Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Spirituality and / or Philosophy in Lit Group THE INFERNO (Round Two)

Group members:

Mels R.
Matty Z.
Cynthia R

I'll post an image when you give me the translation of Dante's Inferno that you are all reading.


Matt Z! said...

Wow, I've really outdone myself this time guys...

In the midst of finishing a painting and multitudes of electronic college "paperwork"... I seem to have forgotten all about these blogs.

We're reading the Allen Mandelbaum translation, Mr. G.

Matt Z! said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt Z! said...

Let me start off by saying that I absolutely love this book! One of the things that stood out to me right from the get-go was the integration of various different faiths into a single storyline. In the first Canto, References are made to religious figures from both the Jewish and Christian traditions (Rachel and Beatrice, respectively), and place them within the same context and zone: a Judeo-Christian heaven. Furthermore, Dante finds himself standing on the shores of a river which marks the passage to the afterlife, where the figure Charon pilots a craft across to transport him and his guide Virgil to the outer ring of hell. Charon, his occupation, and the river itself are all borrowed from ancient Greek religion, and are interwoven into this story with a Judeo-Christian backstory. I find this extremely interesting and ironic. Furthermore, in response to the realm of Limbo, I find it interesting that Virgil admits to only seeing souls delivered from this realm of in-between on a single occasion. He states:

"I was new-entered on this state/ when I beheld a Great Lord enter here;/ the crown he wore, a sign of victory./ He carried off the shade of our first father, of his son Abel, and the shade of Noah,/ of Moses, the obedient legislator,/ of father Abraham, David the king,/ of Israel, his father, and his sons,/ and Rachel, she for whom he worked so long,/ and many others- and He made them blessed;"

Presumably, this "Great Lord" is meant to be taken as Jesus, who pulls the souls of many Jewish holy people out of the realm of people who "did not worship God in fitting ways." I think it interesting that not only is there a Heaven and a Hell, but there is also an in-between world of saddness and silence.

Finally, I would like to pose a question for the rest of the group. I may have missed something, but what had caused Dante to begin this journey in the first place? I thought it said that he had simply been walking and he had gotten lost, is that a correct reading?

Also, I would like to pose the question, "What is Dante's original faith?" It seems to me that he was most likely Christian, but he seems to have extensive literary and mythological knowledge of many greek myths as well. The Inferno references numerous creatures from greek mythology such as minotaurs, gorgons, harpies, and other such creatures. Do you guys find it odd combining ancient Greek and Judeo-Christian references? I find it to be a relativly seamless integration.

Cynthia R said...

Post: 1 Part: A

Hello group! To be honest, my first impression of Dante’s Inferno is that it was going to be a difficult story to follow. Since it is written in verse and in a very sophisticated style, I was having a hard time comprehending what was happening. Not until Canto III and Canto IV did I really begin to have a picture in my mind of what was going on. At times, I do not know who the narrator is talking about since it goes back and forth between he and she constantly.

Eventually though, I did begin to understand the plot and one specific passage that caught my attention was the one on page 21. At the very beginning of Canto III there are the words that appear on the gates to Hell. The Gates read, “ Through me the way into the suffering city,/ Through me the way to the eternal pain,/ Through me the way that runs among the lost./ Justice urged on my high artificer;/ My maker was divine authority,? The highest wisdom, and the primal love./ Before me nothing but eternal things/ Were made and I endure eternally? Abandon every hope who enter here.”

From this point forward the descriptions of what hell would be like were interesting because I don’t know much about hell. I have always heard and read about the beauty that is heaven, but never have I read in much detail what hell would be like. The words “suffering city” brought up images of a rundown, dark, place filled with fire and screaming souls. Clearly in this passage there was an emphasis on the word “eternal” since it was used three times. It is said that “eternal” is such a long span of time that humans cannot even begin to imagine how long it is, and that assumption is probably right.

Moving on to a more stylistic way of thinking, why do you guys think that this story became so popular? Is it because of the style in which Dante Aligheri wrote it? Or, do you guys think that maybe, the reason the story became popular was its topic. The idea of finding a novel that so vividly describes hell, purgatory, and heaven, is what attracted me to the book. I wonder if when this book was first published it was considered scandalous or ahead of its times.

Part B:

Well Matt, I am glad that you brought up some of these topics to discuss since I was thinking about a few of them myself. In response to your first comment, “I may have missed something, but what had caused Dante to begin this journey in the first place? I thought it said that he had simply been walking and he had gotten lost, is that a correct reading?” I wanted to say that I interpreted the story in the same way as you. The story begins by him saying that he had lived through half his life when he began his journey in the woods, at which point he ends up encountering hell. “When I had journeyed half of our life’s way,/ I found myself within a shadowed forest,/ for I had lost the path that does not stray.”

To answer your second question about Dante’s faith, I do think that he is Christian. The simple idea of heaven, hell, eternity, and the constant references to He, made me think that he is Christian. As for the second part of your question, I am not too familiar with Greek mythology but it is possible that this story could be a mixture of ancient Greek and Judeo-Christian references. When learning about hell through my religion (Catholicism) I had never heard or read about the creatures described in this book. Kudos for noticing how different faiths and ideas were incorporated into the novel.

Matt Z! said...

I would now like to comment on perhaps the most graphic and visually disturbing image that I have seen in this book. For some reason, Dante's vision of the Second ring of the Seventh Circle of Hell is extremely pertinant in my mind. As explained, this circle contains all those who have committed violence towards themselves (aka suicides). Their punishment seems very fitting in my eyes, as their bodies have been transformed into all kinds of thorny bushes, trees, and other coarse plants. The reasoning behind this is that since they had forsaken their bodies in life, they did not diserve a body in the afterlife. The punishment fits the crime quite nicely, in my eyes.

Now comes the disturbing part. To add insult to injury, throughout this dark wood of suicide-trees runs other tormented souls who are being pursued by all kinds of wild creatures and beasts, including swarms of ravenous insects. Unknowing that the trees were actually people in tree form, Dante broke off a branch from one of these trees. Immediately, Dante describes:

"As from a sapling log that catches fire/ alone one of its ends, while at the other/ it drips and hisses with escaping vapor,/ so from that broken stump issued together/ both words and blood; at which I let the branch/ fall, and I stood like one who is afraid."

This is an extremely descriptive and graphic image of a hissing bloody tree; all that's left of a person who committed suicide. For some reason, this is one of the most memorable moments in the book for me. It's so gruesome, but it's one of my favorite moments in the book. What did you guys think about this scene? What was your favorite scene so far?

To respond to Cynthia's question as to why this story became so popular, I think it's most likely because of the time in which this was published. This book was written, according to different sources, sometime between 1306 and 1321 AD. In this time, the world was FAR more religious than it is now. People placed great weight on religion, and the fact that this book shed so much insight into such an abstract and forbidden zone probably intrigued many people. Also, I think the combination of ancient Greek mythology and Judeo-Christian references in this book caused a great deal of controversy during that time period, which made the story both famous and infamous. It's in-depth exploration of the torments of hell both terrified and intrigued both the people of his age and the present age.

Cynthia R said...

Post: 2 Part: A

Hello everyone! While reading Dante’s Inferno, I noticed that there is a recurring theme in the punishments that the dead souls get in Hell. Although there are different levels of Hell and different punishments for different sins and crimes, some of the souls in Hell have the ability to see into the future. They cannot see the present but they can see the future on earth.

I thought that was a very interesting punishment because it must be torturous to see into the future but not be able to do anything about it. While the narrator was traveling through the various levels of hell (*which was an extremely creative idea that I will talk about a little later) he would be given insight into this future and that of his city by the souls in Hell. If I were Dante, I would not want to know what my future would hold because there would be nothing I could do about it and nothing to look forward to.

An example of when Dante was told his future is in Canto VI when he bumps into an old acquaintance, Ciacco. Dante asks Ciacco to see into the future of Florence (where Dante lives), at which point Ciacco replies, “Your city- one so full/ of envy that its sack has always spilled-/ that city held me in the sunlit life… After long controversy,/they’ll come to blood; the party of the woods/ will chase the other out with much offense./ But then, within three suns, they too must fall;/ at which the other party will prevail,/ using the power of one who tacks his sails,” (53).

Surprisingly, Dante was not too surprised when he was told the future of his city. Even if I knew that the future for my city was not a bright one, I still would not want to know in detail how my people would go down. Another example of when the souls in hell could see the future was in all of Canto X.

* I just wanted to comment on how much I enjoyed reading about the idea of the nine levels of hell. How did Dante come up with such a brilliant idea? When I had imagined hell growing up, I always thought of just one place where everyone burned, regardless of their sins. I also found it interesting how come of the levels in hell had their own sub-levels. What I did not always agree with was how Dante classified some of the sins as worse than others. Not only are the Cantos broken up into the different sub-levels, but there also an image at the back of the book which illustrates the levels of hell. I have a question for you guys (you don’t have to respond, but it’s just something to think about). If you were Dante, how would you have put the levels of hell in order? Which ones would be more severe than others?

Cynthia R said...

Post: 2 Part: B

I wanted to comment on Matt’s favorite, or at least most memorable part of the novel, the scene with the suicide trees. Although this was not my favorite part, I did find it interesting. Unlike Dante, I never would have thought of punishing people who mutilated their own bodies or commented suicide by turning them into trees whose branches fall off. After reading Matt’s comment, I thought about why Dante would choose a tree.

After careful thought, I came to the conclusion that Dante must have chosen the souls to live in hell as tress because tress live for a long time. Some years can be around for a hundred years or even longer and since hell is for all eternity, the tree was a good choice. Also, trees often go through changes, such as their leaves falling off or their branches being broken by the winds or even people. Similarly, the people in hell who got this punishment did something to their own bodies like hurting themselves or suicide.

As Matt mentioned, other people run through the woods and break the branches of the trees, which causes them to bleed. I did not understand why Dante would do this other than to teach the souls a lesson on valuing their own body. As humans, the people could have taken care of themselves, but a trees, they cannot do anything about someone coming up and breaking their branches.

Cynthia R said...

Post: 3 Part: A

I finished reading half of the book and I admit that I really enjoy it. It’s not something that I recommend reading at night (especially when you have to go get something in the basement) but it’s still a good story.

My favorite part of the story is how detailed Dante is when he describes the creatures in hell and their living conditions. Dante writes in a way that I can easily picture the rain of fire, the river of feces, and other aspects of hell.

Another aspect that I found interesting about the story is how Dante incorporated real people and stated that they went to hell. Some of these people included Cleopatra, Helen of Troy, Virgil, and even Pope Anastasius. Even though this is a work of fiction, isn’t it going to far to imply that certain figures in history should have gone to or went to hell? I understand that Dante was a writer, and I support freedom of speech and his ability to be creative, but who was he to decide who would go to hell? I am sure that at the time this novel was published, which was in the 1300’s, it must have caused outrage within many of the readers for such bold ideas on Dante’s part.

One final thing that I wanted to discuss was how Dante came up with the idea for this novel. He must have been an extremely creative man to come up with this whole idea of the nine levels of hell. The punishments and the environment in hell that he created were so vivid and detailed. Also interesting, was how his character got access into hell. In the novel, the narrator was not dead yet, so how could he get into hell? We see at one point that Dante and Virgil are stopped and told they cannot continue their journey in hell. Finally, an angel comes and lets them through.

As I finished reading, I thought about what was the point of having Dante go through hell? Was it so that he could his own ways and prevent him from ending up in hell for eternity? Or was it so that he could go back to his people and preach to them what their fate could be if they sin?

Cynthia R said...

Post: 3 Part: B

Well, in response to some of my own comments, I think that in order to get a true answer to my question about the purpose of Dante’s journey, we would have to read the entire series. I am sure that it must have something to do with going back to earth and letting everyone know just how terrible and eternal hell can be, but there is probably more to it as well. After all, how many people are really going to listen to a man who says that he just came back from hell?

Maybe the question isn’t even about the purpose of Dante’s journey in the novel, but about what the author’s purpose was in writing it? Since Dante mentioned important public figures like Pope Anastasius, he must have wanted to cause some controversy among his audience. I think that he might have been trying to make a comment on society; how society views people, and how that perception may differ from the ultimate judge of character, which is when a person dies and goes to heaven or hell.