“Dante and Shakespeare divide the modern world between them; there is no third,” said T. S. Eliot. Dante's Comedy is as complete a Christian vision of Creation, both time and space, as can be imagined, far more even than Shakespeare's dramatic corpus taken all together, because Shakespeare's work comes when Old Western Culture was already beginning to break down, but Dante's comes at the very height of it. It is the Mount Everest of the Western Christian literary tradition.The Comedy is primarily the story of a soul lost and restored, yet it is also the story of all souls and the eternal consequences of their free choices. But in the process of telling the story, Dante uses all of his vast encyclopedic learning to flesh it out, from astronomy, geometry, music, and geography to philosophy, theology, history, and politics – and he does so lightly, with an Everyman touch, and is the most accessible of all the great epic poets. To study Dante, and to try to follow all of his references and allusions, is to have an education in the Christian learning of the height of Old Western Culture, and to learn to wear it humbly. And it is of course a story told as great poetry. The only rival to the Comedy in encyclopedic learning and cosmic vision is Augustine's City of God, and Dante's poem is greater precisely because it is a personal poem for Everyman.
In this series of classes we will read and consider the Comedy as poetry, as a literal story, and as an allegory, which is how he intended it to be read. We will see how Dante draws on the whole tradition of philosophy and Christianity in the Western tradition as he talks about the soul and its ultimate purpose and all the ways it can fall short of that destiny apart from the grace of God. But we will also see the glorious vision Dante has for the soul which achieves, by God's grace, it's final end. We'll take a look at the authors he relies most heavily on, and on his influence in later Western Culture. We'll look at different translations and the original Italian as well to see how Dante's poetry is created. We'll also discuss Dante's medieval Roman Catholic theology and some of the ways in which Christians of other theological traditions, can benefit greatly from his particular theological outlook.
This series is for everyone; those who want to become more familiar with this very great poem for their own benefit, as well as those who are, or will be, teaching it.
Required texts: The only required books will be Anthony Esolen's translation of Dante's Divine Comedy. The three individual volumes of Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise are available in paperback and hardback through Amazon and many other sources.
Days and times: The class will meet on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month, beginning on September 14, from 7:00-8:45pm Eastern time (with a short break in the middle of each class), with of course occasional adjustments for holidays and travel. There will be eighteen sessions total.