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Inferno Lecture 2

Author Durante Alighieri - Usually shortened to Dante

Title La Mia Commedía

33 b/c of the life-span of Jesus

Dante incudes Virgil b/c he had a trip to the underworld

Virgil describes trip b/c Homer does.  It sets a pattern.

Commedía so respected that Dante's Florentine dialect becomes the standard dialect for Italian. Would expect the Roman dialect to dominate, but Dante had such respect that his became standard.
Like Chaucer's English, which became the standard for literary English.

Dante COULD write Latin, chose to write in Italian. Influenced Boccaccio, Petrarch, etc to write in Italian. May have influence Chaucer to use English. Wrote De Monarchia in Latin. Also knew Medieval French, Provincal.

Limbo -- Great Poets besides our

Dante well educated. Ran with poets who wrote dulce stíl nuovo the new sweet style

Followed the example of the troubadors who wrote in Provençal. They codified the rules of courtly love. Provence is Southern France stretching across from northern Spain to northern Italy. How upper class aristocrats are supposed to behave.

Norman warriors had adopted the stirup from the Moslem warriors. The knight emerged. New behavior for the knight's character didn't emerce until the Provençal knights emerged.

Richard the Lionhearted was the son of a Provençal princess.

Western knights met Moslem knights. Dante refers to them. Meets virtuous pagans in Limbo. Meets the main Muslim crusader Saladin there. He was famous for his chivalry. When Richard the Lion-Hearted was unhorsed in battle, Saladin sent him a replacement horse. When Richard was sick, sent his personal physician. Still is remembered in the Moslem world

Puts Mohammed in one of the lowest parts of Hell. His crime is heresy - created division in religion.

Doesn't like Ulysses either. Dante as a Roman identified with the Trojans. Ulysses the enemy who tricked Troy with the horse. Courtly love describes the relationship between upper-class men and upper-class women.

Had the most advanced civilization of the day. Musical poetry that revolutionized poetry of the day.

Troubadors wrote about knights and courtly love. Our love traditions come from that. Ovid, Catullus, & Greeks have another view. Love for them is an insanity. Troubadors have another view of love

Feudal society has overlords and vassals. In troubador poetry, the knight serves his lady as his overlord.

The knight serves his lady, who is married to someone else. Marriage is arranged by family. Seek love outside marriage. Lover must be able to keep his mouth shut.

Lover has to do things to please lady.

This civilizes the man. Catherism is a heresy emerging in Provance. A gnostic approach.

Pope calls for a Crusade against the Provancal warlords. To be sure Catherism was wiped out, church started the early Inquisition.

In looking around for heretics, the troubadors were suspect. Gnosticism has a dualism - good god vs evil god. You learn secret knowledge to align you with the good god

Once you got gnosis, you have put this world behind you. The body is bad. Concentrate on the spirit instead.

If the body is bad, you have two choices

Inquisition saw this indulging of the flesh as a sign of the gnosticism. Some of their love poetry was pornographic.

Later Provincal poets claimed their poems weren't about any literal woman - they were about the Virgin Mary. Apply the courtly love language to the BVM. Introduce a feminine element into Xnity. Xnity has been a masculine enterprise until now.

Cult of Virgin Mary emerges. Introduces a feminine presence into Xnity. Gothic cathedrals are often devoted to Mary - Notre Dame.

Big round window in the cathegrals - the rose window devoted to Mary - rosa sine spina. Gothic windows designed to let in light. Emphasize the light and the BVM. Light come through Mary's window as Christ was born through Mary.

Dante opens lost in the woods. Virgil comes to help. Why?

The BVM is the starting point of his redemption. She is the one you can appeal to in any circumstance. If you are too far gone to pray to God, X, or other saints, have to appeal to Mary.


Beatrice Portinari & Dante met as children; fell in love at first sight. Soul is located right behind the eyes. Eyes the window of the soul. Sees her years later. She gets married & dies shortly thereafter. She is an overwhelming influence on his life.

Dante interested in several women. Married Gemma Denati. Had 3 children who survived to adulthood. But Beatrice was always his ideal.

Dulce stil nova. Women are representatives of the ideal. Men serve ladies in the poetry, but allegorically the good person serves the ideal.  

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Dante a well-educated Florentine.  Served in military.

Florence in middle ages divided into church and state.

The Great Chain of Being
Physical Matter
Rational self
Animal self

Once you are aware of the Great Chain of Being, you can see its influence everywhere.  The hierarchy in the animal kingdom has as its head the King of the Beasts -- the Lion.  The hierarchy within the periodic table of elements leads up to the Noble Gasses.  The hierarchy in the church goes up to the Pope.  Since 1980, my American society has been busily reorganizing itself to service the whims of the richest 1%.   In England it goes up to the Queen.  In popular misconceptions of evolution, primitive organisms have been slowly changing to the crown of evolution, homo sapiens.

The social realm (feudalism) mirrors the cosmic system - the Great Chain of Being. Both are hierarchies.

Should do you duties to those above and below you.  Not doing duty and trying to get out of place on Chain of Being creates disorder.

Heresy and treason are two forms of rebellion. Tended to go together. Thus church and state united to put them down

When you are operating rationally, you do your duties. Recognize the family is headed by the father. The father's rational soul tells him to govern the family well and to behave according to the king's wishes.

King, Father, & Soul are God's agents.

They are all subordinate to the Pope, who is subordinate to God. (Church used the Donation of Constantine to argue this)

Wycliff and others challenge this. Say the king answers directly to God. Sparks disagreements and wars

Ghibellines argued that the King answered only to God.
Guelfs say the kings answer to the Pope. The view of the church and Holy Roman Emperors, germanic rulers.

Italy not united then. Had Papal States around Rome. Were other Italian states. Some were Ghibelline, some were Guelfs. Part of a larger struggle. 100 Years War b/t France & England emerging. Pope as operating in all these countries to try to increase church power.

These conflicts plagued Florence. Ghibellines forced out shortly before Dante's birth.

Guelfs split into factions

Dante was appointed to be in charge of foreign affairs for Florence. When Dante was away in Rome, Charles de Valoir from France connived with the black Guelfs to put the black Guelf who would ally with Rome. Dante now exiled with the whites. Offered the chance to come back to Florence if he would agree to black rule. He refused and wandered about Italy.

Became friends with a Ghibelline, led by Canne Grande (big dog) of Milan.

He turned his back on Florence, wound up in Rebenna. Fransceca (the one in the Kiss) related to the ruler of the town he was in.

Dante's daughter entered the convent, changed name to Beatrice. Dante's wife stayed in Florence.

Trumped up charges were created by the blacks against the whites. Dante was accused of being a barritor.

Canto 31 - we meet the barritors. Is a political officer who takes bribes. This is where Dante is most threatened by the devils. Virgil can hardly restrain them. One devil wants to poke him in the ass at least. Maybe he did take bribes.

Dante is medieval.

Heavily influenced by Thomas Aquinas.

Augustine. Everything exists on the caritas vs cupiditas (love vs lust) continuum.

Cupiditas = choosing self over God. Stay in Inferno b/c they cannot change. We like to see the sinner as one who can change.

People in Inferno have chosen themselves. A good thing to the modern mind, not so to the medieval mind.

Canto 33 Ugarito is gnawing the head of the man who imprisoned him and his family. Ugarito is imprisoned by his hate.

One final comment

Wallace Fowlie was a great Dante scholar - still the best intro to Dante out there.  When he started teaching Dante, he was stunned to find himself in a couple of the circles. After 40 years of teaching it, he found himself in all the circles.

You carry Dante with you through life. Become more sympathetic the longer you read him.

Fleur de Lis divider

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