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Thursday, March 28, 2013


"Sea of Anger" by painter Giovanni Stradano or Stradanus.  He was a Bruges (Belgium) born mannerist painter active in 16th century Florence.  Dante's trip through hell begins on Good Friday.  More on the painting below**

DANTE REVISITED--Tomorrow is Good Friday for a billion plus Catholics around the world.  Considering what happened that first Good Friday what’s to like about the day?  Add, poet Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy” and you really want to avoid as many Good Friday’s as possible.

Found in public domain, Inferno (Italian for "Hell") is the first part of Dante Alighieri's 14th-century epic poem “Divine Comedy.” It is followed by Purgatorio and Paradiso. It is an allegory telling of the journey of Dante through Hell, guided by the Roman poet Virgil.

In the poem, Hell is depicted as nine circles of suffering located within the Earth. Allegorically, the “Divine Comedy” represents the journey of the soul towards God, with the Inferno describing the recognition and rejection of sin.  The narrator, Dante himself, is 35-years-old, and thus "halfway along our life's path" (Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita)—half of the Biblical life expectancy of seventy (Psalms 89:10, Vulgate).

Dante's “Divine Comedy,” widely hailed as one of the great classics of Western literature, details Dante's journey through the nine circles of Hell. The poem (voyage) begins on the day before Good Friday during Easter week in the year 1300, the descent through Hell starting on Good Friday.

After meeting his guide, the eminent Roman poet Virgil, in a mythical dark wood, the two poets begin their descent through a baleful world of doleful shades, horrifying tortures, and unending lamentation.  Reads like workaday Hollywood, eh?

The poet finds himself lost in a dark wood in front of a mountain, assailed by three beasts (a lion, a lonza [usually rendered as "leopard" or "leopon"], and a she-wolf) he cannot evade. Unable to find the "straight way" (diritta via, also translatable as "right way") to salvation, he is conscious that he is ruining himself and falling into a "deep place" (basso loco) where the sun is silent (l sol tace).

Dante is at last rescued by the Roman poet Virgil, who claims to have been sent by Beatrice, and the two of them begin their journey to the underworld. Each sin's punishment in Inferno is a contrapasso, a symbolic instance of poetic justice; for example, fortune-tellers have to walk forward with their heads on backward, unable to see what is ahead, because they tried, through forbidden means, to look ahead to the future in life.

Such a contrapasso "functions not merely as a form of divine revenge, but rather as the fulfilment of a destiny freely chosen by each soul during his or her life."[3]

Dante passes through the gate of Hell, which bears an inscription, the ninth (and final) line of which is the famous phrase* "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate", or "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."

Sources: Wikipedia

**PLEADING THE FIFTH (cue opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony here)

Stradanus’ painting depicts the Fifth Circle of Hell (Anger) in Dante’s “Divine Comedy.”

In the swamp-like water of the river Styx, the wrathful fight each other on the surface, and the sullen lie gurgling beneath the water, withdrawn "into a black sulkiness which can find no joy in God or man or the universe."
Phlegyas reluctantly transports Dante and Virgil across the Styx in his skiff. On the way they are accosted by Filippo Argenti, a Black Guelph from a prominent family. When Dante was forced to leave Florence, Argenti took all his property.

When Dante responds "In weeping and in grieving, accursed spirit, may you long remain,"[ Virgil blesses him. Literally, this reflects the fact that souls in Hell are eternally fixed in the state they have chosen, but allegorically, it reflects Dante's beginning awareness of his own sin (Cantos VII and VIII).

The lower parts of Hell are contained within the walls of the city of Dis, which is itself surrounded by the Stygian marsh. Punished within Dis are active (rather than passive) sins. The walls of Dis are guarded by fallen angels.

Virgil is unable to convince them to let Dante and him enter, and Dante is threatened by the Furies (consisting of Alecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone) and Medusa.

An angel sent from Heaven secures entry for the poets, opening the gate by touching it with a wand, and rebukes those who opposed Dante. Allegorically, this reveals the fact that the poem is beginning to deal with sins that philosophy and humanism cannot fully understand. Virgil also mentions to Dante how Erichtho sent him down to the lowest circle of Hell to bring back a spirit from there (Cantos VIII and IX).

Even a cursory reading of Dante’s “Divine Comedy” leaves you exhausted.  Leaving one question unanswered: Why hasn’t Hollywood grabbed this saga?  Do we see an Oscar here for set decoration or what?

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