books from my library and sampled each one. In the one I chose (Blackstone Audio, 2009) the reader provides a short explanation before each cantos. It's a big help. There are a lot of people mentioned by name, quite a few from the Bible and from Roman and Greek history, and quite a few Florentines. The discussion above prepared my for this, and it doesn't bother me that I'm not familiar with the names - I know that they are prominent people from Dante's time, cheaters, frauds, and betrayers - the Richard Nixons and Ivan Boeskys of 14th century Florence in hell.

I guess Dante wrote The Divine Comedy in late Latin or archaic Italian, obviously translated to English. The sytle of my version seems to be Elizabethan. Lovers of Shakespeare would be comfortable with it. Not being a big fan of Elizabethan prose, I'm getting by, but not particularly loving it. But I am actually looking forward to Purgatorio.


message 13: by Buck (new) - rated it 3 stars

Buck (spectru) Christine wrote: "Good luck with this you 'gluttons for punishment' - there are some good lectures on YouTube to help
https://youtu.be/679FGDpZBew"


I watched video of the introduction, the first of 24 lectures by Yale professor Giuseppe Mozzatta. I chose not to watch more.


message 14: by Christopher (new)

Christopher Struck (struck_chris) | 37 comments I actually like Giuseppe's thoughts on Dante. It's interesting stuff. I wish people had a couple better questions within the video haha.

I probably won't watch too many past the introduction either.

I think that it would help to be able to read the Inferno in Italian because then you would get to read the language detail. As prose it is a little staggered and abrupt.


message 15: by Buck (new) - rated it 3 stars

Buck (spectru) Finished Purgatorio. I admit to not grasping it well. It is becoming more of a task to complete than a pleasure to read.

Beatrice (Bay-a-tree-chay), only mentioned once or twice early in Inferno, plays more of a role late in Purgatorio. I know that Beatrice died young. Had she already died when Dante wrote this?

On to Paradiso.


Longhare Content | 107 comments Ah, Buck. Should have paid more attention to those Mazzota lectures!

Beatrice died while Dante was writing the Vita Nuova. The Divine Comedy is the Great Poem he promised to write for her. She features prominently in Paradiso, taking over Virgil's role as guide.


message 17: by Christopher (new)

Christopher Struck (struck_chris) | 37 comments Didn't he promise to write it for her to other people but not to her?


message 18: by Buck (last edited Aug 22, 2016 06:57AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Buck (spectru) Longhare wrote: "Ah, Buck. Should have paid more attention to those Mazzota lectures!

Beatrice died while Dante was writing the Vita Nuova. The Divine Comedy is the Great Poem he promised to write for her. She fea..."


It's not so much that, but the language, the translation. I have the same problem with Shakespeare - erst, thither, thee and thou, etc. - I get bogged down in trying to decipher it, or, I just don't get the meaning.

Speaking of Shakespeare, in Purgatorio there is a mention of the Capulets and the Montagues. I had assumed that these were fictitious family names, but obviously not since Dante predated the bard by three centuries.

And so, we meet Beatrice, gazing at the sun, in canto 1 of Paradiso. She hadn't been so much in Purgatory, as in the Garden of Eden, on top of the mount.


message 19: by Buck (new) - rated it 3 stars

Buck (spectru) Longhare, I envy you your education on such matters. Oh, that I should be so erudite. I self acquired a taste for jazz, seafood, dark beer, etc., because others enjoy such things so, but I didn't. Haven't managed it yet for archaic literature.


message 20: by Buck (new) - rated it 3 stars

Buck (spectru) Longhare wrote: "The Mazzoto lectures (YouTube link above) are free and very good. EdX also offers free courses on Dante. Here's a link to the first archived course; hope it works. I'm going to check out the Great ..."

I registered at EdX. The course on Paradiso is 5 weeks, 10-12 hours per week. I may check out some of the later Mazzotti lectures in the hope of increasing my enjoyment of Paradiso.


message 21: by Buck (new) - rated it 3 stars

Buck (spectru) In my clumsy attempt to educate and prepare myself for Paradiso, I came across this short and very snarky video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8WGz...
FWIW


Longhare Content | 107 comments Chris wrote: "Didn't he promise to write it for her to other people but not to her?"

Courtly love thing. She was way too amazing for him to actually speak too. That would have spoiled everything. He could have (and may have, really), but he had her all worked up as an object of courtly love. She was his muse. So, no, he didn't tell her personally he was going to write this poem to end all poems. He wrote a poem about it. Being dead, she presumably got the message. At the beginning of Inferno, Mary has to tell Lucy to light a fire under Beatrice since she's just hanging out with her girlfriends, utterly oblivious to Dante's mid-life crisis. Ungrateful hussy. She hops-to, though. It's her job to make sure Dante gets his poem written. As his muse, she has a pretty serious responsibility. Since she can't very well go waltzing through Hell, she taps Virgil, the one guy Dante will listen to and follow anywhere. Virgil has already done a tour of Hell (which remains a mystery to us), so he can be a guide both poetically and geographically. A lot of people wonder why Bea didn't accompany Dante throughout his journey, but, come on. It was the fourteenth century. Dead virgin of good family walking with a man alone through a sketch neighborhood? Besides, sometimes a guy just needs a best friend. And Virgil is so cool. I don't think, as a reader, I would want to spend that much time with Beatrice.


Longhare Content | 107 comments Buck wrote: "Longhare, I envy you your education on such matters. Oh, that I should be so erudite. I self acquired a taste for jazz, seafood, dark beer, etc., because others enjoy such things so, but I didn't. ..."

Seafood! Ew!

I just happen to love this stuff. I have found that it is easier to get into something the more you know about it, but that doesn't mean you are going to develop a taste for it. I think it's okay to appreciate a thing, a piece of art, say, or music, and still not want it in your house--as long as you don't sacrifice the stuff that does give you a kick just because it isn't on somebody else's list. I guarantee, though, that having the DC tucked away in your brain will suddenly make something else in the future light up in a way you would have totally missed otherwise. That's a good enough reason.


Longhare Content | 107 comments Buck wrote: "In my clumsy attempt to educate and prepare myself for Paradiso, I came across this short and very snarky video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8WGz...
FWIW"


Snarky, but cute. Love St Bernard as a dog. Did you happen to notice the part on the moon where Bea goes schoolteacher? Dante asks a question about the moon and she asks him what he thinks, so he takes a guess, then she slams him with a fairly sophisticated (for the fourteenth century) explanation based on the scientific method. In other words, he made her smart. Also, like Milton, he didn't see the conflict between science and religion that we moderns tend to think ruled the day. Dante uses the medieval model of the universe as a handy model for his ideas about spiritual matters. Don't take it too literally.


message 25: by Buck (last edited Aug 23, 2016 05:42AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Buck (spectru) Longhare - your discussions and explanations, here, about DC are as informative and entertaining as anything I've seem from Mazzotta, or anyone else. Are you an ivy league professor?


message 26: by Buck (last edited Aug 23, 2016 05:51AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Buck (spectru) I discovered a version of The Divine Comedy at Librivox, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and read by various volunteers.
https://librivox.org/the-divine-comed...
I sampled a couple of cantos. Some readers are better than others. Decided to stay with the edition I've got, translated by Carlyle Okey Wicksteed. I do wish I could have found a modern English translation.


Longhare Content | 107 comments Buck wrote: "I discovered a version of The Divine Comedy at Librivox, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and read by various volunteers.
https://librivox.org/the-divine-comed...
I sam..."


The EdX course uses the Hollander translation, which is quite modern and straightforward. The course is from Georgetown, which is a Catholic university. It concentrates on a narrow sliver of philosophical thought that was important to the rise of the Renaissance and humanism. The DC had a lot of influence in a lot of areas. But it doesn't talk much about the actual text. If you decide it isn't quite what you were hoping for, you can still take advantage of the translation for reading.

Love Librivox! I've washed many a dish to the soothing sounds of volunteer readers churning out the classics. Have also had to running screaming from the room, but what the heck. The price is right.


message 28: by Buck (new) - rated it 3 stars

Buck (spectru) I enrolled in the EdX course. I read several cantos and also listened to the same cantos in my audio book. The Hollander translation was somewhat helpful, but nor greatly so.

The course apparently has covered only Inferno. Purgatorio begins in the fall of 2016. I am about halfway through Paradiso.


message 29: by Buck (new) - rated it 3 stars

Buck (spectru) I have been simultaneously reading The Rediscovery of Man by Cordwainer Smith. It is a collection of stories. The introduction to the final story, A Planet Named Shayol, begins: 'Smith acknowledged a debt to Dante in this story, which retells parts of the Inferno in science fiction form - but with a twist distinctly Smith's own.'


Longhare Content | 107 comments Buck wrote: "I enrolled in the EdX course. I read several cantos and also listened to the same cantos in my audio book. The Hollander translation was somewhat helpful, but nor greatly so.

The course apparently..."


You can view the archived version of the course for Paradiso. Just go to EdX, plug in a search for Dante and the three courses should show up. The archive version, I think, is always available. There are just aren't any live discussion forums and assessments going on.


message 31: by Buck (last edited Aug 27, 2016 06:20AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Buck (spectru) I dabbled with some of the educational resources, but mostly I moved on, trying to use the 'contemplative reading' of the EdX course. I'm sure I gleaned less than a quarter of the meaning of the Divine Comedy. I heard an audio book of one translation and sampled from another audio book, and also from two printed translations. I found the language to be the greatest obstacle.

The location Paradiso is just as Heaven is conventionally thought of today- up above, in the sky. But the topology is that of our solar system - an amazing concept.

The Divine Comedy is a very difficult read, with college level instruction certainly needed for a full appreciation. If ever I undertake to read it again, I know now to prepare myself beforehand.


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