By Chet Yarbrough
Lectures By Timothy B. Shutt – Narrated by Timothy B. Shutt
Occasionally, Audible.com offers a discounted price on academic lectures about various literary, historical, and scientific events. After reading “The Divine Comedy” (translated by Charles Norton) Professor Shutt’s lectures are a valuable guide to a better understanding of Dante’s masterpiece.
The origin of the story seems simple but its meaning is complex and revelatory. Dante Alighieri is a wealthy aristocrat that represents a major leadership faction in 13thcentury Italy, the
“White Gulphs” which are vying for power with the Ghibelline. Their conflict is over the integrity of the Pope in Rome at the time of relocation of the papal enclave to Avignon, France. The move occurs in 1309 and lasts for 67 years. Pope Boniface VIII sides with the Ghibelline to overthrow the Gulphs and
excommunicate Dante. Dante loses his political position, his wealth, and coincidently, the life of the woman he loves, Beatrice. These crushing events in Dante’s life compel him to complete and publish (between 1308 and his death in 1321) what Shutt calls the greatest single piece of literature ever written.
Over a century before Martin Luther posts the “95 Theses”, objecting to the church’s sale of indulgences, the sale of “the word” is a preeminent issue in the conflict between the Gulphs and the Ghibelline. Pope Boniface, though not specifically cited in “The Divine Comedy”, betrays the Gulph Christian community by siding with the Ghibelline; the Pope, in Dante’s view, is a traitor to his community.
In the pit of Dante’s despair, he creates an image of purgatory,
hell and heaven that crystallizes the meaning of human belief in the divine. Dante’s epic poem describes heaven, purgatory, and hell as the soul of the poet Virgil guides Dante on an imagined journey from earth, to purgatory, to hell, and back-to the living.
Inferno, Canto 18 Virgil shows Dante the shade of Thaïs
Then said to me the Guide: “See that thou thrust
Thy visage somewhat farther in advance,
That with thine eyes thou well the face attain
Of that uncleanly and disheveled drab,
Who there doth scratch herself with filthy nails,
And crouches now, and now on foot is standing.
Thaïs the harlot is it, who replied
Unto her paramour, when he said, ‘Have I
Great gratitude from thee?’—‘Nay, marvelous;’
And herewith let our sight be satisfied.”
Dante meets the souls of the dead and explains where they are, what sin they have committed, what fate awaits them, and why some sins are greater than others. Dante also reveals how all sins in life, before dying, may be forgiven with the grace of God.
One finds definitions and weights for sin, redemption, and end of earth-life in one of three fundamental places; i.e. purgatory, hell, or heaven. All sins are not created equal but all humankind begins life in sin that can only be redeemed through good works, baptism, forgiveness, and the grace of God. Good works alone will not absolve one from either eternal purgatory, or a period of cleansing through purgatory, before ascension to heaven. It seems that all transgressions can be forgiven but only with a request for grace before death. Sins have a weighted hierarchy; i.e. lust as the lesser; with being a traitor to one’s community the greatest sin of all. Admittance to heaven also has a hierarchy.
Dante’s hell is hot and cold—just below the ninth and lowest circle of sin Dante sees Lucifer who dwells in an ice-cold wasteland. The devil does not speak and has three stuffed mouths that eternally chew on the bodies of Brutus, Cassius, and Judas—the greatest traitors of Dante’s imagination.
After passing through the final depth of hell, Virgil guides Dante back to the beginning of the journey; here, Dante meets the soul of Beatrice. Virgil leaves, and Dante accompanies Beatrice on a journey to the stars; through the hierarchy of the heavens and to the presence of God.
Dante’s heaven encompasses all that is known and unknown by man. Dante journeys to the planets and the sun and sees God but through an inversion of time and space Dante finds that earth is the center of all that is God and that nothing exists that is not created by God. Heaven is a circle of angels that dance and spin so fast that heaven and God are everywhere at all times and in all places.
There are levels of heaven but all who are worthy will have eternal life at their chosen level. Degrees of appreciation for one’s level in heaven have no meaning to those who dwell at higher or lower levels because they are happy in their place; without envy and with acceptance and grace for the imperfection of their souls.
VIDEO REPRESENTATION OF DANTE’S JOURNEY TO HEAVEN: http://www.youtube.com/embed/iwiHsKrAAGE” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>
Purgatory may be a way-station to heaven for a believer that is cleansed of their sin or an eternal home for the non-believer or pagan. Hell is perdition for eternity with no surcease of pain or opportunity for escape. Heaven is a place of eternal rest, peace, and love.
One is overwhelmed by Dante’s genius whether or not a believer. Shutt gives one a better understanding of who Dante was and why “The Divine Comedy” is a classic. [contact-form-7 id=”4427″ title=”What did you think about the review?”]