Dantephobia

Surely there must be a circle in Hell reserved for literary critics who maliciously misread Dante.  John Carey’s discussion of Dante Alighieri in his latest book, A Little History of Poetry (Yale, 2020) has little on fairness, while being quite big on latter-day moralism. To wildly paraphrase Ben Johnson, A Little History has, at least … Continue reading Dantephobia

Palinodes or the courage to say ‘I was wrong’

Intellectual honesty is a virtue universally accepted, and any perceived departures from it are usually condemned. The ability to act on the available evidence and to speak one’s mind – truth and freedom –, are features of a healthy intellectual environment and the characteristics of an honest thinker. But often the evidence changes, the views … Continue reading Palinodes or the courage to say ‘I was wrong’

Language acquisition

It has often been said that the childhood is a creation of the modern period. Indeed, ancient and medieval sources occlude discussions of the first age of the human individual, the baby and toddler years. Premodern representations of children emphasise size, rather than any other features, to designate youngsters. From the baby in the cradle … Continue reading Language acquisition

The bored ones get the best of Hell

Dante’s Hell is a place of extreme pain and suffering. This is partly the reason why generations of modern readers have found Inferno so much more exciting than Paradiso or even Purgatorio. The farther one moves away from excruciating pain, the boring the story gets, right? This is not how I feel, but I recognise, … Continue reading The bored ones get the best of Hell

When in exile, do as the exiled do

The public ban now in place in many parts of the world hides a more awful reality: we are not just banned from our streets, our squares, our schools and our offices, we are in exile. We are wandering away from home, sometimes nervously, sometimes resignedly, while staying home and staying still. There’s no shortage … Continue reading When in exile, do as the exiled do

In defence of ignorance

We’re not going anywhere these days. So let’s glance back in time. Our stop: the Middle Ages, Homer and creativity. The medieval period has been called many things: the age of faith, the Dark Ages, lowercase/uppercase, the age of chivalry, of castles, the age of the Gothic, the post-classical period, pre-Renaissance, pre-modern, epithets galore, forever … Continue reading In defence of ignorance

Dante or the man who became Easter

  You will agree that there are better ways to spend Easter than undertaking journeys to the Underworld. That even if the lockdown were to be lifted today on Good Friday, you’d think twice before signing up to a guided tour of Hell. If you’re given the choice between the bowels of the Earth or … Continue reading Dante or the man who became Easter

Imag(in)ing Dante: an illustrated manuscript of the Divine Comedy (with complete set of drawings)

Of the several hundreds of manuscripts of Dante’s Divine Comedy, about a hundred have some illumination or decoration, drawn or painted. Of these, London British Library Harley MS 3460 is a remarkable specimen. The manuscript contains illustrations of the scenes covering cantos 1-20 of Inferno, drawn in plummet in the lower part of the page. … Continue reading Imag(in)ing Dante: an illustrated manuscript of the Divine Comedy (with complete set of drawings)

A vertical reading of Dante’s Purgatorio 4

One way of reading Dante’s Divine Comedy is ‘vertically’, which means analyzing same-numbered cantos from two or three parts of the poem (canticles), Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso, for symmetrical meanings which become enriched by this clever juxtaposition. This is based on the presupposition that Dante built this symmetry into the poem as a whole, and expected … Continue reading A vertical reading of Dante’s Purgatorio 4