Go to hell

One remarkable thing about Dante’s Divine Comedy is that it doesn’t try to cancel any voices. Dante has often been accused of settling scores in the Underworld. If only for this, I think the disenchantment of the West has led to an important loss. With the Hell relegated to a merely poetic or idiomatic reality,…

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…

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…

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,…

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…

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…

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…

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…

A petition for a public reading of Dante

When’s the last time a group of local residents petitioned the government to arrange for a public reading of Dante’s Commedia? The answer to that question is: the summer of 1373. In the summer of that year, a petition was presented to the Signoria of Florence, on behalf of a number of Florentine citizens, asking…