Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Reading Danté's Inferno 2015: Cantos XVI to XVIII

Canto XVI - Circle Seven, Ring Three - Blasphemers, Usurers, and Sodomites (?)

Danté is accosted by three shades from his hometown, Florence, a "degenerate" city. These men are covered with sores and joined together like a wheel "their feet moved forward while their necks were straining back." These sinners are punished by continual movement, reflecting their agitated lives. Two of the men are Guido Guerra and Tegghiaio Aldobrandi, Guelph powerhouses and usurers. The speaker is Iacopo Rusticucci, another Guelph and possible homosexual.

We again run into a problem when looking at sodomy. Rusticucci says, "It was my bestial wife, more than all else, who brought me to this pass." Some say this line means his wife drove him to homosexuality while others believe that his wife enjoyed anal sex (a sin at the time). The reader never actually meet homosexuals in Hell, so this can be interpreted in many ways. Something to consider is that homosexuality is punished, but later on in The Inferno.

The shades start reminiscing about the good old days in Florence to which Danté replies that the nouveau riche are ruining the place. The three shades seem more concerned with their fame, "See that you speak of us to others." Although one can also interpret this passage as speak of our fate to others so they will not suffer as we do.

Dante feels considerable "sadness. [I've] fixed your condition in my heart..." Some like to say that Danté only puts his political enemies in Hell, but these are men Danté admires, men he feels sympathy for.

Canto XVI ends with a cliffhanger. Virgil throws a rope into the abyss and something comes "swimming up through that dense and murky air,"something that looks like a man.

Canto XVII - Leaving Circle Seven - Meet the Userers and Geryon

Up from the pit comes Geryon, a creature borrowed from classic mythology. He has the head of a "righteous man" and the body of a serpent with a venomous tail, a creature with whom they are going to hitch a ride. Before they leave Virgil tells Danté to go talk to some sinners on the "seventh circle's edge."

Danté meets some unrecognizable shades who are sitting as they gnaw at themselves like "dogs in summer . . . when fleas or horseflies bite them." From their necks hang purses, each containing a different crest, purses that, when they were alive, contained money.These are the usurers.

Their punishment fits their sin. Usurers cause money to move quickly from person to person, while they remain hunched over their counting desks. They don't look at each other, rather they look at their empty purses, their true identity once being the money held inside.

Danté and Virgil hop on to Geryon so they can descend lower into the pit. Danté describes the process much like a ship docking "as a bark [ship] backs slowly from its mooring, so the beast backed off the ledge, and when it felt itself adrift, turned its tail to where its chest had been and, extending it, made it wriggle like an eel's, while with its paws it gathers in the air." For some reason this scene reminds me of the latest Star Trek movie when the U.S.S. Enterprise leaves its mooring for the first time.

They descend far into the pit before Geryon sets them down at the bottom of a jagged cliff.

Canto XVIII - The Eighth Circle, Bolgia 1 and 2 - Fraud - Pimps, Seducers and Flatterers

Danté describes the castle of Malebolge which is surrounded by ten bolgias or ditches. In the first bolgia, the travelers encounter throngs of naked sinners being lashed along by "horned demons." Danté recognizes Venèdico Caccianemico, a man who admits he sold his own sister "to the marquis." A demon whips Caccianemico violently saying, "Away, pimp! There are no women here to trick" and Danté moves on to join his master.

Being "horned" from Medieval to Renaissance times represented a cuckold (a man with a cheating wife), hence these sinners are punished by "horned demons" to represent that their own actions often resulted in a husband's disgrace.

This canto describes Rome's crowds and its invention of two-way traffic, which is practiced in this bolgia; the panderers move one way while the seducers move another. This also brings up the image of how the condemned were often whipped along the route to the execution place.

Next, Danté meets a character from classic mythology, Jason of the Golden Fleece, a flatterer who seduces the "young Hypsipyle" only to leave her pregnant and Medea, daughter of King Colchis.

The next ditch they approach is filled with something that looks like "excrement that could have come from human privies," which is smeared on this bolgia's occupants. Danté recognizes one who says he has been consigned to this circle because of flattery. The punishment fits: the filthy utterances they mouthed during their lives are represented by the excrement they are forced to ingest in death.

Finally, Danté meets a character from a play by Terence, a poet of the Roman Republic, a courtesan, a flatterer of the first rank who has found herself in the eighth circle of Hell forever "scratching herself with her filthy nails." Actually, in Terence's play she isn't the flatterer by the flatteree, so this passage leads scholars to wonder how much Terence Danté was familiar with. Remember, in Medieval times classic texts were just being rediscovered.

As Danté continues down into Hell he is mixing his sources from Biblical to Classical to political tittle tattle. The Inferno is a very intertextual work that borrows from many sources including those that were very new to the Medieval world - Greek and Roman classical texts.

Do the nouveau riche cause problems in America? Or is that just the outcome of the American Dream? What about gentrification of the entire Bay Area? Do you think you will be able to live here once you graduate?

Human trafficking is a huge problem worldwide. Do you think the pimps' punishment fits the sin?

Where do we see flatterers and seducers at work in our society today? How would you characterize people who are "handlers"? Those employees whose job it is to get celebrities and politicians from one place to another and keep them insulated from society while keeping their spirits up?

Do you think people have changed much since Medieval times?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Reading Danté's Inferno 2015: Cantos XIII to XV

Canto XIII - Circle Seven, Ring Two - Suicides and Spendthrifts

Danté and Virgil enter a wood where the "filthy Harpies nest." Talk about metafiction. We have Danté writing about creatures from the Aeneid written by Virgil, his guide through Hell, in a poem about Christianity . . . but I digress.

The wood (the only vegetation in Hell besides the meadows of limbo) is populated by brambles that, when broken, can speak. Dante breaks off a branch.

"Are you completely without pity?" the branch laments as it "blisters and hisses."

The bramble was once Pier delle Vigne, a minister to Emperor Frederick II. Remember, the Ghibellines supported the Holy Roman Emperor, while the Guelphs (Dante's party) supported the pope. Delle Vigne rose to power quickly and held sway at court for about 20 years until he was accused of stealing from the treasury. He was blinded and thrown into prison where he committed suicide "to escape from scorn."

"Restore my reputation," he asks, once you get back to the world of the living. Delle Vigne ended up in the seventh circle after he "wrenched up [his] own roots," landing in the seventh circle, a place where the Harpies feed on his "leaves" and the bodies of suicides are hung "upon the thorn-bush of its painful shade."

Dante feels pity for the damned. In fact, he is so filled with pity he cannot even speak to delle Vigne.

Suddenly, two souls come running through the thicket. These are the souls of the spendthrifts who committed a kind of material suicide by tossing away their possessions. One is Jacomo della Cappella di sant' Andrea of Padua who squandered an inherited fortune, the other, Arcolano Maconi, who squandered all his wealth on riotous living. These two are torn to pieces by "black bitches" who constantly howl and thrash through the thicket of souls.

The thorns represent the suicides' state of minds during life while the profligates (spendthrifts) thrash through the living brambles before being torn limb-from-limb, thereby causing even more pain to the suicides who can't get out of the way.

As Danté and Virgil leave this ring, they encounter a lowly bush whose leaves have been ripped off by one of the spendthrifts. He is a Florentine who made his "house into a gallows." Danté appears to be commenting on the high number of suicides by hanging occurring in Florence.

Those that cared so little for their life, will not regain their bodies after Judgement Day.

Canto XIV - Circle Seven, Leaving Ring Two and Entering Ring Three - Blasphemers, Usurers, Sodomites

Dante and Virgil reach the edge of the middle ring where the third ring is circled by a moat. Across is an "expanse of deep and arid sand." The blasphemers lie on the sand, usurers sit, and the sodomites roam about in groups assailed by a rain of fire where the sand took fire "like tinder under flint."

They come across King Capaneus, who died in the Battle of Thebes struck by a thunderbolt. A boastful, ranting man that Virgil says, held "God in disdain." Oh, but here's a trick, he's not talking about the Christian god, Virgil is referencing Jove (Zeus), a classic god. Confused? Good. What do you think Danté is saying here? All blasphemers are bad?

They reach a red rivulet with "vapor [that] quenches every flame above it," and Virgil goes on to describe the three rivers of hell. Danté is quoting Virgil's image of the golden age of Crete found in the Aeneid. Here again we see Danté lending a postmodern feel to his work by having our guide, Virgil, quote his own poetry.

The rivers emerge from a monument of a huge old man that is cracked and from those rips emerge the "Acheron, Styx, and Phlegethon." This myth is all Danté, but is useful to unite the topography of Hell. Virgil goes on to clarify the layout of Hell. The river of blood and the River Phlegethon are one in the same. The River Lethe is where the "spirits go to cleanse themselves once their repented guilt has been removed." In other words, Lethe is located in purgatory, so readers we have a ways to go.

Canto XV - Circle Seven, Ring Three - Blasphemers and Sodomites

Something to clarify. When Danté talks about sodomites in this canto he is not talking about the act, he is talking about the will. Huh? He is talking about the people who willfully ignore God's commandment to be fruitful and multiple.

A group of souls are squinting at the travelling pair "like an old tailor at his needle's eye" when one of them recognizes Danté. In spite of his charred countenance Danté recognizes his old teacher Brunetto Latini a famous poet and fellow Guelph.

Danté tells Latini that he has "lost his way," metaphorically speaking, and that he has been touring Hell since "yesterday morning." Latini says that Danté will be famous and happy and he would have helped him out if he was still alive. He predicts Danté's exile which Danté has already heard and is "prepared for Fortune as she wills."

Latini taught Danté "how man makes himself immortal . . . [read famous] . . . And how much gratitude my tongue, while I still live, must give report." Danté wants to know about Lantini's companions; "all of them were clerics or great and famous scholars, all befouled in the world above by a single sin."

And that sin is? Some would argue homosexuality, but it seems more likely it is the search for fame. How is that a sin against god? Well, if you are seeking "how man makes himself immortal" and you are not talking about (in this context) being a good Christian by spreading the word of God, then your soul is a desert.

This is further revealed by Lantini's need to be remembered "Let my Treasure, in which I still live on be in your mind," which Danté promises. When Lantini leaves Danté observes that he looks "more the winner than the one who trails the field." Wow, even those consigned to Hell can be consoled by their fame.

Lantini is clearly someone that Danté liked and respected discounting the notion that the author only put his enemies in Hell. He is grateful to Lantini and promises to share his works with others.

So the punishment for these sinners fits the crime, so to speak. Their souls are barren deserts. All they cared about was themselves. They only cared about their students because those great students, like Dante, make them look good. They are too wrapped up in themselves to pass along their intellectual genes (teachings) to another.

Why do you think Danté put a classic blasphemer in Hell? What is he saying about arrogance? King Capaneus could not have been a Christian if he wanted to since he lived many centuries before Christ.

Do you think that the quest for fame is overrated? Do you think fame is a healthy goal, mentally and physically? What about those high-school athletes that are taking steroids (please, no hate mail, we all know some do) to enhance their chances at a professional career? What about the people that will do anything to be movie, television, or media stars?

See anyone you recognize yet?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Reading Danté's Inferno 2015: Cantos X to XII

Canto X - Circle Six: Heresy

Heresy can be a bit prickly among modern day folk because they are far too intelligent to believe in god or a higher power. That is exactly what Danté was writing about in the early fourteenth century: pride leads to heresy.

What's even weirder today is the proliferation of ghost "reality" shows and people that believe in zombies and vampires.

Oh, but you don't believe in zombies or vampires, do you? You're way too smart for that.

There is heresy in every age and it involves what we, as a society, are forbidden to criticize. Can't think of anything? What is the worst epithet you can be labeled? How about racist or homophobic?

Like George Orwell once said, "The heresy of heresies was common sense. And what was terrifying was not that they would kill you for thinking otherwise, but that they might be right. "

Canto X takes us to Circle Six where we meet the shade of Farinata delgi Uberti, a Ghebelline (Danté is a Guelph) from Florence who pops up from his flaming tomb and questions Danté's ancestral lineage--Uberti isn't impressed. Danté and Uberti then engage in a tit-for-tat about the Guelph and Ghibelline conflict. The only thing Uberti regrets is that the Ghibillines didn't win, not that his family was banished, or that he landed in Hell.

During this conversation, up pops Cavalcante de Cavalcanti who is sharing the tomb with Uberti who asks Danté if his son, Guido is alive? Guido Cavalcanti is a contemporary of Danté's, a poet who may, or may not, have scorned Virgil. "I come not on my own, he who stands there waiting leads me through, perhaps to one Your Guido held in scorn." Danté does not answer and Cavalcanti disappears as suddenly as he appeared.

Meanwhile, Uberti is just standing there flaminingly mute. What's up with that? Guess what Cavalcanti is his in-law. Can you imagine spending all eternity in the same tomb as your in-law?

Uberti makes a prophecy that Danté will know exactly how it feels to be banished within 50 months and reveals that the heretics can only see the future and not the present. This is part of their punishment. "We see with faulty vision" in the way they looked at things (especially religion) in life. On judgement day their tombs will be forever sealed.

Canto XI - Leaving Circle Six: Heresy and Entering Circle Seven: Violence

Danté wants to rest because it's way too stinky and Virgil tells him to get over it. Virgil then reminds Danté and the readers about the organization of Hell and how they are entering the realm of fraud "Since the vice of fraud is man's alone, it more displeases God, and thus the fraudulent are lower down, assailed by greater pain."

The circle of the violent has three rings and the sinners are assigned according to their sin "Violence may be aimed at God, oneself, or at one's neighbor."

First ring, violence committed against a neighbor, including "pillage, arson, and violent theft."

Second ring, violence against self, including gamblers, suicides or "lamenting when he should rejoice." Suicide is a mortal sin - a violence against your creator.

Third ring, violence against God "when we deny and curse Him in our hearts, or when we scorn nature and her bounty."

Danté asks if these sinners are so bad, why aren't they "punished inside the fiery city." To which Virgil replies, don't be such an idiot, even Aristotle in his book Ethics knows "the three dispositions Heaven opposes, 'incontinence, malice, and mad brutishness', and how incontinence (lack of self control) offends God less and incurs a lesser blame."

Danté is still not getting it. What about usury (lending money at unreasonably high rates), how does it offend "God's goodness"? Usurers sin against nature because they don't earn practicing the rules of nature or through the sweat of their brow, they make unreasonable profits from another's toil.

Danté has basically taken a "time out" to explain how the Seventh Circle: Violence is organized before we get there.

Canto XII - Sliding into Circle Seven: Violence

Danté and Virgil slide down a broken hillside and come face-to-face with the Minotaur who is forced to let them pass by on their way to the River Phlegethon, a river of boiling blood "that scalds those who by violence do injury to others."

Guarding the River Phlegethon are three centaurs "shooting arrows at any souls that rise higher from the blood than guilt allows."

The centaurs recognize that Danté is not a shade because his feet dislodge scree as he comes down the slope. Virgil asks Nessus to give Danté a ride "for he is not a spirit that can fly through the air." The centaur complies.

Nessus points out some of the more infamous inhabitants of this realm: Alexander the Great, Dionysius, Ezzelino, Obizzo d'Este, infamous persons who violently killed many. They are in the river up to their brows and the lower a shade sinks into the river of blood, the worse their crime.

As Nessus and Danté approach the opposite shore the mere murderers reveal their whole chests and finally the river reveals those that "cooked nothing but their feet." As Danté looks towards the horizon, Nessa reveals that the "bottom falls away" and that is where one will find "Attila . . . Pyrrhus, and Sextus."

How does heresy affect the modern world? How does criticism of the powers that be affect us in the internet age? Are you careful about what you post on social media?

Do you think the punishment for those that sin against nature is appropriate? Where do we sin against nature in today's world?

Atilla the Hun and Alexander the Great died thousands of years ago, who in our modern age have taken their place? Do you think that we, as a global community, will end violence? How can that change be affected?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Reading Danté's Inferno 2015: Cantos VII to IX

Canto VII - Circle Four: Greed (Avarice and prodigal) to Circle Five: Anger

Danté and Virgil meet up with Plutus (Greek god of wealth) who guards the entrance to circle four where they see shades rolling money bags back and forth endlessly. As Virgil says "All the gold that lies beneath the moon, or ever did, could never give a moment's rest to any of these wearied souls." Seriously, do you know people like this? And I'm not just talking about money.

How many shoes do you need? How many buttons, Pokemon cards, books, action figures, stamps, Pez dispensers, cars, guns, records, DVDs, CDs, MP3s, etc., etc., etc. does one person need? These are the hoarders.

Then there are the prodigal that squander goods. Can't find your lipstick - just go out and buy a new one, or two, or three. Got a scuff on your new Nike's? Oh well, go buy another pair on your credit card. Got too rough with your new iPhone - it's all covered, no problem.

In this circle, Danté observes a lot of clerics who hoard the church's wealth . . . in fact it is the only class of people he mentions. He doesn't see (or discuss) moneylenders or bankers.

The inhabitants of circle four are so consumed by greed they are no longer recognizable.

There is a long speech about Fortune "who shifts those worthless goods, from time to time, from race to race, from one blood to another beyond intervention of human wit." Fortune can be seen as divine providence and she is to blame for all good and bad luck we encounter. The message: we should understand that we control our own fates and should not pin our hopes on stuff.

Besides rolling money bags around the avaricious will have their fists forever clamped to remind them of their grasping behavior, while the prodigal will have their hair cut off to remind them of their lack of care for their possessions.

Danté and Virgil then cross to the swamp of Styx where they encounter the angry who "struck each other with their hands, their heads, their chests and feet, and tore each other with their teeth." These people are just angry, forever.

How about you? Ever lash out at anybody? Have a younger sibling that makes you want to throw shoes? Have you ever been in charge of people and lorded it over them by lashing out? Get angry at your significant other just because you had a bad day?

One thing to notice is that Danté doesn't stop to chat with any of these people and he seems to have quit making excuses for every shade he encounters.

Canto VIII - Circle Five: Anger

In the swamp of the Styx, Danté encounters a man he knows and curses him. "In weeping and in misery, accursed spirit, may you stay." Virgil congratulates Danté for his harsh words.

The shade is that of Filippo Argenti, a Black Guelph, (remember Danté was a White Guelph), whose brother got much of Danté's property when he was banished from Florence. In fact,  Danté "would be most eager to see him pushed deep down into this soup" and rejoiced when as he watched Argenti torn to pieces by the "muddy crew."

Has Danté learned to quit falling for the stories of these shades, or is this a simple case of vengeance? Whatever the answer, Virgil is pleased  by Danté's reaction and praises him because Argenti did "not one good deed."

Virgil and Danté travel across the swamp towards the iron-walled city of Dis with its burning Hell fires where they are met by a thousand rebel angels who block their way. The iron walls are a symbol of the iron will of the sinners from this circle downward.

Remember, Danté's Hell is broken down into three sections; one reserved for the incontinent (no self control), another for the violent, and the lowest level contains those committing fraud. We are leaving the incontinent circles and entering the circles reserved for those who committed violence.

Virgil tells Danté to wait while he handles the rebel angels, but they deny him entrance. Virgil is stumped.

Canto IX - From Dis to Circle Six: Heresy

Virgil is confused. He has been bested by the rebel angels, but he has to win. It's ordained.

Three furies appear above Dis crying "Let Medusa come and we'll turn him to stone." Virgil covers Danté's eyes and just when all appears lost, an angel descends from heaven.

The angel is filled with disdain "Why do you kick against the will which never can be severed from its purpose?" In other words, don't argue against heaven.

He opens the gate of Dis and Virgil and Danté enter where Danté sees "graves [that] were strewn with flames that made them glow with heat hotter than iron is before it's worked." This is the entrance to Circle Six.

Danté asks who are these forever burning in their graves?

"The arch-heretics of every sect," responds Virgil and we'll meet them next time.

How do you think Danté's Inferno can help post modern people live a better life?

After studying Cantos I to IX what do you think has the most relevance for today's world?

Have you seen yourself yet?

Monday, September 14, 2015

Reading Danté's Inferno 2015: Cantos IV to VI

Canto IV - Circle One: Limbo

In the last post Danté had reached the shore of Acheron just past Hell's gate and then promptly fell asleep. He wakes up on the other side of the river, refreshed and ready to continue his journey.

Virgil is by his side and guides Danté through Limbo, the first circle of Hell. It is Virgil's home and the home of the unbaptized, although some occupants have ascended to Paradise, one-time occupants like Moses, Abraham, and David.

On the surface, Limbo is not a bad place. It is made up green meadows and a castle with seven gates representing the seven virtues that these virtuous pagans practiced in their daily lives. What are the seven virtues, you ask? Prudence, justice, temperance, courage, faith, hope and charity.

Virgil meets up with his compatriots Homer, Horace, Ovid, and Lucan, all famous writers of the classic world, and they hold a short conclave and then adopt Danté as one of their own. Wow, pretty gutsy for a guy who hasn't even finished The Divine Comedy yet.

Canto V - Circle two: Lust

Now we enter circle two where we meet Minos who is judging the newcomers. He hears everyone's sins and then wraps his tail around his body as many times as the number of circles the newly arrived are to descend into Hell.

Circle two is the home of Lust and Virgil offers a catalog of the lustful that includes Cleopatra, Dido, Helen, Paris and Tristan.

Danté wants to speak to a pair of shades he sees flying by.

Down descend Francesca da Remini and Paolo, her lover and the younger brother of her husband. She tells Danté how Paolo and she, virtuous as lambs, were innocently reading Sir Galahad. Okay, stop right there. Sir Galahad is the story of Lancelot and Guinevere, an adulterous romance between the Queen of Camelot and one of her husband's knights.

See yourself yet? Have ever stopped by your best friend's house when she is out of town to watch The Notebook with her boyfriend and things got a little out of hand? If your girlfriend spent the weekend with her parents and you went out partying and found yourself in a compromising position, you have just entered circle Lust.

So Francesca's husband catches the pair in the act and kills them both. A bit extreme, but he gets his final reward a little farther along in Inferno.

Remember these shades are in H-E-L-L. They are not the most forthcoming or honest (really, what do they have to lose?) Francesca is a schemer. She tells Danté how much she appreciates his taking the time to listen to her since God will not. She blames everyone else because she ended up in Hell. Her husband is despicable to the point of killing her and she curses him. She blames Galahad for writing a book that is so romantic it overcomes her ability to resist temptation. She blames amor for attracting her to Paolo. She blames Paolo's physical beauty. But never does she take any responsibility.

Danté never uses Francesca's name - her story is one of medieval tittle tattle, like that found in our favorite tabloids. Her story is so popular in the twelfth century that you don't have to use her name--and this can be a bit of problem when reading Danté, he assumes you know all the latest gossip, have read all the right books, and know all poetry.

What is the punishment for the lustful? They are flying around in the sky like "starlings" in the winter being buffeted by the winds in the same way they were buffeted by lust as it controlled them aimlessly and senselessly during their lives.

Danté, at this point, is so naive and feels so much pity for this pair of murdered lovers that he swoons "as if in death." In other words, he still believes everything every shade tells him. Danté still doesn't quite understand he's not in Kansas anymore.

Canto VI - Circle three: Gluttony

And Danté awakes in the third circle where he encounters the ravenous Cerberus (three-headed dog of Greek/Roman mythology). Virgil throws some dirt in his mouths to stop has ravenous cravings for a few moments. Again, keep in mind that there are characters in Inferno from classic history, mythology, and literature (very meta), popular media, the Bible, and the local and international news--which will often make diving into the notes at the back of your book necessary from time to time.

Danté is recognized by one of the damned, and while this is the circle of the gluttons, the person he meets is not necessarily a fat "hog" as his translated name suggests, instead he seems to be envious. The envious want their opponents to suffer loss and, perhaps, to snarfle up their stuff. This can all lead to self indulgence.

The shade says Florentines are envious and predicts that Danté's white party will be expelled from Florence (which is why Danté is in exile). Remember, Danté set his book in the past where all these predictions have come to fruition. Is he saying Danté should have toned it down a bit when he was in charge? That he was lording his power and position over those who were not in the same political party as he? Maybe.

This canto can be a bit difficult. We don't get a clear picture of what we would normally see as "gluttonous." There aren't a bunch of fat people sitting around chewing on each other. However, if you think about self-indulgence and over consumption you can see how that could lead to gluttony. Don't sit at home and eat a box of donuts by yourself! Bring some to class.

Envy is also a real time waster. Sheesh, this is America, if you want something that isn't unethical or illegal, just go get it - although I'd avoid those high-interest credit cards.

Punishment for the gluttonous is to be stuck in the the rain and hail, unable to stay clean or dry, sightless and unaware of your neighbors--a physical metaphor for how these shades lived their lives.

Danté still feels pity for the shades in Hell and asks Virgil if they will get some relief come Judgement Day?

No, responds Virgil.

Where do you see lust, envy, gluttony, and over consumption at work in our society today? Do you think it is related to the rise of the "Me" culture? How does that relate to lust, gluttony, or envy?

How does the short film Next Floor (see above) represent envy, self-indulgence, and over consumption more than gluttony as it relates to food?

Do you think the societal norms of medieval times are just too restrictive and don't really apply to our enlightened modern society?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Reading Dante's Inferno 2015: Cantos I to III


Danté's Inferno is a self-help guide book that can aid you as you navigate your way through Hell (with a capital H). In 2015, most students may find this work challenging, but if you think of how Danté is relevant today that can help make The Inferno one of your best reads yet.

Some things to keep in mind, Danté wrote YOU into The Divine Comedy, an epic poem of 14,233 lines. That may sound like a lot of reading, but they are short 3-line verses (tercets) divided into 100 cantos (verses) and we are only going to look at Hell (34 cantos). So keep an eye out for friends, family, and yourself as we make our descent.

The Inferno is very descriptive and we'll look at many illustrations to help see what Danté was trying to show us, like the picture above. Danté's Hell is based on varying circles, or levels, with the worst sinners at the bottom.

Everyone in Hell gets the punishment they deserve, and the farther down one is located in Hell, the worse the punishment. Hell is broken down into three sections; one reserved for the incontinent (no self control), another for the violent (crimes committed in passion), and the lowest level contains those committing fraud (using one's intellect to commit crime).

Danté is the main character and the story takes place over the course of a week in 1300. Dante' set this story in his past, a past where he was somewhat of a big shot in Florence, but was written after he had been exiled from his home. Exile is a cruel thing for someone growing up in the powerful city state of Florence, but if Danté had not been exiled all we would have is some really good love poetry.

Cantos I and II

Danté finds himself on a path in the dark woods at the middle of his life - yes, it's one long allegory. Think about your own life, don't you sometimes find yourself mixed up in things you would really rather avoid? A time when you say, "What the heck am I doing?" and make an exit. Have you ever left a group of friends who weren't a good influence, tried to stop gossiping, or drinking, or partying, or doing drugs.

Sometimes it is hard to make it out of the dark woods without a friend (or sponsor), so Danté is paired up with Virgil (the Roman poet and author of The Aeneid). Virgil knows about Danté's plight from one of his old flames, Beatrice, who basically tells Virgil to help Danté find his way back on the right path before he ends up in Hell permanently, it's "tough love" medieval style.

Virgil is an inhabitant of Limbo. He is a "virtuous pagan" and can't enter Paradise because he was never baptized - kind of hard considering Virgil died 19 years before Christ was even born. Virgil is a good guide because he lets Danté discover things on his own and often gives him a verbal slap to get him back on the right track.

Canto III: Circle Zero - The Indifferent or Neutrals


Okay, now that's hell. Think about it. As humans we live for hope. We hope we get into that good school, we hope we get a good job once we graduate. We hope that our friends and family get better when they are sick. We hope we haven't gained five pounds and our pants still fit. That's the human condition and that is what Danté is saying - Hell is the place where there is no more hope.

The first "people" we meet in Hell, on circle zero, are the neutrals. Who are these shades? In Danté's Hell the neutrals are the angels who sat on the sidelines when Lucifer (the fallen angel) rebelled against god and other people who just didn't do anything good or bad.

Don't see yourself yet? Have you ever been in a conversation when one of your friends says something that is contrary to popular opinion and everyone jumps all over him or her for being a narcissistic, homophobic, bigoted, racist (the worst epithets in our 21st century society) and you know that your friend has a point, but you say nothing . . . guess what, you just entered circle zero. No way, you say, nothing really happened, your friend is just a little uncomfortable.

Another way to look at it is through the lens of history. In the early 1930s, the Nazis gained parliamentary seats in Germany - a party that most Germans thought was made up of a bunch of rabble rousers. By 1939, the Nazis had taken over the country and were rolling over Europe. Many of the Jews remained in Germany thinking that the most progressive nation in the world (at the time) would never really annihilate an entire population. But the Nazis came pretty close. At the end of World War II many Germans claimed the neutral position, they didn't know what was going on in the camps, they didn't suspect, they were worried for our own safety, they remained indifferent.

So how does Danté punish neutrals?

Have you ever seen a protest march, or been a part of a protest march? Those protesters are not going to end up as neutrals. They are (com)passionate about something.

The neutrals, or the indifferent, end up following a blank banner for eternity on an endless protest march about nothing. They are continually stung by wasps (sting of conscience) as maggots suck their blood (repugnant sin). Pretty gross for all time, and these shades have not even crossed the Acheron.

What? The Acheron? That's a river from classic times. Yes, Danté loves to borrow from everywhere as he writes his way through Hell. At the end of Canto III, he is about to enter the boat of Charon (another classic reference), but he faints.

Next: I'll meet you in Limbo . . .

Do you see yourself at the cusp of Hell? Are you a neutral? Not even sometimes? Where do you see this occurring in our society today?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Celebrate Literacy


If you listen to some people, they complain about how young people today can't string five words together into a coherent sentence, BUT today more people then ever before can read and write.

Why is that?

It's called T-E-X-T-I-N-G!

In this digital age if you can't keyboard, you're sunk. Every job everywhere involves some form of written communication.

Hard to believe that 757 million adults cannot read or write. Maybe it's just third world countries.

But no! In America this may seem foreign to us, but guess again there are 32 million adults that cannot read or write.

Think about that. How do they go to the store? How do they pay their bills? How do they take public transportation? How do they read medication labels?

What does it mean to be illiterate? It means you, your children, and your family will live in poverty.

There's even a Literacy Day (Sept. 8) to help raise awareness of this problem.

Do you know someone that struggles with reading and writing? How do you think we could MOTIVATE people to want to read and write - let's not just throw money at this. What are some real solutions to help people crack open a book or send their first text?

Do you think adults may be too embarrassed to admit they can't read? How could you encourage them to read?

Can you imagine your own life without reading? What would that be like?

Monday, September 7, 2015

When the Post Office isn't enough

It seems everybody had to start somewhere.

Albert Einstein worked in the Swiss patent office.

Nathaniel Hawthorne worked at the Boston Custom's house.

William Faulkner worked at the post office.

After Faulkner dropped out of college, where he earned a D in English, he became a postmaster which he found "tedious, boring and uninspiring," according to Open Culture.

After all a Nobel laureate can only take so much. So, when enough was enough he sent the following to his superiors:
As long as I live under the capitalistic system, I expect to have my life influenced by the demands of moneyed people. But I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp. 
This, sir, is my resignation.
Hmmm . . . a bit of caustic, self-aggrandizement? Faulkner was known to embellish a bit. Like all of us it is the sum of our experience that takes us where we will end up . . . and very few end up where they plan.

What kinds of experiences do you think add to the life well-lived? What kind of experiences are you looking forward to? What college classes besides your major classes, do you think will contribute to your quality of life?