Friday, January 19, 2007

Divine Comedy or Tragedy?

I just found these pictures of Dante Alighieri in an information service I get called "Knowledge News". They are quite interesting to me since I just started studying the Renaissance Period in my Art History Class. Dante and his masterpiece, The Divine Comedy are significant in the development of the Tuscan Dialect of Vernacular Italian or "common language" invention and usage during a time, more than 700 years ago, when Latin was primarily used to convey the Glory of God.

Italian scientists have recently reconstructed the face of Dante, their nation's most famous poet. Using a combination of modern forensics and a plaster model made from his skull in 1921, they produced the bust you see above. He must've had quite a "Roman Nose"...a comedic nose?

"Midway upon the journey of our life

I found myself within a forest dark,

For the straightforward pathway had been lost."

So begins Dante's Divine Epic. For more than seven centuries, Dante's readers have connected with that feeling--of finding themselves lost--before following him on a poetic journey that leads, literally (or at least literarily), from the depths of hell to heaven's heights. It has been more than a few years since I was required to read it, but I remember the arduous trip for I, at the time, was considering going to the Seminary of our church and it must've had an influence on my deciding not to go. Undergraduate college courses had that effect on me. i.e. "dark forest" "fear and trembling" etc. Also, I didn't really believe in "Purgatory"...hell, yes, heaven, maybe. My what a distance I've come since my first major research paper back at Ol' North Park College -"Symbols of the Godhead". Can you even imagine?

Anyway, back to Dante - He was born in Florence, Italy in 1265 and became one of the city's leading political lights. His very success proved to be his downfall because in 1301, the Florentine faction he helped lead lost power to a rival faction, and he wound up exiled. Bad news for his budding political career. Good news for the history of literature. A few years into his exile, he began writing La Commedia (people added "divine" later) in the Tuscan dialect of vernacular Italian he had spoken back home. By the epic's end, his poem consisted of 100 cantos, each roughly 140 lines long, and all written in terza rima, a rhyme scheme he invented for the project.

The first canto introduces the entire work. The other 99 are divided into three equal parts: Inferno, in which the Roman poet Virgil leads Dante through nine descending circles of hell. (I was reminded of this when our tour in Rome took us to a catacombe...only it got cooler and damper) Purgatorio, was next and he was led up Mount Purgatory (a volcano not unlike Vesuvius which we saw fromt the forum ruins at Pompeii) and then Paradiso, in which Dante's deceased love, Beatrice, takes him on a tour of heaven (Virgil, a heathen poet couldn't go) (here I'm transported everytime I hear "Im Paradisium" a standard movement in most Requiems especially Faure's or Mozart's)

Together, the cantos draw a detailed map of the Medieval Christian Cosmos. This was one item we were in need of when we spent a day in "Fiorenza"(Florence) and didn't want to live in their museums and cathedrals. We ended up sitting an immense pallazio between the architectural wonders getting our "characatures" drawn by a local "al fresco arteest" My wife looked just like Oxana Byooul to him.

The Divine Comedy wasn't all fire and brimstone, penance and salvation to Dante. He wove in classical allusions, philosophical reflections and juicy details from his personal life --including spats with his political enemies, who got their just desserts in his version of hell. This classic work is considered one of the greatest literary works of all time but many of his contemporaries viewed it as vulgar in the "common tongue".

I'm sure some of my family, friends (contemporaries) view my "blog writing" in this same way..."pearls before swine" "putting out my private thoughts and pictures for the whole world (internet) to see...shameful! Tragic! What have I come to? Well, I don't care. I think it's a kick. Something to do in my "retirement spare time" It helps me remember all the wonderful things I have done so far and what I can dream and look forward to. Bob!


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