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The Divine Comedy > Background and Reading Plan

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message 1: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3908 comments Mod
I wrote lengthy Group email on the selection of a translation. Let me copy it over to here for ease of finding this if you need to refer back to it.

The winner of the 2018 long, recurring read was Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy. A long, recurring read is one that is too long for the group to read in one straight effort, so it gets broken up into segments. After completing a segment, we move on to other reads, and then return to the next segment, and so on until completed. Since The Divine Comedy naturally breaks up into three segments called canticas, Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradisio, I plan on a cantica for each segnment. So then we will start with Inferno.

The plan would be for this week to go out and obtain the book, next week to start reading for our first installment, and the week after (that of Jan 14th) for our first week of comments. I’ll lay out a more detailed plan in a day or two.

In the meantime, obtaining a book will require a decision on which translation to select. Before I get to translations, let me give you forewarning that more than likely you will have to get a separate book for each of the canticas. Most editions come with notes and facing original Italian, and so that usually means that the entire Comedia does not fit into a single binding. For the immediate future, Inferno is what you need to obtain.

So which translation? This Wikipedia page lists all the English translations that have ever been published. Good translations try to balance capturing the aesthetic of the author’s writing with precision of translation. This makes it doubly difficult for the Comedia because it is a poetic work, and the poetry is of the most sublime possible, and it incorporates a rhyme scheme that is near impossible in English for a poem of this length (longer than most novels), the terza rima. You can go with a prose translation but that would strip the sublimity out of the poem. You can go with an English attempt at the rhyme scheme or any rhyme scheme, but that would undoubtedly sacrifice precision of translation as a translator has to make many compromises to force a rhyme. What you want is a poetic translation that doesn’t care about the rhyme.

Since I’ve either partly read or completely read a few of these translations, here’s what I recommend in: (1) The Robert and Jean Hollander, (2) Anthony Esolen, or (3) Mark Musa in that order. Both the Hollander and the Esolen translations combine precision with the sublimity of the poetry. I lean toward the Hollander because it provides extensive notes, much more so than Esolen. Think of it this way: the Esolen is more for undergraduates while the Hollander might be more for graduate students. The Musa is also a fine translation, but it doesn’t capture the poeticism as well as the other two. It also has a great section of notes. You can’t go wrong with any of the three but there is an added reason to go with the Hollander. The Hollander and Hollander (husband and wife team) is also online at the Dante Project from Princeton University, here: That Princeton and the Hollanders would put up this great translation free for people to use is a real blessing, and we should provide a prayer of thanks.

More recently the Mandelbaum translation has been popular. I have not read it extensively, so I can’t speak from personal experience. My side by side quick and simple comparison with the Hollander left it lacking for me. But it has become popular.

message 2: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3908 comments Mod
As to a more detailed reading plan for the Inferno, let me propose the following. First some background terminology as it pertains to the work. As I mentioned above, the whole Divine Comedy – Dante only named it La comedia, the “divinia” part was added later – is divided into three sections, Inferno, Prugatorio, and Paradisio, each referred to as a “cantica.” Each cantica is divided into 33 cantos, which you can think of as chapters. The premise of the Comedia is that Dante is forced to journey through the sections of the afterlife, hell (Inferno), purgqtory (Purgatorio), and heaven (Paradisio). So Dante becomes a character in his own work of fiction, so you will need to keep straight Dante the writer and Dante the character. (Who says that metafiction started in the 20th century?) Dante the writer is writing from having completed the journey and gained wisdom, while we see Dante the character stumble and learn.

The one exception to the 33 cantos per cantica is Inferno, which has an additional one, an introductory canto. So 1 + 33 + 33 + 33 equals 100 Cantos. Numerology is particularly important to the construction of the Comedia, but you don’t need to pick up on the numerology to understand the work. I think of the number links as a pulling together the work into a harmony. 100 is a perfect number and 33 is the age of Christ at His death. Each canto probably averages about 150 lines, which amounts to three or four pages. Each canto is not long but it’s incredibly compact, and you will probably want to peruse the four or five pages of notes that go with each canto.

So for Inferno, we have 34 cantos and if we go with the six week maximum preference for a Catholic Thought read, that divides to six cantos per week for four weeks and five cantos per week for two weeks. So here’s what I’m proposing. This week is set aside to obtain the book. And the following will be reading schedules.

Wk 1: Jan 7 – 13, Cantos 1 thru 5
Wk 2: Jan 14 – 20, Cantos 6 thru 11
Wk 3: Jan 21 – 27, Cantos 12 thru 17
Wk 4: Jan 28 – Feb 3, Cantos 18 thru 23
Wk 5: Feb 4 – 10, Cantos 24 thru 29
Wk 6: Feb 11 – 17, Cantos 30 thru 34

This way we’ll have five cantos to read on the first and last weeks, and six for each of the four weeks in between. I’ll provide a new folder for each of the weekly group with a little summary.

How does this sound?

message 3: by Frances (new)

Frances Richardson | 594 comments Very thoughtful and well-organized, Manny.

message 4: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3908 comments Mod
Frances wrote: "Very thoughtful and well-organized, Manny."

Thank you.

I forgot to mention. As usual, discussion of each segment will ensue on the subsequent week. So first week of discussion will occur on the week of Jan 14th for the Jan 7th read.

message 5: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 1432 comments Mod
Looks good to me :)

message 6: by Jason (new)

Jason | 3 comments Dante's letter to Cangrande is a good starter for the Divine Comedy.
In it he sums up his intention for his work.

I look forward to reading this wonderful peace of literature with everyone and reading your insights into the abundant imagery in Dante's journey.

Happy new year and blessings to all.

message 7: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3908 comments Mod
Jason wrote: "Dante's letter to Cangrande is a good starter for the Divine Comedy.
In it he sums up his intention for his work.

I look forward to readi..."

Welcome Jason. Thank you for that. I will try to read it as I get a little more free time. But you do point out just how much background I need to provide before we start for those completely unfamiliar. Looking forward to you joining us!

message 8: by Jason (new)

Jason | 3 comments Thanks Manny.

message 9: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3908 comments Mod
At my personal blog four years ago I put up a number of posts on Purgatorio when I had last read it. I provided an introduction to Dante in the first of those posts, which I'll copy over in a couple of installments. I’ll put what I copy over in quotations. There are links in the actual post, so if you want them, you’ll have to go here:

This first installment takes in the greatness of the work.

“First off, let me say that I consider Dante’s Divine Comedy to be the greatest single work of literature. I’m not one who usually speaks in terms of greatest, or this one is greater than that one. Once a work reaches elite status, it’s really hard to discriminate one from another. But when it comes to La commedia, as Dante called it, I have long reached the conclusion that by any standard this is truly the greatest single work.

Why? Let me count the ways. First, it is epic in scope. If you want to present large themes, you need a large story. Second, it is a national epic, which carries more weight for it captures the character of a nation. Third, the language of the work deeply shaped the formation of the language of his people, and in this case, Italian. Dante’s Tuscan dialect became the official Italian language. Fourth, the writing, which in this case is poetry, is of the highest achievement, that is in terms of eloquence, sound, rhythm, originality, turn of phrase, metaphor. To listen to it, is like listening to music. Fifth, the characterization is realistic, natural, and authentic. Sixth, the themes are profound. Seventh, the story is emotionally captivating, aesthetically constructed, and captures the human condition. Eighth, the work captures the zeitgeist of the author’s time and place.

Now one might say that there are many writers who have produced great works that might meet all those criteria. One can cite Homer, Virgil, Shakespeare, Milton, Melville, Dickens, Joyce, Twain, Faulkner, Cervantes, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Goethe, and so on. Why is Dante’s work the greatest? Where Dante supersedes the others is that The Divine Comedy does all that and does it in a way that is integral to each other. Here’s what I mean. Take what I consider the three central themes of the work: man must be civically responsible, man must be true to Christian faith, and that divine beauty shapes the world. Notice how the three interlock. All divine commandments reduce down to Christ’s two commandments, love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself, which are integrated because by doing one you do the other. Civic responsibility through Christian values is an act of loving one’s neighbor, which leads to loving God, and by loving God one is blessed to see the beauty and perfection of God’s creation, which reflects God Himself, which generates the beauty of one’s artistic creativity, which enlightens one’s understanding of one’s neighbor, which leads to civic responsibility. Three themes which on the surface seem disparate form a comprehensive vision. Dante arrives to that vision through his journey where he encounters sin, justice, redemption, beauty, love, friendship, morality, responsibility, suffering, holiness, virtue, and so on. One could write a book how all these concepts address the three central themes in the work but I’ll have to leave it at that.

In addition to the thematic integration, there is a high degree of textual integration. Events and ideas that happen in one section, say the Inferno, are balanced and contrasted in other sections, say in Purgatorio or in Paradiso, or even in other sections of Inferno. An idea or motif typically may be examined in all three sections from different perspectives. While it may appear that Dante the character is moving in an episodic, disjointed way, there is nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, that is disjointed. It all interlocks. Finally, that thematic and textual integration is overlaid with what I’ll call visionary integration, but the Germans have a more precise word in Weltanschauun. Dante’s understanding of the world is an integration of the classical with the Judaic that forms the Christian. The Old Testament events are pre-figures of the New Testament and the Classical world provided the metaphysical underpinnings that explained Judaism. Classical, Judaic, and Christian motifs all relate to each other in some fashion. So to conclude this, what makes The Divine Comedy exceed all other works of literary art is the complex thematic, textual, visionary integration, all presented in an aesthetic construct that harmonizes every detail. That’s all rather abstract, so I don’t know if I made myself clear. I’ll try to present examples as I go forward.”

message 10: by Lisa (new)

Lisa | 185 comments Looking forward to reading The Divine Comedy. As it happens, this is also a read for well-read moms this year!

message 11: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 1432 comments Mod
That's a great introduction, Manny! I can't wait to start :)

message 12: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3908 comments Mod
Kerstin wrote: "That's a great introduction, Manny! I can't wait to start :)"

Thank you. I've got more. But yesterday was spent dealing with the snowstorm, and I can't seem to get to it today. Stay tuned. There are two important events from Dante's life that are important to understand before the story: His childhood love for a girl named Beatrice and his exile from his beloved city of Florence.

message 13: by Leslie (last edited Jan 06, 2018 06:58PM) (new)

Leslie | 359 comments Jason wrote: "Dante's letter to Cangrande is a good starter for the Divine Comedy.
In it he sums up his intention for his work.

I look forward to readi..."

Thank you for the interesting link. It pertains only to Paradiso though, so will need to remember to come back to this as we get closer. :-) I enjoyed the beginning of it though.

As for my translation, I have the Harvard Classics and Fiction The Harvard Classics & Fiction Collection 180 Books The Harvard Classics & Fiction Collection 180 Books (Illustrated) by Various book's version which is Cary's translation, which is also free on Amazon for Kindle now.

message 14: by Manny (last edited Jan 08, 2018 09:23AM) (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3908 comments Mod
Over the weekend I came across an article by Fr. Longenecker which indirectly provides some background to The Divine Comedy. Father’s article is titled, “Chaos or Cosmos, Liturgy and Light,” which has a catchy and balanced alliteration. The point of father’s article is that goodness is ordered and sin is disordered, and a good God created cosmic order, while our sin contributes to a chaos. Father also quotes Pope Benedict XVI on how the liturgy contributes to the cosmic order. Here is the article, and it’s well worth reading in its entirety:

How does that relate to The Divine Comedy? First off, everything about the Comedia is structured in a high and exact order, and that’s no accident. There is order in the structuring no Hell, order in the structure of Purgatorio, and order in the structuring of Paradisio. There is an ordering within the canticas and an order between the canticas. Dante is striving to reflect God’s order, and as I reflect on it now I think he too is saying that sin is in opposition to divine order. I’ll keep my eye open for this in this reading. Father also talks about music. When Dante gets to Paradisio, the order of the heavens in motion create a music, a divine music. And as I think about it too, I think references to the liturgy also suggest that they contribute to the divine order.

Longenecker’s view in that article coincides nicely with Dante’s view in his Comedia.

message 15: by Manny (last edited Jan 09, 2018 07:15AM) (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3908 comments Mod
There are three things about Dante’s personal life that are important to know as background going into The Divine Comedy.

First, perhaps the most personal thing to have happened to Dante was his love stemming from a childhood encounter with a particular girl named Beatrice. Some have called this the strangest love affair in history. It’s probable they only met twice and never alone together. The first time he met her he was nine years old and she was about a year younger, depending on the month. He was a precocious poet, and even at a young age (I’m not sure exactly when) he wrote poems to her. The second time he saw her was at the age of eighteen on the street in Florence and she actually spoke to him. Given that Dante was so fixated on numerology, it could not have escaped him that the two encounters were nine years apart, nine being divisible of three, paralleling the Trinity. Three is a very important number in Dante’s work. As far as I know what she said at that second encounter was not recorded, but the encounter certainly moved him further. Here is a paragraph from the Fascinating History website describing their encounters:

“When Dante first saw Beatrice, he tells us she was dressed in soft crimson and wore a girdle about her waist. He fell in love with her at first sight and thought of her as angelic with divine and noble qualities. He frequented places where he could catch a glimpse of her, but she never spoke to him until nine years later. Then one afternoon he saw her dressed in white, walking down a street in Florence. Accompanied by two older women, Beatrice turned and greeted him. Her greeting filled him with such joy that he retreated to his room to think about her. Falling asleep, he had a dream that became the subject of the first sonnet in his La Vita Nuova, one of the world's greatest romantic poems.”

Dante went on to be married at the age of 21 to a woman named Gemma, and had four children with her. Beatrice also married at the age of 21 but died shortly at the age of 24. She did not have children. Her death also had a profound impact on Dante.

So what are we to make of this love? As far as I can tell there was nothing sexual about it, either in deed (which we know) or in thought. Having originated in a childhood innocence I think it was totally a pure love, which Dante I believe associated with the divine, which we’ll see in the Comedia. It also could not have escaped Dante that the name “Beatrice” means “to bless,” and so I think he considered her a blessing in the fullest sense of the word. One of Dante’s greatest works other than the Comedia was a work titled La Vita Nuova, which translates to “The New Life.” I have not read La Vita Nuova, but as I understand it is for Dante a return to his love for Beatrice after many years of being spiritually lost. In a way it is similar to the beginning of the Comedia, where Dante is in the midst of a midlife crises.

I don’t know if there is anything comparable in our modern lives with Dante’s love for Beatrice. Everything today is so sexual we don’t really have a concept of courtly love, and that’s how I think we should understand their love. In Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, Lnacelot’s love for Queen Guinevere was supposed to be along the same lines. However, Lancelot gives in to his lust. (By the way, Le Morte d’Arthur is another great work with a Catholic world view, and perhaps should be considered someday as a group read.) Dante’s love for Beatrice perhaps should be looked at as a love that Lancelot could not live up to, and now that I think of it we will encounter such a failed love in the early cantos of Inferno. The only equivalent in today’s world that I can think are those who have such a devotion to the Blessed Virgin. I too have mentioned my devotion to St. Catherine of Siena, and I think my love for her is similar. Still it’s different when it’s a real flesh and blood person rather than one who has passed.

So Beatrice becomes central to the Comedia, and I hope that helps in understanding the significance. I consider the meeting of Dante and Beatrice – it happens toward the end of Purgatorio when Dante crosses over to the earthly side of Paradisio – as one of the greatest moments in the history of literature. And the nature of the meeting is completely not how I would have expected. It’s phenomenal, so I won’t ruin it.

I’ll have to get to the other two background elements later, but at least I got one out of the way.

message 16: by Jason (new)

Jason | 3 comments Thanks for that Manny. May I add that a great book about courtly love is 'Love in the Western World'' by Denis de Rogemont.

message 17: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3908 comments Mod
Jason wrote: "Thanks for that Manny. May I add that a great book about courtly love is 'Love in the Western World'' by Denis de Rogemont."

Thanks Jason. I'll look into that.

message 18: by Manny (last edited Jan 10, 2018 08:14AM) (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3908 comments Mod
The second important background fact about Dante is that he was exiled from his beloved Florence. For this I probably need to backfill the politics of the time. In the generation before Dante was a mature man there were two political parties in Florence, and actually across most of the Italian city states: the Ghibellines and the Guelphs. Local issues probably makes it a lot more complicated than this, but on a more global scale think of it as the Ghibellines were supporters of the Holy Roman Emperor and the Guelphs were supporters of the Papacy in the power struggle for dominance across the Italian peninsula. This is when the Papacy had actual territory and desired to be expansionist and used the weight of their religious power to cower disagreement. Let it also be said that the Holy Roman Emperor wasn’t exactly sensitive to Italian issues either (the seat was located in Germany), and were also looked at as an outside power. But given the relative freedom they gave to the city states that comprised the Holy Roman Empire (what is today Germany, northern Italy, Switzerland, and southern France), most city states did not feel emperor’s power. Indeed, the Ghibellines wanted a more activist role for the Emperor.

Dante as a young man supported the Guelphs, and fought as a soldier in the famous Battle of Campaldino (1289) where the Guelphs had a categorical victory and politically either killed the Ghibellines or banished them from the city upon pain of death. Politics today in the US is softball compared to the politics of Dante’s day. Dante was 24 years old at the time of the battle. The Guelphs now had complete dominance and Dante, an educated citizen, started to become involved in politics. It’s rare that a party sustains itself over time and at some point it’s inevitable that it splits into a new polarity. The Guelphs divided into two parties, the White Guelphs and the Black Guelphs, with obviously no racial overtones. Again it’s probably more complicated than this, but I think of it as the Black Guelphs staying true to their support of the Papacy while the White Guelphs began to side with the Holy Roman Empire. Dante was a White Guelph, and as far as I can tell became staunchly anti-Papacy. When I speak of anti-Papacy I should emphasize that it was anti-Papacy in terms of civil power; the papacy’s right to control theological and spiritual powers were never in question. Dante would be a full supporter of the current Pope’s power to govern only what’s left of the Papal State today, a reduction to Vatican City.

So with the White Guelphs having taken power, they went and expelled the Blacks. With Dante on a diplomatic mission to Rome, France, in collusion with Pope Boniface VIII, sent a supporting army to the Blacks and sacked Florence, allowing the Blacks to retake power. In turn, the Blacks exiled all the White politicians, and with Dante out of the city he was exiled, never to return. This was in 1301.

You can’t understate how big an impact was this exile to Dante. Not only was Florence his home, but it was the shining city on the hill across all of Europe. It would be the center of the Renaissance, but even at the late Middle Ages it had already been well ahead of the other places across Europe. Art, music, literature, economics (the Florin coin was the standard across Europe), architecture, and so on. The literacy level at the time across Florence was head and shoulders above anywhere else. It was as if you were turned out of heaven and forced to live in the muck of earth. And Dante lost all his holdings and was separated from his family. His children would be exiled upon turning the age of fourteen. Dante ultimately died in Ravenna where his body lies today. Florence has created a tomb for him and as I understand it has petitioned over the centuries to get its most noted citizen’s body back. Ravenna has never yielded and I believe returning his body to Florence would have gone against the wishes of Dante himself.

All these political dynamics work into the Comedia, and is central to Dante’s world view. It’s doubtful the Comedia would ever have been written if Dante had not been exiled. More background to come.

message 19: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3908 comments Mod
The third element of Dante’s background that is important to the Comedia is the obvious fact that he is a poet, and even before the Comedia a great one. Throughout the Comedia Dante meets poets, either from the past or from his day, and there are some discussions on style and form and language which are relevant to his poem. As issues come up on poetry we can discuss them. Poetry too works into the spiritual themes because poetry reflects the purity of God and the aesthetics of Dante’s creation reflect God’s creation. Dante’s beauty to reflect God’s beauty.

Some obvious points on the poetry should be brought up front. Dante invented the terza rima rhyme scheme for the Comedia, and I have to say for narrative verse it is absolutely brilliant. The terza rima is a three line rhyme scheme where the first and third lines of the triplet rime and the second line rimes with first and third of the next triplet. In schematic form (each letter representing a rhyme sound) it goes like this: A-B-A, B-C-B, C-D-C and so on. The second line rhyme projecting into the following triplet gives the poem a forward pushing feel, which is so important in narrative poetry. It’s amazing no one had done this before Dante, but frankly there are only a few languages where this can be done since one needs a lot of words with the same sound. Italian is perfect for it. Dante ends each canto with a quatrain D-E-D-E to form a closure. It’s beautiful and perfect, like a musical composition.

Which brings us to the language of the poem, Italian. High poetry in the Middle Ages up to Dante’s time was all done in Latin, but Dante rejects that for his vernacular. Why? This relates to why it’s a “comedy” in the first place. La Comedia is not a comedy in the traditional sense that there are funny and whimsical scenes. If anything the work deals with very elevated and important topics. It’s a comedy because first it ends happily, second the movement is from dissolution to integration, and third because it deals with the common man. For Dante to select the language of the people for such elevated topics I think speaks to a humility in respect to the divine subject matter he is presenting. While he knows he’s a great poet, he wants to be humble before God’s handiwork, which he is attempting to explain. Second, the vernacular I think gives the work a more flesh-and-blood feel. He’s dealing with issues of people’s everlasting fate before God, and I think it emphasizes that your flesh-and-blood life is of critical concern. And every single common person will face a judgement day.

So those are the three critical background elements: Dante’s love for Beatrice, his exile, and his concern for language and poetry.

The other background fact I should mention is the date of the work and the setting date in the work. Dante started the Comedia in 1308 and finished it in 1320, just before his death, which was very fortunate. But the setting of the work where Dante the character enters hell and exits heaven amounts to one weekend, the holy weekend, in the year 1300. So Dante back dates the event one to two decades from when he is writing. Through the course of the work, we get an event or two where Dante knows the outcome of a situation because it has already happened relative to the story’s date. So keep that in mind. The fact that the story begins with Good Friday and ends with Easter Sunday certainly speaks to the themes. That Dante sets the work in 1300 has two implications. First it is before the year 1301 when he is exiled from Florence, and second it’s a perfect centennial number, and the turn of a new century. More numerology. I’m not sure I can give any background on the numerology. I don’t think I understand it well enough. I guess it may be sufficient to say that the numerology works toward Dante’s vision of a perfect creation and perfect Divinity. There’s a purity in numbers and math that reflects the purity of God.

With that I think I’m done with a background. I hope this helps.

message 20: by Manny (last edited Jan 11, 2018 07:35AM) (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3908 comments Mod
One other thing I think should be said, not as background, but just in general about reading The Divine Comedy, there are people who have had life altering experiences after reading it. For instance the journalist Rod Dreher wrote a book, How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History's Greatest Poem. I have not read Dreher’s book but I have seen him interviewed and I have seen a number of his articles on how it saved his life. Dreher was in a midlife crises over the death of his sister and internal family problems. By reading La Comedia it pulled him through because Dante’s transition through the poem from crises to healing offered a path for Dreher. Plus the spirituality of the work speaks to our hearts. For me, reading and learning the nuances of The Divine Comedy provided me a seed of faith while I went through a period of atheism/agnosticism. Knowing the Divine Comedy was a link to my Catholic faith, and when I was ready to return I could feel Dante there with me. There may be spots that are an expansion of the faith, but The Divine Comedy is about as Catholic a work as possible. It’s almost another Catechism.

message 21: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 55 comments Manny, I so appreciate the time and thought you put into these introductions to Dante and the Comedia. With your knowledge of the variances between translations, I wonder if you have you taught a course on Dante? Not to mention your scholarly knowledge of the social and political culture of the times and Dante's personal influences on the writing. I'm very much looking forward to the discussion beginning Sunday!

message 22: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3908 comments Mod
Kristen wrote: "Manny, I so appreciate the time and thought you put into these introductions to Dante and the Comedia. With your knowledge of the variances between translations, I wonder if you have you taught a c..."

Oh you're so kind. No I have never taught a course in anything! If you missed my personal bio, I have two degrees, one in mechanical engineering, which has been my career, and one in English literature, which has been my love. Literature is my hobby, so to speak, one in which I have immersed myself for all of my adult life, and I'm 56 now. That's quite a few years. I'm reading Inferno now for the fifth time, Purgatorio will be fourth, and Paradisio I have only read once complete, but partial a couple of other times. So I've been exposed to a number of translations. I've also read books of commentary on The Divine Comedy. I won't say I'm a scholar on the work - to say that you have publish on it - but I am fairly knowledgeable. As to knowing Dante's culture and times, you will soon find out Dante puts all that in front of you. You will learn it too. To read his work is to know his life. Plus I fell in love with the city of Florence when I visited it.

You can start commenting on the first five Cantos. I've put up the discussion thread.

message 23: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 1432 comments Mod
Ah Florence, now there is a favorite place of mine!

message 24: by John (new)

John Seymour | 167 comments Manny wrote: "The second important background fact about Dante is that he was exiled from his beloved Florence. For this I probably need to backfill the politics of the time. In the generation before Dante was a..."

Sayers recounts some more about the tussle between Florence and Ravenna. In 1519 Florence got Pope Leo X to order the "return" of Dante's remains to Florence. But when they opened the tomb there was nothing there but a few small bones and dried laurel leaves. In 1865, during preparations for the sexcentenary celebration of Dante's birth, a workman removing a portion of a party wall between Dante's tomb and Bracciaforte Chapel discovered a wooden chest. Notations on the chest, signed by a monk in 1677, indicated that the bones were Dante's. The supposition is that Franciscan monks, alarmed by the maneuverings in 1519, dug through the party wall and removed Dante's bones, hid them for nearly 200 years, then re-entombed them in secret in the party wall behind his tomb. The chest is in the Bibliotheca Nazionale. The bones have been restored to Dante's original sarcophagus, in Ravenna.

message 25: by John (new)

John Seymour | 167 comments I am running way behind in my reading, but will catch up.

message 26: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 55 comments I regret that I am hopelessly behind in the reading. I was so looking forward to keeping pace with the group. I will make my best effort to catch up.

Some personal health issues have diverted my attention for reading and research, as well as master's level coursework for a certificate program I'm taking this year.

I hope you all are enjoying the reading and discussion so far.

message 27: by Manny (new)

Manny (virmarl) | 3908 comments Mod
Kristen wrote: "I regret that I am hopelessly behind in the reading. I was so looking forward to keeping pace with the group. I will make my best effort to catch up.

Some personal health issues have diverted my a..."

No problem. The posts will always be here for you to come back to, and I'm always ready to take questions on Dante! We have three more weeks of Inferno, then we go into two book reads, and then come back to this recurring read, picking up with the Purgatorio. I think we will get to Purgatorio in about three months or so, around the beginning of May, depending how long the regular book reads are. So that should give you a time frame for the near future.

Hope you feel better.

message 28: by Kristen (new)

Kristen | 55 comments Great, thank you Manny!

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