Friday, March 16, 2007

Lucky number 7, sadly the last blog

First, I have to preface this with an expression of astonishment that this is the last blog post I will make for this class. The blog and discussion became part of my weekly routine, and I always love coming on here to see what Rhiannon and Annette have shared with the group, and what insight Tams has shed with an amazing application to her life. I feel like we’ve become a community, a sort of counter-culture of which Dante would approve. Or maybe I’m just nosy, since I like to learn about other people’s lives and their ideas that they have about the world. I haven’t shared as much personally, but I really appreciate the people who did.

My different struggles with faith are pretty personal, and have more to do with organized religion than the actual concepts of faith. I think in the beginning this made me defensive toward many of the ideas that Dante was presenting. Once the medieval mindset was explained in terms of organization and allegory, I found it much easier to accept the places that Dante put people. I think I was still resisting all through the Inferno, and resisting what seemed to me the product of conservative religion in other people, and resisting Catholicism. We were all bogged down in a sort of Hell with each other, especially around differing views of authority. But we worked through this, and got out of the Inferno.

Once we hit the Purgatorio, I got really excited about the ideas that Dante was presenting, and about applying them to real life. I really liked the idea of a counter-culture, and creating an environment in the world that made life more heavenly. I started looking for positive examples in the world. This is also when we all started getting comfortable with each other in the blog, after we ironed out our frustrations and formed more of a community of sharing. My freewrites started getting more personal, so I didn’t draw on them as much for blogs until my blog on joy in the Paradiso. My in-class writing on it was more shallow since it was just my moments of heaven on earth, and my blog took off when I started asking other people about their experiences. I was much more comfortable sharing my more positive views with everyone, rather than the negative ones with which we started. This was one of the best times to read the other blogs, also, because we were all sharing our joyful experiences in our lives. For me, this is one of my favorite parts of being at a university, the group discussion and presentation of other views and lives. Catholicism doesn’t seem as strange and mysterious to me as before, and I feel that Dante isn’t limited by being a Catholic or so limited by medieval ideas. At the end, he says he doesn’t have all the answers and we agree that we don’t have all the answers either, but we all feel better for the experience.

Seventh Blog!

The starters, class discussions, and blog postings have all been very connected for me. That seems like a very obvious thing to say (of course the starter topics set the tone for the class, and of course these thoughts are still at least somewhere in our minds as we’re writing the blogs), yet the way in which these three media start with something quite personal, move to a public discussion, then return to a more private, small-group setting really helps to process these ideas fully. In terms of the starters and blogs, there’s been a cycle throughout the term. We began the term writing on a very personal level about a time when we found ourselves in a dark wood, then moved into more theological/philosophical writing (in this group anyway), and now we’ve recently returned to the personal when talking and writing about our views of heaven.

This cycle of personal views and larger, more abstract ideas interestingly corresponds to the evolution of this group’s rapport. We began on friendly, if rather formal, terms, then became a bit frustrated with each other, and now we’re back on friendly ground with a good sense of familiarity and camaraderie. I don’t think these two cycles are coincidental. Not only do we naturally become more personal as friendships develop and get less so as they diminish, but also the movement of the Comedy has influenced all of us to react this way. Most of us have had an idea of or opinion about heaven and hell for the majority of our lives, so we are more comfortable articulating that. The workings of purgatory, however, are less familiar to many students and so we began discussing the big picture of it all in order to better process the idea.

I really enjoyed this process of immediate reaction thoughts, then class discussion, then more reflective writing. It’s enabled me to interrogate my long-held beliefs and compare them to other, sometimes similar and at times very different, views. The best thing about it all is that these religious and world views are often things we as students don’t discuss in such a large setting and for such an extended amount of time (probably because some ideas are contentious and there’s a fear of offending). It’s been refreshing to not only hear these views, but read the free-written thoughts and reflective blogs.

My blogs have usually run right along with the subjects of the starters, but they have diverged at times as well. Sometimes this divergence has been to follow an idea presented by another group member, and other times it has been because I really made a connection between Dante’s writing and pop culture, like when I wrote about A River Runs Through It. Overall, I have taken the subjects of the starters and expanded my initial thoughts by looking through the text, listening to the class discussion, and reading my group members’ posts.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

From the 9 Circles of Hell to the 7 Cycles of Blog

Everyone is welcome to read this final posting.

Reading over my blogs, I feel that my movement has been mostly consistent. I seem to mix humor, personal experience, and examples from Dante into a nice warm cup of alphabet soup. Sometimes I wrote about something mentioned in class that sparked an interest and other times I took the starter one step farther and added another 10 minutes or so to the idea. Close to the middle, I wrote a blog labeled “Addressing Other Postings” which was my attempt to calm down the bickering. I noticed a few miscommunications and some personal stabs and didn’t want to be den mother. I wanted to offer an example of discussing others’ comments, whether I agreed or not, allowing the team to see how you can be nice even if you don’t completely agree by simply commenting or taking someone’s thoughts and running with them. They’re not scissors after all. My themes seem to be based on ideas and symbolism that I gathered through allegorical reading. In the beginning, I wasn’t quite getting the allegorical part as much as towards the end of the term, but I think I finally caught on to the concept.

When I glance back over the entire blog, I see a roller coaster ride of ideas and emotions. Everyone started off on friendly terms, which turned to bitterness, then back to friendly terms. This particular roller coaster has a loop de loop of themes. Some wrote different views of the same themes while others took a whole different route. All in all, I think this group pulled together pretty good at the end. Basic reading turned more allegorical; thoughts began to run deeper and more personal.

My free-writing journal seems to be more personal than the blog. I wonder if I subconsciously felt better at writing the more personal information in a more private journal. I see more of a progress in my journal writings than the roller coaster. The journal seems to be more like a winding road of deep thoughts and random conclusions, if any at all. My two favorite blog postings were “I am Geryon, hear me ROAR!” and “My Personal ‘Heaven on Earth’ Experience.” I think the reason is that these have a more laid back view of a specific thing that I know will more than likely be a completely different view from others so I just put it out there for everyone to see, which kind of sounds like my own personal way of mooning the team (sorry guys, close your eyes). These free-writing samples and blog postings have helped most of us to open our minds a little more and see things from different angles, to read allegorically, and to expand our knowledge with some deep thought or personal experience. If we could keep our open minds and apply deep thought to things we don’t understand, won’t that make life more pleasant? To some, ignorance is bliss; to others, ignorance is a barrier that stands in the way of learning.

The Seventh Blog Post

**Warning: Read at your own risk! This is addressed to Chris Anderson, so for all you others, just keep that in mind. If you read this at all, which you certainly don't have to. PEACE!**

One thing that has remained fairly consistent throughout my blog postings is my quoting and referencing of pop-culture and examples from my own life in my attempts to process Dante through my own experiences and my own culture. I have quoted Billy Joel, Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, an old Girl Scout song; referenced Deepak Chopra, Maslow’s Triangle: Hierarchy of Needs, capitalist and socialist ideas, Robert F. Kennedy, jr. and U.S. policies; talked about memorial services I’ve attended, and my personal understandings of religion and faith. Because what good is reading an ancient text unless it can be applied to our own lives? Being old does not automatically make something good…being able to transcend time and strike a chord in a soul hundreds of years after it was originally written, however, is a mark of greatness. There, I said it: Dante’s great.

I sit in class and get my mind blown almost every day. A lot of the things you say are things I’ve never thought of before, or at least not in the way you present them. And most of the time it’s exactly not what I was expecting to come out of the mouth of a Catholic deacon! Reading the bible allegorically?!? Who would have thought? The “going through the motions” of Catholic mass an experience in faith possibly closer to God than the somewhat-intellectual preachings of Protestants? Confession not what I had thought, going through another human to ask forgiveness from God, but rather an act of community, a community activity done in faith and support?

My blog posts usually represent a combination of my thoughts from the in-class free writes, my reactions and processing of what you have said in class, and my own experiences as filtered through Dante, (except for my fifth blog post about Bobby Kennedy, jr. … I was so excited about him, and a little burnt out from the Paradiso, that I couldn’t help but go on a tangent, even though it was pretty far-fetched). My in-class writings were strong. I was always off and running, my thoughts a sentence or two ahead of what I was writing. I was almost never at a loss for something to get down on paper and process. My hand always hurt afterwards. Sometimes I would sit in class either writing or listening to the lecture and ideas from others in the class and I just couldn’t wait to get home and through all the other things I had to do that week to write my next blog post.

Was there progress? Well, the title of my last post was: “The answer is: I have no idea.” I feel like I started the class with a lot of questions and wonderings…what are the Purgatorio and Paradiso going to be like? What is the Purgatorio, exactly? If Dante has such a clear picture of the Inferno, who is he going to put in Heaven, and why? Instead of ending up with all the answers at the end of the term, I feel completely comfortable saying that the answer is: it’s a mystery. If we could explain it, (God, religion, spirituality, Heaven), it wouldn’t be worth all the time, effort, and devotion people put into it.

As for me, I feel justified. I had become disenchanted with religion, or rather, every religious figure I’ve ever known having the attitude that they’ve got it all figured out, that their way is the absolute correct way, no exceptions, and that it’s okay to be intolerant of others if they don’t believe exactly as you do. This course has been refreshing for me. It’s good to know not everyone’s like that.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Assigned blog seven

I know I've already done at least 7 blogs, but I feel obligated to explain that this is the "seventh blog" as assigned. Blogger is acting weird right now. Cursor not keeping up with typing. Hem.

Anyway as I mentioned in response to Annette's last blog, we've really outgrown our title ("descent into hell" or "hellmongers"). I thank God for this! No longer is it like the early hell of blogging, trying to figure out what we should be saying or how to interpret one another's posts. I came close to estranging some people and my heartfelt thanks to all who forgave my clumsy exhortations.
Getting past early preconceptions, and learning to really read every word of every blog has been invaluable. We probably all have a tendency to take amateur writing less seriously than we take Dante, but I have found that several times my fellow bloggers uncover crucial insights. I am excited every time I look at our blog, because I know I am going to hear real and honest perspectives... it's not often that people just get together to talk about God, the universe, hell, heaven, earth, etc. and it's even rarer to see it done in an open forum. Usually it's centered around some assumed 'basic truth' or geared towards proving a lesson. That can be nice, but I much prefer this form. We're basically a collection of strangers hashing out our ideas about theology and philosophy, with no purpose in mind. No one is trying to sell anything! No one feels obligated to buy!
The overall movement of my own writing has been towards a more intimate self-disclosure, and I think it also reflects a deeper interest in my co-bloggers. In my last post, I asked some questions out of sheer curiosity, not because I wanted 'answers' so much as to say, 'these are the questions that I think about', and 'what do you think'? In a sense, I've let go of some of my need to intellectualize. I still believe that authority is in place to provide guidance, but I also want to know what all the other pilgrims are thinking about. I think when I've opened myself up to other people's ideas, they have never let me down. I have been especially impressed by Annette's last few posts. In the beginning I thought maybe you couldn't be bothered to put your whole heart in it (like me) but lately I've been blown away. Everyone who has posted has been brilliant and I think it's a sign of our letting our guards down that the posts just keep getting better. I'm not much of a 'free-writer' myself, and it's been hard at times to be on-topic, whatever that may mean. My type-A need for 'form' and 'structure' remains, but I am grown more comfortable with rambling, as this blog demonstrates. I also am keener to post, because, as I've said, Paradiso is much more interesting than anything before. I thought Purgatorio blew Inferno out of the water, and likewise Paradiso is more stunningly enchanting. I love the visuals here, because it's all light and movement, and the concreteness of Hell irritated me even while it fascinated me.
I think as a group our ideas have got better as we left Hell behind and moved on to better things. In my response to Annette's last post I said it was as if we were in Purgatorio, chanting back and forth, sending out our songs for one another's benefit. Yes, it continues to be difficult, not least because finals draw nigh, but we seem to be working together, or at least with something other than just getting the assignment done in mind. I think also that our very ideas have become more interesting. With Hell, we tended to be angry or disgusted or perplexed, but now it seems the posts are clearer, more intense and fuller. This is something worth thinking about, I guess. In canto XXIX of the Paradiso, it says "Christ did not say to His first congregation, 'Go and preach twaddle to the waiting world' ". I think our blogs reflect our grown interest in seeking out truth, what we can accept, and eliminating the cultural twaddle (great word, eh?) A lot of what Dante says is twaddle, not least of which is his version of the geocentric universe, but we aren't talking about the twaddle anymore. I kind of felt like the Brunetto Latini discussions were twaddle; it's a cultural issue, and not important to the overall message of Love. (In fact, it's Dante's twaddle more than it is ours). To quote Dante again, "If all that mortal man may know through mortal teachings were as firmly grasped, sophists would find no listeners there below." I take this to mean that if we understood easily everything we can potentially understand, we would not be interested in philosophy. There would be no need for philosophers if each of us did not desire enlightenment, and feel the need for help attaining it. Is it just me, or are we feeling this now? The desire (love) for Truth is innate, and it sends Reason to help guide us to Truth?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

My Personal 'Heaven on Earth' Experience

The idea of heaven is different for everyone. We generate this idea through our experience, religion, culture, family history, etcetera, and add some imaginative creativity. For those who lack the creative imagination, ideas and images are shared through movies or literary means like Dante. When we discussed this in class after our starter 8, I had chosen a specific moment when I encountered ‘heaven on earth.’ In reality, no one really knows what heaven is really like, but I imagined it to be the best possible moment.

My ‘heaven on earth’ experience: In 1992, when most of you were barely born, I was invited on a trip to Key West, Florida by my best friend and love of my life. There were four of us altogether. During the trip, on the way to Orlando (yes, we drove), I received a call that my stepfather had died. Since Chris was paying for my part of the trip, I couldn’t just leave to come home. I couldn’t afford the airfare and I couldn’t make the others give up their vacation as well by returning to Oklahoma. When we reached Key West, the funeral was taking place. The other two guys on the trip were being complete asses and submitting me to practical jokes in order to cheer me up. This of course resulted in the opposite effect. The whole trip was beginning to look like a disaster. So, this must be the purgatorio before the paradisio. The 3rd day in Key West changed completely. The other 2 guys were invited to a condo party for the weekend and left Chris and me alone. (He is gay, so get that out of your mind). He begged me to go snorkeling with him, even though I had a phobia of drowning. I finally gave in. In the ocean, my brain experienced a whole new environment. The fish were so colorful. The coral was like lace. The blue-green water was a refreshing 74 degrees in February. This experience altered my perception and I began to realize how petty my problems were. It was amazing. Afterwards, Chris and I went to Sunset Pier to watch the sun setting on the ocean. Live music was playing; I distinctly remember “Red, Red Wine” as one of the songs and every time I hear it, it takes me back to this day, 15 years later. The sun was casting a warm, yellow glow across the water with black silhouettes of sailboats. The music filled my ears along with the sound of the ocean and seagulls. The cool breeze smelled fresh and clean. The warm sun was soothing to my skin. Chris’ presence warmed my heart. At that moment, that single instance where all this pleasure to my senses emerged, joined, combined…was my heaven on earth.

So, it wasn’t just a moment of perfection, but more. I had forgotten my worries. I had literally escaped from life as all of my senses were overwhelmed with perfection. Love was involved. The sun could represent a feeling of God. I think that all of this was a bunch of little samples of heaven, and that heaven is really much, much more. This instance was like a man dying of thirst receiving a small sip of water. It’s enough to get by, but you know there is much more that is so much better. Perhaps this is why people meditate or go to spas. It’s their way of escaping the self to be subject to something much better, and clearing the mind to be free of harsh reality. I only hope that everyone gets to witness some kind of ‘heaven on earth’ like this, even if it’s only a small sample of what heaven really is.

The answer is: I have no idea

We’ve been talking a lot in class about faith and reason, about the theologians who overcomplicate and overthink religion versus the simple followers who experience God and take things on faith.

I was going to title this blogpost “Faith v. Reason,” to exemplify this tension, but then I realized that it isn’t faith versus reason at all.

Something that was said in class the other day:

“You must believe in order to understand”


“You must understand in order to believe”

You can’t always explain God rationally, in a way that’s perfectly understandable, but does that mean that you shouldn’t believe? Of course not; that’s where faith comes in. Reason and faith work together, just as Virgil and Beatrice work together to guide Dante through the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. It is not either/or, it is that reason is inadequate and must be supplemented by faith. (Sorry if this argument seems basic, I’m just working through some things. I think it gets more interesting…keep reading).


Reason is a method we use to grasp God’s goodness, but it is inadequate. It is a human invention, and God is bigger than us, so reason alone will never be able to fully explain God. You have to take some of it on faith. It is arrogant to believe that God and religion can be rationally and reasonably explained, quantified, and understood. That’s why in class the other day I was thinking about how “Understand” should be right down there with the seven deadly sins

Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Anger, Greed, Sloth

And “Experience” should be right up there with the cardinal and theological virtues

Prudence, Temperance, Courage, Justice, Hope, Faith, Caritas

“To understand” fits under Pride. To believe that faith can ever be fully comprehended by us, imperfect and incomplete creations, is a sin. In so doing, you are not giving God enough credit; you are underestimating and minimizing the greatness and glory of God.

I wrote about this in the last free write we did in class:

“So why do people persist in writing books, producing televangelism, orating, analyzing and overanalyzing and literalizing and therefore trivializing God’s word?...This is why people become disenchanted with religion: because people take something beautiful and experiential and turn it into something dry, dusty, crusty, inaccessible, difficult, gross.”


That is not to say that reason has no place in the experience of religion. Reason is a tool we use to experience religion and faith; a man-made, ultimately inadequate tool, but a tool nonetheless. Dante illustrates this in the following passage, in answer to Peter’s question about where his faith came from:

“…The shower of gold
Of the Holy Ghost, which pours down endlessly
Over the sacred Scrolls, both New and Old,
Reasons it to such logical certainty
That, by comparison, all other reasoning
Can only seem confused and dull to me.” (Paradiso XXIV.91-6)

He compares his faith to a reasonable argument that is so logical, no other arguments can compare. Now, this may seem like the exact opposite of an experiential faith, the kind we’ve been discussing in class, but it’s not. By relating his faith to a logical argument, in this example, Dante is comparing faith to something people experience in their everyday lives. He is not advocating that we base our faith on logic, he is just using a logical argument as a metaphor.


We have talked about how language is inadequate to express and communicate faith, so putting Heaven into words, like Dante does in his Paradiso, would certainly seem blasphemous and arrogant. EXCEPT, he spends all of his time in the Paradiso explaining how he can’t fully express what he sees, feels, experiences there; how sometimes even the Heavenly Host must hold back their exultations and celebrations, or else Dante, being the inadequate human, would explode. He elucidates how faith cannot be fully elucidated to us while still in our imperfect forms.

“In the eternal justice, consequently,
The understanding granted to mankind
Is lost as the eye is within the sea:” (Paradiso XIX.58-60)

So Dante gets around that technicality, managing to take us on the ride of our lives through Heaven while still maintaining humility before God and a deep respect for Him. Dante expresses creatively that which he has the capacity to imagine, but makes sure to constantly remind us that God is even more amazing than what he has managed to write down, and even more incredible than what we have the ability to experience. Brilliance.

Rhiannon, you ask us: “What is heaven to you? What do you imagine is the purpose for all this suffering? What 'justifies' the ways of the world, or what binds them together? Is it even definable? But Heaven? A Heaven that's really open to all comers? A Heaven in which people I hate are going to be singing God's praises, completely pure and holy? What does it look like when all the bad stuff is stripped away from us, and all the good is left?”

In answer, I would direct you to the following passage:

“Mortals, be slow to judge! Not even we
Who look on God in Heaven know, as yet,
How many He will choose for ecstasy.

And sweet it is to lack this knowledge still,
For in this good is our own good refined,
Willing whatever God Himself may will.” (Paradiso XX.133-8)

I think the answers to your questions are bigger than I am capable of.

Thursday, March 8, 2007


I think the stuff we've all written about Paradiso is more interesting than anything else. I guess i feel like it's easy to imagine hell, and then we seem to think Purgatory is like life on earth, with hope as the main ingredient. But what about heaven? What we seem to think is that it's either boring, or too far above our understanding. I confess I feel this way sometimes, not while reading Dante but while reading the Bible. I can't imagine what it's like to experience everlasting joy (the eternal Godgasm, whatever). When I read the Bible, I always like to read Ecclesiastes and the Psalms. I also like Song of Solomon because of its eroticism and devotional aspect :)
For those unfamiliar with the Bible, Ecclesiastes is a portion attributed to Solomon, among others, scholars believe. It was written in the heyday of the "wisdom literature" movement that swept the ancient middle & near east. Roughly contemporaneous with Proverbs. Basically, Ecclesiastes is a philosophical poem. It reflects on life, on different modes of life, and how God made us for one life, but we're living another. It's kind of glum, but in a way that I can relate to. My favorite line is "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity." Another translation is "Futility of futilities! All is futility." If anyone thinks I am a cheery person, beware, you're about to be disburdened of the notion. At heart, I get Ecclesiastes. I understand what it means to say that everything is vanity, or futility. Doesn' t life often feel that way?
Psalms is a collection of poems, many of which were written in David's exile (his son coordinated a coup. David didn't want to fight his own son, because he loved him, so he fled.) The Psalms I love because they speak of the pain of existence, yet there is a child-like, pure faith in God's goodness. Trying to reconcile the goodness of God with the meanness and horror of life is difficult at times, and so I read the Psalms. They're also interesting for their poetic descriptions of God's might. You don't read stuff like that much anymore, which is part of why I love the Old Testament. People had a simple view, they believe in animism and so you get to hear things like "trees clapping their hands in joy" or "God will smash all the teeth out of my enemy's mouth." it's kind of charming. But essentially I think the psalms catch on the constant pain of existence. Life is suffering... but we have hope. Even hope is kind of depressing, because it just sounds like the last paltry resort we cling to. It's at the very bottom of Pandora's box, tiny and unattractively desperate.
So back to Heaven. I just wonder what you all think of this. I want to ask out of pure curiosity, not because I want to judge any of you but because I think this book, the Commedia, and especially the Paradiso, raises the question: What is heaven to you? the afterlife? what do you imagine is the purpose for all this suffering? what 'justifies' the ways of the world, or what binds them together? is it even definable?
i read the Psalms and Ecclesiastes, and I think, yes I understand this. It's like Purgatorio. it makes sense. it sounds good. it is, as betsy pointed out, comfortable.
Hell also makes sense. If you don't believe me, imagine someone punching your mum in the face. You'll be thinking of flames and pitchforks in no time flat.
but Heaven? a Heaven that's really open to all comers? a Heaven in which people I hate are going to be singing God's praises, completely pure and holy? what does it look like when all the bad stuff is stripped away from us, and all the good is left?

For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. -Ecc. 3:19

this I find especially valid right now, for us students:
Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. -Ecc 12:12

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Joy to the World

The idea of moments that people had experienced heaven on Earth really seized my imagination, so I went around asking people. Like we discussed in class, they all seemed to involve times of self-forgetting, which is when they experienced the joy, reveling in something other than themselves. I thought that was a really interesting definition of joy versus happiness, that happiness can be self-centered while joy has to do with losing one’s own self-consciousness and gets lost in a moment with someone or something else. Most people I talked to had experienced their joy in a communal experience, though some did discuss times when they went out into nature and lost themselves there, like Rachel on the beach, which also one of my favorite places to lose myself. One of my friends just had a hypothetical idea of his moment of heaven on Earth. He said that his idea would be being comfortable enough with the people he was with that all the walls would be let down, and everyone would be able to just be as they were with each other, with no walls. This also communicated an idea of losing consciousness of self, because as long as walls are up, we are thinking about ourselves. It’s only when we experience moments of self-forgetfulness that we do let our walls down. So every example of heaven I’ve discussed with people has involved a moment of joy, of self-forgetting, and that was an amazing revelation to me. They were also hard for people to explain, which seems to be a universal theme in the Paradiso.

I also agree that part of our existence spent here on Earth should be times of trying to create heaven on Earth, making the Earth more heavenly, whether that means cleaning up the environment or just changing how we treat other people. I don’t think it has to even be a Christian agenda, though it seems like it should be one of the major concerns of Christianity. Of course, I suppose if a person is just concerned with heaven , then Earth doesn’t really matter so much anymore. However, I’m sure Dante would say that those people who are only concerned with heaven aren’t the good people who are going to be going there, since they aren’t really concerned with others, and so don’t have a lot of the love for everyone that is Christ-like and necessary.

It seems really lucky that the weather has changed to being sunny the last few days. There’s been more light than ever just in time for all the light of heaven and images of glowing individuals. It’s also fun that we’ve been playing more music in class. Music is another way to bring heaven to Earth, I think, because it’s all experiential, no words involved. When you play or listen to music, you don’t explain it to people. Everyone listens and takes their own experience from it. It’s cross-cultural, no language necessary. It seems to tie in exactly with Dante’s idea that faith cannot be explained. At some point, the faith just has to be there. Which I suppose is why they keep on singing songs to him in Paradiso when he asks questions. Just like in class.

Oops, Here It Is

Last week was a difficult week for me. I had been away from a computer over the weekends, but had my journal with me. So, I wrote my blog posting in my journal, expecting to type it up later. Then, I forgot to post it. I discovered it again last night. Is there a place in purgatory for procrastinators? I hadn’t realized that it wasn't online until I began to post my latest entry. So, here it is:

Sunday, February 26th

I’ve been thinking about how the group of people came to meet Dante as described in Canto XXIX. It reminded me of a parade coming to meet a hometown hero as he returned from the war. A good image of this is from the movie “The Majestic” when Jim Carrey arrives in a town resembling a son who died in the war. He had no previous memory and assumed that he was this son. Then I realized, upon closer inspection, how very similar it is. Water from the Lethe rinsed away the horribly thoughts leftover from hell and purgatory before Dante will be allowed into heaven. Jim Carrey’s character had driven a car off a bridge and into a river, wiping away his memory and he approaches the town with a clean slate and more pure character. In Canto XXXI, Dante views the griffon, Jesus, through the eyes of Beatrice because it would be too much for his eyes. This is like praying to Jesus through Mary because it would be too much for humans. Jim Carrey sees the image of the lost war hero through the eyes of the townspeople and the father of the missing son. Maybe I’m stretching it a bit, or perhaps seeing “Bruce Almighty” recently has changed my views a little. Of all the actors in the world, the last one that I would have thought of relating Dante to would have been Jim Carrey.

The transformation of the chariot was a bit overwhelming for me to grasp. It definitely reminded me of the book of Revelation in the Bible. I find it difficult to imagine monsters, giants, and whores among heavenly beings. I realize it’s all symbolic and a message for Dante. I know if it was supposed to be a symbol for me to take back and tell about, I would probably screw it all up and turn it into something that it isn’t. I get the tree of good and evil. The seven headed monster may represent the seven deadly sins, that much I might have understood. But the giant and the harlot confused me. I would have tried to interpret them as man and woman, Adam and Eve, to symbolize the corruption of human beings. But, isn’t that what hell was all about? I might also have viewed them as the marriage of church and state, but which would be which? The church has been called the bride of Christ. But a church as a harlot? I feel like that is blasphemy. What about corrupt churches? I knew of a small church, neighboring my home in OK, which had their few members hold buckets and signs on street corners asking for donations to “Save the Children”. There were no real children in the church, just 12 adults, most of whom were ex-addicts. I asked them once about the reference to children. They said they were children of God. Made sense to me. Then I discovered they were using that money to support the addiction that some of them still had when the head preacher was put in jail. Then one of the younger female members ran away with someone else’s husband. I could see this particular church as a harlot. Like I said, I would probably turn the symbolic message into something that it isn’t.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

A Very Natural Heaven

Dante depicts heaven with close attention to environmental detail. There are cantos filled with pastoral images and beautifully rendered descriptions using the senses to illustrate the environment of heaven. In The Paradiso, Dante calls heaven “that garden made to be man’s proper place” solidifying the connection between man, nature, and heaven (I 56). The relationship between humans and nature remains strong today. Annette and Rhiannon wrote about their views of and concerns about our environment, and nearly every opinion of heaven expressed in class involved nature in some way.

My own experience of heaven on earth involves nature profoundly. When I think about heaven on earth, an amalgamation of beach memories floods my brain. It’s interesting because I actually don’t like the beach very much; a paralyzing fear of water and the bracingly cold currents of the Oregon coast keeps me out of the ocean, but there’s something about lying alone on the sand that makes me peacefully joyful. I remember dozing on my back and feeling the heat of the sun on my skin while the powerful wind sent sand skimming over my body at a very exfoliating speed. I couldn’t open my eyes for fear of getting sand in them, so I just listened to the waves crashing, birds calling, and children shrieking their delight at having their kite finally take flight. I felt meditative. I’m reminded of how Dante describes things through his senses. I find that if I want to experience something really intensely, I close my eyes and just listen. The experience seems more personal that way.

For some reason, every time I’m on the beach at night, I spin. I close my eyes, throw my arms to the side, open my face to the sky, and just spin around and around until I can’t do it anymore. It’s especially effective during a full moon when the tide’s just gone out. When my vision has stopped whirling, I see a vast empty plain with only the imprints of my footprints spiraling around. That view reminds me of how small my personal impact is on the earth. I’m not just talking about that stretch of land, but on the planet in general. And yet there’s something about seeing the tide wash over those footprints and carry them into its enormous mass that simultaneously makes me feel like a part of something bigger.

The beach makes me feel small and insignificant, but more connected with the larger world, which is, I guess, my idea of heaven. I imagine heaven as a joyously meditative place. One in which we can enjoy our own communion with the environment while also being part of a larger community. I think these ideas of solitude, nature, and community are important to Dante’s Paradiso as we can see by his recent independence from Virgil, the garden/heaven metaphor, and the great community of souls who inhabit each sphere.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Clean Air is NOT a Radical Request

“Men should not be too smug in their own reason;
Only a foolish man will walk his field
And count his ears too early in the season;

For I have seen a briar through winter’s snows
Rattle its tough and menacing bare stems,
And then, in season, open its pale rose;”


All throughout the Divine Comedy, Dante has used countless vivid images of nature to make his points. The bible itself is littered with natural imagery. The bible begins with Adam and Eve being turned out of the Garden of Eden, and countless figures of the Old and New Testaments retreat to nature to reconnect with God and have divine revelations. Most of Jesus’ parables are about nature, (seeds, soil, animals, bread, water), because that is what the people already knew and understood. He wasn’t telling the people new things, he was elucidating on old things.

Last Thursday I went to UofO to see Robert F. Kennedy, jr. speak. He explained all of this, and continued that nature is where we can see God most clearly. In unadulterated, natural creation, we can most nearly commune and connect with God.

It was mentioned in class that Dante would probably have a hard time sitting down with George W. Bush to have a conversation because of his faith-based initiatives. Whenever church and state get involved with each other both become tainted and corrupt, (as is illustrated by Dante in the figures of the Harlot and the Giant in the pageant in Canto XXXII of the Purgatorio). However, if Dante were to visit the 21st century and take a critical look around, I believe he would be even more shocked and appalled by the flagrant abuse and misuse of God’s creation by the Bush administration. We are not being good stewards of the land, water and air that God created for us. You don’t see carbon emissions in the Paradiso.

The capitalist controllers of the world are being allowed to rape, pillage, and ravage the land, compromising creation’s integrity and making the world unsafe for human beings, who are made in the image of God, made from the matter of stars, the universe come to consciousness of itself. The capitalist controllers, (the stockholders and CEOs of large corporations, driven by profit to pollute the air and water, eradicate forests, perpetuate desertification), would be in the Ptolomea, Round 3 of Cocytus, Circle 9 of the Inferno. This round is for those who are treacherous against the ties of hospitality. We are all guests on this planet: we come and stay for a short time and then we leave. None of us are permanent fixtures here; none of us can really own the land, water, or air. Yet these capitalist controllers act as if they do, and are the most disrespectful of guests. And George W. Bush, who rescinds policies that held corporations responsible and makes new policies that allow corporations to continue their outrageous ways, would be included in that company. Somehow, it isn’t that much of a stretch for me to imagine that his soul has already fallen to the Ptolomea, and a demon remains in its place.

Dante’s Paradiso is a place of community: souls are dancing and singing round and round together, and all souls are together in the Empyrean, the hierarchical levels are just for Dante’s benefit. As a community on earth, we can rise up and demand that corporations and big government take responsibility and stop corrupting our planet.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Freedom in Poverty

Reading canto XI of the Paradiso, I was really interested in the portrayal of St. Francis as the groom of poverty. He asked her hand in marriage, rather than just being unlucky enough to know her. I find this amazing, and I am saddened to think this is something that is denied to most of us. Not that I think we can't be poor; I am in fact very poor myself and will probably spend the next decade dealing with student loan repayment, etc. What I wish is that I could embrace Poverty in a radical way like St. Francis did.
We live in a society where this sort of radical poverty isn't really possible anymore. One may be ascetic, but you can't eat by gleaning. You can't be without running water, because there are laws regulating our standard of living! No one can go live in the wilderness like Thoreau and the Desert Fathers did; the wild is either private or public property, and you'd be arrested for squatting. Likewise, if I pick a fruit from someone's orchard, it's a crime. There is almost no way to ask Poverty's hand in marriage anymore.
When Dante described Amyclas, who found absolute freedom in absolute poverty, it reminded me of a song by LaRue that says "I don't feel like I've got anything to give, so I guess I've got nothing to lose." This is a Christian band and they are talking about poverty of spirit or ability, but I think there is something beautiful in the idea that poverty frees us from fear. When you have nothing to give, you have nothing to lose. It is easier to give, the less you have; just look at the parishioners of churches on the Mexican/US border and compare them to the churches up north. Or compare the poor widow in Luke to the rich people in the temple, who gave a tiny percent of their income away. Or consider all the poor women who coordinated the early disciples' travels, providing food and beds.
Our society demands we have certain things, and while I'm not arguing that it's necessarily bad (I love having running water and electricity), it does mean that we spend a lot of our lives trying to maintain all these things, and there is never a limit to what you need. I don't think our culture is greedy per se, because the only way to 'make it' nowadays is to meet a set of expectations that continues to burgeon outward. Someday I'll have my student loans paid off, but as an English Professor there will be so much more expected of me. If I'm ever a wife, I'll be responsible to help maintain a household, and there will be a lot of pressure to have a dual income household, to buy a house, to have two cars, to have nice furniture in my house; when I have children, I'll be responsible to provide for them, and the expectation is that I will help them go to school, get cars, etc. etc. A lot of parents can't do that, or don't care to do that, but they experience pressure for it. The pressure to have nice things increases with age and prestige. If I am a 'professional' (as compared to a cashier) I will be expected to have even more. On the one hand, I can't wait to be done with school so I can have my dream job and make more money. On the other hand I see my older brothers and friends and think, if being 'grown-up' means dedicating your life to the accumulation of property I would rather be a student forever.
I wish that I could embrace poverty. I hate stuff. I have way too much stuff. In my ideal world, we all wear sweats everyday because they're comfortable, and we don't care if we look good. We all eat local food, and all you have to do is grow it and pick it. We all just travel as much as we want, and don't have to worry about maintaining a 'home base' with all the utilities. I envy the freedom of St. Francis, and of Amyclas. Of course, I say 'ideal' because I don't think I could reach this in any case. It's just a nice dream.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Purgatory as the comfortable place? Yeah, that's me.

I find myself slightly reluctant to leave the Purgatorio, where I feel as though I understand the world, to travel on to Paradiso where the spheres are both over my head and over Dante’s. Before, events made sense in the Inferno and Purgatorio, probably since they are closer to human experience, but now the journey is to Paradiso, beyond human existence and crossing the threshold of the divine, where we can’t really be expected to comprehend the decisions and justice of the divine, even when they are explained, still takes some time to grapple with and digest. Even when Beatrice explains all to Dante and he accepts it, I still have trouble with her explanations. This is probably just my own problem with being told about religious ‘truth’ and being condescended to by people who believe they know this ‘truth.’ Perhaps I just don’t respect authority enough, because that is what she is, Dante’s figure of Divine Love that holds the ‘truth,’ she is his religious authority.

Back to Purgatorio. I understand the human struggle. I understand how Purgatorio stands for humans striving everyday to improve themselves, whether spiritually or otherwise. When Professor Anderson put the poem up in class, I could see the entire Comedy in there as well as just Purgatorio. The load gets lighter as the speaker travels, she continues on her way to improve her life, to save it. Her journey is the human journey through improving her life, as the Purgatorio is also a journey of learning and improvement. There is nothing really so abstract in the allegory of Purgatorio. The abstract nature of Paradiso essentially blows my mind. I suppose when Dante says that only some people can follow him on this part of the journey that have eaten of the bread of the angels, meaning that they have also experienced the faith that he is experiencing, that this might exclude me. As Professor Anderson discussed with us in class, Dante continually says that he can’t really describe what is happening, since he is experiencing faith and divine love and so can’t really translate the experience into words for the rest of us. As Beatrice is constantly telling him, how he sees Heaven is also not really how it is, since his mortal mind can’t possibly grasp what Heaven really is, so they have nicely created the hierarchical illusion that he and Beatrice travel through specifically for him. The hierarchy is all so he can understand, is what I pulled out of the discussion. Dante’s mind likes hierarchies and order, so Heaven is ordered for his understanding, even though everybody truly is equal and all together in the Empyrean. That I understood more. Perhaps if I was up touring Heaven and Beatrice was taking me around, she’d throw everybody together at a big table with a huge dinner and show how well they all get along, laughing and telling stories, and then I’d understand how Heaven works since I like to think of it as a big uniting experience where everybody finally comes together. Dante would probably look at how Heaven was presented to me and scratch his head. But then I would remind him that it’s a personal experience of faith and God’s love, which can’t be truly described to anyone else, just as Dante tells us.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Experience of Faith, or Faith Through Example

Professor Anderson’s extended starter question about how Dante would react to people discussing the Bible as something one must read to understand got me thinking about one of the central themes of The Divine Comedy: experience is crucial to understanding. As we briefly discussed in class, one aspect of Dante’s whole journey through hell, purgatory, and heaven is so that he can experience it, grow more solid in his faith, and relate his experiences to others so that they can experience it through him. There is such a huge emphasis placed on the eyes and other senses because they allow a more vivid experience of situations. I think this is key to understanding Dante’s faith.

Understanding comes through experience. I have also wondered about Mary the way that Natalie and Tams do. Professor Anderson explained that she is significant because of her life’s example. I understand this through Dante’s emphasis on eyes. By seeing her example (prominent images of her in cathedrals, for example), we can more fully experience the faith that she exhibited. This idea goes right along with Tams’ comments about how The Divine Comedy is an example for us to follow, and I think this is exactly as he intended.

From what Dante says and from my own experiences and observations, we must be immersed in the culture of our faith for it to remain strong. This is one of the main purposes of the church. There are several verses in the Bible which warn and advise Christians to attend church and stay within a circle of believers. I believe the analogy is to a sheep that strays from the fold and is then vulnerable to an attack by the wolf. Yet if it stays in the protection of the shepherd it will be safe from harm.

To relate this to my own life, I have many friends who grew up in church and had very strong beliefs until they left home and stopped attending church. Gradually their faith has waned, and now I commonly hear them say things like “Yeah, I believe in God, but I don’t go to church or anything.” To use a Dantean metaphor, they are wandering in a dark wood with these vague beliefs unconfirmed by any actions. It’s easy to point fingers at others’ lives, and that’s not my purpose in writing this. One thing Dante shows us is that everyone has their own sins that they struggle with and we all have the hope of redemption. It can just come much less painfully if we place ourselves in places and situations where we will experience our faith often.

The Cyclical Relationship Between Reason and Faith

To paraphrase a very interesting point recently made by Professor Anderson, Dante believes in absolutes but he doesn’t believe humans can grasp them absolutely. Because of this, reason is not enough. The fact that reason is not enough is very intriguing to me. There are things about God that the human mind cannot understand. This seems fitting because if we could grasp everything perfectly, we would be on the level with God. In the Purgatorio it is quite obvious that reason leads to faith, as Virgil guides Dante through the levels towards Beatrice. Reason can only take Dante so far and because of this, faith must take over in the end. So, does faith lead to reason, or does reason lead to faith? I would argue that because the relationship between the two is cyclical, one always leads to the other, regardless which comes first.

For me, faith came before reason because I grew up in the church. Even as a child, I understood the central message of Christianity and I accepted it. I think that the central message is so basic, that even a child can understand and believe it. Maybe as adults we need to have more childlike faith. That is, believe something before you have every single thing figured out, and allow things to fall into place as your life progresses. On the other hand, it was only a matter of time until I began to face intellectual questions regarding my faith, and I turned to reason to understand what I had always believed.

I have also read stories of nonbelievers who set out to disprove some part of Christianity, and in the end, their research led them to the conclusion that it was the truth. In these instances, it was reason that led to faith. Their studies and logic led them to believe. This final step of faith is crucial.

Regardless of the religious faith or sect, I think both reason and faith are very important because you must understand what you believe and why you think it is the truth, but also cherish the spiritual experience. If someone were to ask you why you believe in the Bible, you cannot say “because I have faith”. Someone cannot relate to some obscure feeling that you have within you. It would be impossible to explain the spiritual experience because it is something not easily put into words. Often, it is the reason side that someone first connects with. People experience God in radically different ways, just as the same song can have a variety of effects on an audience. Faith fills in the gaps of understanding. I don’t know that we can ever be totally sure about anything. So, you must have faith.

There are others who refuse to believe anything until they can understand all the fine details and have an answer to every question. But reason can only lead you so far. As I said before, there are things that we as humans will never fully understand and we must turn to faith to bring us the rest of the way. Faith will lead us again and again to reason and the two will enforce each other as one’s understanding increases. It would be ridiculous to stand in a dark room refusing to turn on the light until you could explain exactly how electricity works. You must believe that flicking the switch will cause the light to turn on, take a step of faith, and then do it.

Addressing Other Postings

Betsy asks some good questions as she brings extreme religion into the picture. I have a great example of how they react to Dante, though I can’t speak for how he would view them. My sister is a partial-extremist. They have mandatory classes, rules for everyday living (I don’t just mean regular life rules, I mean specific acts they must perform), they speak in tongues, etc. I rarely talk to her because every conversation turns to religion, or judging me, or her favorite topic: “How much longer are you going to go to college instead of getting a job?” I always hand the phone to mom. Because of a death in the family this weekend and my mother being gone to comfort her mother, my sister decided to call me many times, which I couldn’t pass off to mom. I told her late Sat. eve. that I was starving. I hadn’t eaten all day, decided a week ago to fast for a day to try and cleanse my body. “Why would you do something like that?” Well, I’ve felt fatigued, my adult acne has gotten worse regardless of meds and I think a day of cleansing could be good. I drank protein water, green tea, milk, OJ, and V8. Probably not what a typical fast would be, but hey, it’s my first. I told her that two of my classes have brought up this kind of cleansing and about reading Dante and the sins in Purgatory… She attacked him. I kept saying it was not supposed to be literal, the ideas were supposed to teach us to be better people, etc. “That’s what church is for. There’s no such thing as Purgatory. You’re supposed to read the Bible as a guide, not literature. And many more that I won’t quote.” Yes, I tell her, but sometimes outside sources help as well because they give us examples. Anyway, she went on for about 20 minutes. Not sure what all she said because I held the phone away until she sounded like a mouse with a high-pitched voice. So, don’t know how Dante would view her religion, but it’s one conversation I would love to watch. Got any popcorn?

Natalie questions Mary’s part in the Catholic religion. The way I was taught was that the Catholic’s worshipped Mary and that is why I should never be a Catholic. Let’s just say, as I got older I have come to realize many things that I was told was untrue. I have to view it for myself. I did attend a Christmas Mass with my aunt once. The deacon who sang was tone deaf. I didn’t understand what was going on; huge difference from Southern Baptist, and my aunt couldn’t explain it. She just kept telling me that Catholicism would be a good religion for me. I don’t judge other religions, wouldn’t that be hypocritical anyway? I figure if they all have the same God… Anyway, just because I don’t understand, doesn’t mean it is wrong. I would like to know more about various religions, what they have in common, how they differ, etc. I too am curious about Mary’s figure in the Catholic religion. I was relieved when Prof. Anderson brought her up in class. Like I mentioned above, sometimes an example is better than a guide. No, I’m not saying that Mary is more important that the Bible. I just know that some people learn better through example.

The Dude mentioned how in Purgatorio, the sun couldn’t be seen but felt as the warmth of God’s love. I immediately think of the valley winters. So often we see sunlight sending its rays down in various fields and wish to be able to step out of our gray, cloud-shrouded area into the warm rays. These two images combined brings to mind how some people believe that our life on earth is Purgatory as we try to learn and strive for Paradise. I personally believe that all of us have at least one of the seven sins haunting our lives. Instead of one prominent one, some of us may have a few that aren’t as extreme as the one. For instance, gluttony and sloth can sometimes run hand in hand (wouldn’t they be an ugly couple). So, while we are on earth, we can face these guys head on, read a little Dante, and try to make the best of our lives.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

la maria es mia

I have always been interested in the significance of the Virgin Mary in the Catholic faith. The figure of Mary seems to be key to the faith but I have never understood exactly why. As mentioned by Professor Anderson in class, there exists among many people a misconception concerning the significance of Mary to the faith. Many believe that Catholics worship Mary, misplacing a reverence due God and Jesus. I can identify with this because as a person looking in from the outside, it sometimes appears that Mary is placed on a pedestal and worshipped in a way. I think that some Catholics even pray to her (not sure about this though). Because I have never attended Catholic mass or done much extensive research on the Catholic faith, I have drawn all conclusions from experience and observation, which can often lead to misunderstandings. While visiting some very beautiful Catholic cathedrals in various parts of Spain, for example, I noticed some consistencies in the decoration and adornment of the cathedrals. In many of them, the figure of the Virgin Mary was more prominent than that of Jesus. Whether depicted in a painting or a carving or statue, it was obvious that, for the architects and church leaders of the day, Mary deserved a central position in the cathedral. There was always a figure of Jesus as well, but often placed in a more obscure section of the front panel, and many times the figure of Jesus was much smaller and less ornate than Mary’s. Why is this? Jesus is the Son of God and He is divine. Mary is the mother of Christ, but she is still only human. So, why is she placed in such a central position?

I understand that Mary led a holy life and served God, but is she more important than Jesus? Although I still don’t understand her exact degree of importance, I don’t believe that Catholics would place her above Jesus. Professor Anderson briefly addressed the significance of the figure of Mary in class. He explained that Mary is a complicated figure and that the common assumption that Catholics worship her is false. She is an example of chastity and purity and we should view her life as an example. Professor Anderson also said that Mary is an example of how to see Jesus. I found this particularly interesting because it is easier to try to imitate the life of a human woman than to try to imitate the life of Jesus, who was completely sinless. I am still wrestling with my understanding of the importance of Mary and how she fits in the big picture because I think a clearer understanding of the role of the Virgin Mary will enhance my understanding of the poem. Dante must have viewed her as an important figure because stories of her life are a recurring theme throughout the Purgatorio.

Christian counter culture, an extreme example: What would Dante think?

On thinking about Purgatorio and how much Dante wants to create a counterculture or encourage others to create a different, more godly environment for themselves, I thought of the documentary Jesus Camp. I saw Jesus Camp recently, and it was a very scary example of a religious counterculture. People send their children to a Pentecostal camp, and these children have religious experiences everyday, but they go to the point of shaking and falling to the floor and speaking in tongues. They also tell them how they should feel about political issues and President Bush, having them all pray for him and his success in electing the man they wanted to the Supreme Court via Bush’s cardboard cutout. The adults around these children create an environment such that it essentially brainwashes children into an extreme Christian faith. And as we discussed in class, what affects the mind affects the body. The fanaticism that gets poured into these children affects the state of their bodies, and when they believe the Holy Spirit is descending to them to speak in tongues, it makes me think that it’s just the influence of the adults on their minds, exhorting them to extreme outpourings of emotion. When I was watching this, I couldn’t help but think of how Dante would react to this sort of religious culture, and I believe that this is an extreme of which Dante would disapprove.

I refer back to Ciardi’s notes on page 346, where he says “Dante’s Aristotelian mind could not cherish any excess: the Good is the Golden Mean, to wander from the mean in either direction is equally culpable.” This really intrigued me, because this said to me that Dante wants people to have a healthy balance of both religion and other responsibilities in their lives, and not too much of one or the other. So it seemed to me that he was also saying too much religion is a bad thing. I don’t think he means too much God, but too much religion, meaning too much human institution and interference in faith does not create a true or natural faith. However, I could be way off base and inserting too many of my own biases.

How do you think Dante would feel about extreme Christianity, one that involves teaching Creationism instead of Evolution, encouraging children to evangelize to the masses, and be soldiers for God in our nation? Do you think he would think it too far away from a Golden Mean, or do you think he would embrace it as the counter culture that he desires opposing the degradation of the dominant culture? Or does this not even apply to Dante, since he was never faced with these issues in medieval times?

Dante is Controlling the Airwaves

(I wrote this entry over a week ago and I finally got it to work.) So I am a dork... I am just going to put that out there first. I watch a show called Full Metal Alchemist (FMA) on the Cartoon Network. It came here from Japan, as so many cartoons do, and it only plays at about 3 in the morning, M-H, so I record it on my DVR, which I am now unfortunately addicted too. A long time ago I began to notice many intertwining themes that are at play in Dante's Devine Comedy that are also in play in FMA. The first of which that came to my attention a while ago was that there are characters on the show that embody the seven deadly sins. Each one of these characters, which are known as homunculus (a word in alchemy meaning “an artificially made dwarf, supposedly produced in a flask by an alchemist; a diminutive human being; or a human fetus” []) and on the show they are said to be soulless beings created by an alchemists’ acumination of sins. Each sin is represented by a person who embodies many of the traits that are described in the Devine Comedy.


Pride, in the show, is known as Fuhrer, who is the head of the state army, and so he is embodied in the Purgatorio (Canto XII, line 52-54) by Sennacherib, King of Assyria, who believed in a false God to deliver him to victory in battle, and was then killed by his own two sons (p. 388 of our book). The Fuhrer, much like Sennacherib, believed that through Alchemy he would be able to regain his soul, we find out this is not true through the discourse of the show, and in the end his own son unknowingly delivers to his destroyer, the one thing that is needed to kill him, which is the bones from his original body. His false God though was a woman named Dante, who I will talk about, possibly in another blog because this one is going to be quite long.


Envy is an extremely strong homunculus who is able to take on the appearance of anyone else and impersonate them. It is envious of all humans because they have souls unlike it does. Envy, who’s name in life (life being FMA) I don’t know, but I do know that it is most envious of the main characters who we later find out are step brothers. After reading the notes I saw a connection between Envy and “Sapìa of Siena” (Canto XIII, line 94, p. 349). Sapìa , according to the editor, is Provenzano Salvani’s (who is mentioned in Canto XI the level of the Proud) Aunt who watches him be beheaded reportedly saying “Now God, do what you will with me, and do me any harm you can, for after this I shall live happily and die content. (p. 399)” The only thing that Envy, in FMA, says will make her happy is the death of her brothers. The other things is that Envy is so easily swayed by peoples words that she never bothers to actually look and see if she can find the truth, only taking things at face value; just as the blind in the level of Envious in The Purgatorio would do if they could see.

I would continue to break down these characters one by one but then this blog would become extremely long winded and I wouldn’t be able to mention my main observation from FMA that relates to The Devine Comedy. At several points in The Devine Comedy Dante references Florence, is town of origin, as being hell, or like hell, or of sharing many attributes of. Almost as if, had he broken apart Florence into section, thrown in many historical figures, and mythological beings, and structured it in an orderly way so that there were three main levels each of which had their own divisions, it would be quite similar to the structure presented to us in his comedy. In FMA there is also a gate, and through this gate few people have passed to come out on the other side. One is a female character who name is Dante, and the other two are the main character and his father. Their aren’t many similarities between Dante the character from FMA and Dante the writer whatsoever besides a name. But the gate, that is a different story.

Throughout The Devine Comedy, Dante makes allegorical links between his location in the afterlife and to that of Florence leading the reader to the conclusion that they are only separated by a forest and a gate, but that they in someway mirror each other. The gate in FMA does the same thing, except it is the link to the world that we know and live in. When they go through their gate, them being those who live in the world of the FMA, they are taken to our Earth, which is the same, but different. On our Earth instead of pursuing Alchemy and trying to synchronize with the Earth through science, we chose to develop mechanical things with our science. As a result, when they arrive in our world we are on the brink of WW2 and they are thrown into the middle of it.

The links between the show and The Devine Comedy are very obvious and there are so many them it boggles the mind. I suggest, if you don’t mind a little violence in your cartoons, and aren’t afraid to nerd it up, that you tune in and see if you can find some similarities yourself.

Is Dante Trying to Remind Us of Something...

While I was reading the Purgatorio in the Envy Canto's (XIIV, XIV, XV) I started to notice that they are numerous allusions to the sun, or to light. In fact, I found at least seven such occasions, of which I made note throughout the three Canto's of Envy. My first conclusion about Dante and his talk of the sun was, "the Sun is mentioned so often because the people in this level of the Purgatorio (I think in italics) are blind and so they can't see the sun. But they can feel it's warmth, so it serves as like the warmth of God, but since they are in the shadows of the cliff they cannot feel the sun, and therefore to feel God's touch they much get past their envy and step into the light." Pretty simple conclusion for most people, assuming you have been to a church sermon in the past. My thought was also spurred on further when I read Dante the characters personal thought which was what truly helped me com to my own conclusion, if only it is a translation of his own.

"Just as the sun does not reach to their sight,
so to those shades of which I spoke just now
God's rays refuse to offer their delight;" (Canto XIII, lines 67-69, p. 393)

This seems right on target...maybe. Much of what Dante writes is, as we all know, allegory and alludes to other things -at least according to scholars and Professor Anderson (present company not excluded)- much more far fetched than the suns rays being like the warming touch of God, right? But then I looked back at the first time that Virgil looks to the sun for guidance and I remembered that he, on Earth and still in the afterlife, was a Pagan. Which spurred on my thoughts.

What Virgil says about, or rather to, the sun is this;

"Then he looked up and stared straight at the sun...,

'O Blessed Lamp, we face the road ahead
placing our faith in you: lead us the way
that we should go in this new place,' he said

'You are the warmth of the world, you are its light;
if other cause do not urge otherwise,
your rays alone should serve to lead us right.' " (p. 392)

This is said before, not after, the quote above from Dante. Thinking further I remembered that Virgil, on Earth, was a Pagan. From my understanding of Pagan beliefs, they worshiped the Earth and the Sun was seen as one of, if not the most, central part to many Pagans' religious practices. It was almost as if Dante was pointing out that Virgil, even though a great man, is still a Pagan and that we as readers must remember that that is the reason he cannot enter heaven, or rather leave purgatory (Baptism being the main reason). Assuming that my thoughts are correct, or at least leaning in a good direction, I think that Virgil saying this in the level of Envy is fitting because he is, or possibly is, a little envious of Dante because he is getting what appears to be "special treatment" from God, and Virgil is still stuck in The Purgatorio. So it might be Virgil's way of cursing God because he feels that he is being treated unfairly and this may possibly be the point at which Dante begins to pull away from, or start to realize that Virgil can only teach him so much.
I don't know what everybody is going to think about this but hey, that is what the blog is here for.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Behind the Looking Glass: Secular Truth

One thing it’s easy for us to forget (myself included), and that Prof. Anderson keeps trying to remind us is to read The Divine Comedy allegorically. Dante has some great religious commentary in here, but the poem isn’t just about the afterlife: it’s about this life too! So I’m going to take a crack at it:


This was clearly illustrated when Dante met Provenzano Salvani in the first cornice of the proud. He was prideful in life, but he was able to advance quickly through Ante-Purgatory because of a good deed he performed for his friend. What goes around comes around. Give good away, and it will come back to you. This is further illustrated in Canto XV when Virgil explains to Dante how the treasure in Heaven grows greater as it is shared.

“As much light as it finds there, it bestows;
thus, as the blaze of Love is spread more widely,
the greater the Eternal Glory grows” (XV.70-2).

This reminds me of a song I used to sing when I was younger, in Girl Scouts, which stated: “love is something if you give it away, you end up getting more. It’s just like a magic penny.” Interesting that this song compares love to money, a form of wealth, which is the same context in which Dante is trying to understand love and grace and eternal glory. This principle works, devoid of religious context. When you give away (money, good deeds, etc.), you get something in return, whether it’s the instant gratification of knowing you did a job well done, whether it’s recognition of some kind, or whether it’s other unrelated good deeds and such rendered for you. This illustrates the idea of the greater good (socialist in nature) versus individual good (capitalism, if you will). Corporations have tended to focus on individual good at the cost of the greater good, and we (society) are beginning to see this hidden cost and hold corporations accountable. Perhaps Dante-the-character didn’t understand at first the benefits of sharing resources and responsibility, but hopefully CEOs and shareholders are beginning to realize that the more they share, the better off they’ll be. In a very simplistic example, if they raise their workers’ wages up to a somewhat reasonable amount, they will have more contented workers, which will result in higher productivity and less resistance. We may not always be able to quantify or make tangible the benefits of the commons, but they’re there.

Environment and Moving “Up” the Mountain

Your environment has an effect on you. Countless scientific studies have proven, expanded upon, and extrapolated about this. Rhiannon has spoken to this in her personal story, and the topic of music has been discussed by Rachel as well. I have been so intrigued by the points being made by Prof. Anderson in the past few class meetings: that faith is not an intellectual matter of ceding to certain ideas, but is more about getting yourself in an environment that engenders a mood and mindset where you’ll be in the right place emotionally to tackle faith. It’s not a question of “getting it” as much as it is an issue of surrounding yourself with an alternative culture that will get you to feel it, to truly know it with your heart.

This completely applies to secular life still on this planet. What and who do you surround yourself with? Are you consciously choosing environments to inspire and encourage you? Where are you focused, and where are you going? Rhiannon talked about her sense of purpose in her life. I was just telling someone today how I like to feel like I’m moving, progressing towards some goal. Sometimes I’m not sure exactly what goal it is, and sometimes what I have in mind for myself isn’t always what works out (and isn’t always what should work out), but I’m constantly moving, self-improving, and progressing. Perhaps not up the mountain towards God (but perhaps…who knows? I don’t know where I’m at with religion at the moment), but at least up something, say perhaps Maslow’s Triangle: Hierarchy of Needs, towards self-actualization. Better than I was the day before.

In conclusion: Dante speaks to secular life through images of a religious afterlife.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Of Rivers and Music and Other Such Sweetness

The first two cantos of The Purgatorio strongly remind me of the movie A River Runs Through It. I think the same sort of pastoral and wondering emotions inspired by one’s environment are prominent in Dante and the movie. The scene where Norman returns via train to Montana and the scene where Dante emerges from Hell are very similar. There is a scene where Norman has been away teaching in the city and takes a train back home to Montana. It’s the same effect as when Dante leaves Hell and then suddenly finds himself in some place calm and there’s clean water where he can wash the grime of the city away. The characters from both scenes are coming from a very industrial (cities, trains, etc.) and dirty place to a very natural place of peace and beauty. Their reactions are similar as well. Both Dante and Norman are filled with awe at the environmental contrast.

Another similarity that strikes me now is the presence of music. We’ve discussed in class how Purgatory is filled with beautiful chants and hymns. In A River Runs Through It there are several scenes where Norman is singing hymns in church. One such scene occurs shortly after his return home and you can see him looking around at the congregation united in song with a look of contentment on his face as if that type of music, or any type of music, had been lacking from his fast-paced city life.

While there are many similarities to The Purgatorio in this movie, there are also connections to The Inferno as well. Norman’s brother, Paul, destroys himself by his bad choices. The movie clearly demonstrates that Paul makes the choice to get caught up in gambling, drinking, and fighting. Norman repeatedly warns him and even goes with him one night to see if he can stop the excess, but Paul shrugs off the advice and continues the same behavior. We can see this allegorically as Norman representing good conscience and the voice of reason which Paul rejects in favor of his girlfriend and gambling buddies who represent overindulgence and sin.

This is significant because we can clearly see Paul making the choice of sin and Hell. Further, he rejects religion by refusing to attend the church his father pastors. According to Dante, it’s pretty clear that Paul would go to Hell after he dies, unless he chose God at the last moment. A River Runs Through It provides a classic contrast of the good, dutiful son and the sinful, irresponsible son which complements the lessons Dante-as-character is learning by seeing the contrasts between hell, purgatory, and later, heaven.

Friday, February 9, 2007

The Music of Life

Thinking about our last two lectures and the emphasis on the sounds of Purgatory I realized there is something about the music... while I was reading, I kept hearing that they were singing, but it wasn't until I was done with the reading that I thought about what that music might sound like. I've always had this notion that music is holy, all music. Everyone has an instant connection to the spiritual realm through music. That's why there are so many genres. Whether it's Gregorian chanting, steel drums, hip-hop, country western, whatever, there is a music that touches us. A lot of people like songs with good lyrical content (because let's face it, there's a lot out there that has really poor quality lyrics.) I'm one of those people- sometimes. Sometimes the sound of music or of a voice stops you altogether, and dashes all your notions about lyrical content to the ground.

I love Dead Can Dance. They are probably my favorite band. There were two singers in Dead Can Dance: Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerard (I say were because they split up and now have solo careers.) Perry usually sings in English, but not always. Gerard sings phonetically most of the time, which means, she isn't actually singing words. She also sings on the Gladiator soundtrack (she collaborates with Hans Zimmer a lot) in case anyone is familiar with that. One of my favorite songs, "Devorzhium," was on the movie Unfaithful, in what is arguably the sexiest sex scene ever made. The song has no words, but there is singing, and something about her voice is incredibly seductive, and perfect for that scene. Gerard's voice is captivating whether she is singing words in English, words in some other language, or random sounds. It's one of those you've-got-to-hear-it-to-believe-it things.

Another example is the singing of the Mbuti/BaAka people. These are the people who live in the forests of the Central African Republic, also known as 'pygmies' (although that isn't very nice). They don't call themselves pygmies. They are BaAka, which means "The Forest People." Their religion/worldview is that the forest is their mother and their God, and they are its children. All life comes from the forest, and they sing to it. My first year of college was at Bakersfield College. I took a class in Ethnomusicology, and we did a unit on African music. There are so many types of African music; we had to identify the country, culture, and purpose of the song as well as every instrument being used! The first time I listened to the CD with the BaAka singing "Makala," I was overwhelmed. If you've never heard their singing, I heartily recommend it. I can't hear it without crying. It is so incredibly beautiful and sincere, and just... human? I don't know how to explain it, but this is the song of my heart. Something about their voices moves me, although I have no idea what is being said, and there is almost no music (just someone drumming on a hollow-log drum).

When I hear Dante's description of Purgatory, I hear that sort of thing. Music that stops you in your tracks. Music that makes you sit there, smiling in the sun, contemplating and not thinking. Music that brings tears to your eyes. Music that can change you.

*if you want to hear Mbuti singing click here:

I am Geryon, hear me ROAR!

When reading about ante-Purgatory, an image came to mind: Dante was getting cleansed of the stench and sin from Hell before heading towards the heavenly place. I pictured the religions that dip their finger in holy water and cross themselves before entering a church or chapel (not sure if only Catholics do this). Like baptism, the sinners wash away their past lives and transgressions and leave the intentional sinning behind. Of course, for those of us who have a strong conscience, rumination never allows the past to be completely gone. We remind ourselves of the foolish past in order to keep from repeating the mistakes. This is very simplified. So, before entering a holy place, the outside must be washed off (crossing with the holy water) in order to go forth with pure thoughts. Or, before committing oneself to the Baptist religion (or others) the sins must be washed away with a baptism before proceeding.

If Dante hadn’t been washed of the stench, he would be taking those horrific images with him into Purgatory. With negative energy in the mind, it is very difficult to see the positive in anything. Dante needed a moment of meditation and purification of the mind before opening his mind up to the glorious light ahead. Without it, he would be looking at that glorious light through a dark veil and his eyes would not be completely opened to the wonder. Does this sound cheesy or does it actually sound as profound as I intend?

Looking back into Hell, I see Geryon and how this is a perfect image for people. Most everyone has multiple personalities, the one’s we can control. We have the image that we give to our parents, grandparents, or others whom we wish to view us as flawless as possible. Then we have the image of our dark sides, the parts of us that we may be ashamed of, and suppressed emotions. We also have the image that we give to employers or professors, first introductions, in-laws, etc. Our image isn’t stone, at least mine isn’t. (For those of you who have a single image for everyone, I can’t say that I envy you, but good for you. When I say ‘our’, I don’t mean everyone, but those of us to whom this applies.)

To give an example, I’ll name a girl Penelope and introduce her to a male friend of mine. Penelope comes across as a sweet girl with a good sense of humor. My male friend really likes her. As he gets to know her, he sees some of her real personality; she is very impatient and blames everyone else for her problems. He begins to see the wings of reality appear. She has a temper when she doesn’t get her own way. Here comes her hairy chest and arms (what an image!). He then discovers she hates animals (as if!) Her hairy arms and claws appear. Get the idea? Of course, wouldn’t her claws appear with the temper? Anyway, so not everyone has the complete body of imperfections, but gradually reveal those true identities the more we get to know them. Then my warped mind compares Geryon to Mr. Potatohead. We begin with a simple potato. Then we add a pegged eyeball, a nose, etc, revealing a different image with every added body part. Geryon and Mr. Potatohead, now that’s stretching it. So, here’s a question for you to ponder: Are we being frauds if we only reveal the good parts of ourselves or are we just being human?

Monday, February 5, 2007

Il Purgatorio

The concept of Purgatory is fundamentally a Roman Catholic idea; it occurred to me that Limbo is the ideal division between Heaven and Hell (if I were constructing Heaven, which I'm not). The only way Purgatory can make sense on a literal level is if, as Dante has it, souls are gladly working their way towards glory. In many ways, this earthly life seems like a Purgatory; after my conversion to the Christian faith I began to feel a sense of purpose, as if I were climbing a mountain towards God. Earthly life is a place and time for us to seek glory and joy. I'm reminded of the poem "Uphill" by Christina Rosetti:

Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.
Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yea, beds for all who come.
For me, it feels like I am moving "onward and upward" (C. S. Lewis). I began life not knowing what it was all about. I spent many years in the "Dark Wood" where Dante's poem begins. This makes me wonder if Dante was contemplating suicide, because obviously he is lost and grieving, and the suicides are in a dark wood in Hell. Either way, that's where I was. Without oversimplifying the greatest event in my life, or sounding like a lunatic, at the age of fourteen I heard the voice of God, totally unexpectedly. I always say that "Jesus had me at hello." He didn't show up as Virgil and take me on a tour, but I do think there was a Heavenly Lady interceding on my behalf (my Abuelita Uva). I say I "heard" God although what I was using was not so much my ears as my blood. God asked me "Aren't you tired of this? Aren't you ready for more?"
At that point, I knew I was ready for more. Purgatory in Dante involves a lot of choosing to move on- the souls decide for themselves when they are ready to arrive on the shore, and when they are ready to move up. My own life has involved some serious decision-making, and I feel like since I've know what I'm moving towards, I haven't regretted a single move. There are days when I question myself, and even God, sure, but I have full confidence that this movement called my life is, in fact, "onward and upward."
It's easy to confuse the circumstances of my life with the condition of my soul, but on further examination there is clearly an enormous difference. Through the "Purgatory" of this life, God is preparing me for His kingdom. I am being tested, not punished (because just like in Hell, punishment is a choice). The test is my own willingness to say "I'm ready." Because by choosing readiness, you're already there. Furthermore, like the souls in Purgatory, I am moving in joy. Jesus said "These three things remain: Faith, Hope, and Love." I am moving in faith, with hope, and in love, towards the greatest of these, Love. I can't help but see the parallels between this and Dante's Purgatory.
I know this is pretty religious and personal, and I tried to make "I" statements, because what I think about other people's lives is irrelevant. Of course, I want everyone to think life is joyful, and purposeful, but hey, that's up to the individual. What I am attempting to discuss, through my personal experience, is Dante's Purgatory, and how it relates to life in a culture that mostly doesn't believe in such a place. Dante wants us to read allegorically, and I can't help but feel that's the best interpretation for Purgatory. Because, otherwise, what is redemption and what is salvation? Jesus' sacrifice needs no help, and we don't get to Heaven for doing good works (apparently, it didn't work for poor Latini or Avicenna or anyone else). But by our attitude towards others, and towards life, we can promote God's kingdom in our hearts. I think it is ESSENTIAL to see this as a personal thing. I, like everyone else, want to better the world through good government and law, etc. but I must admit that the way to start is right here, right now, with these two hands. I don't think I'm a very good person, really, but God is a forward-thinker and He's asking me to think positively. God is moving us towards perfection, whatever that looks like. He is asking us to be joyful and to see other people, not just the long uphill climb, because when we look at the road it can really freak us out and discourage us. I think this is what Dante is saying. I shared some personal stuff because that's my way of understanding Purgatory, NOT because I want people to agree with my beliefs.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Dante's Deference

In response to the recent assumption that we are all disrespecting authority, judging or disagreeing with Dante, and getting stuck behind cultural biases, I would like to clarify my views on Dante by further expanding on the subject I began exploring in my first post. In case you haven’t read it yet, I encourage you to do so. Otherwise, what I say in this post may seem unclear or out of context. Basically, I believe there is strong evidence so far in the Dante’s Comedy that he was quite open-minded about and courteous toward other beliefs and ways of life, and I find this inspiring. Support for this can be found in the respectful way he depicts Virgil (a non-Christian), Saladin (a Muslim), and mythological gods. This latter group is what I want to focus on in this post. I am particularly interested in the ways in which Dante incorporates mythological characters and beliefs into his version of the afterlife.

The first time I really took notice of the repeated mythological themes was rather late in The Inferno when Dante encounters Ephialtes and Antaeus among the giants in Canto XXI. On pages 243 and 244, Dante describes how these two souls are being punished for rebelling against the gods, specifically Jove. I was confused about why Dante, a devout Christian, would place so much power and authority in the hands of these pagan gods. Virgil, when speaking of Ephialtes, says, “this piece of arrogance…dared try his strength against the power of Jove” (XXXI 91-92). Antaeus is rewarded for staying loyal to the gods. Ciardi notes that “Antaeus did not join in the rebellion against the gods and therefore he is not chained” (246). Why would it matter that these two rebelled against pagan gods who couldn’t have been powerful or even existed if Dante believes in one, all-powerful God who had existed since before time began?

The only answer I can give is to ignore for a moment any literal interpretation of this passage. If taken allegorically, it could be shown as an example of what happens when one rebels against God, his angels, Church authority, or authority in general. Virgil calls attention to Ephialtes’ arrogance. It would indeed be the ultimate arrogance to challenge God. The fact that these are giants further illuminates their arrogance and the idea that they were so filled with pride that they quite literally had “big heads,” as we say today.

Another example of mythic characters is in Canto XXXII where Alessandro and Napoleone lie among those who were treacherous to kin. I draw a parallel between these brothers and Eteocles and Polynieces, Oedipus’ two sons who inherited his kingdom and ended up killing each other in a duel over who would control their inheritance. I have little interpretation of their inclusion other than that it only furthers my point that Dante relied on the classical myths when writing.

Further, mythological ideas of the afterlife and its physical structure literally run through The Inferno and The Purgatorio. Dante includes the rivers Tiber, Acheron, and Styx which figure prominently in classical mythology.

It seems obvious to me that just as Dante’s choice of Virgil as mentor (a Pagan leading a Christian = Paganism leading to Christianity) shows his respect for those beliefs which laid the foundation for his, his frequent use of mythological figures reveals not only a respect for traditional beliefs, but also for traditional stories and devices. Dante as poet and as character pays homage to the great poets and literary figures who he encounters. I think he also pays homage by including references to the great stories that came before his.

A response of my own view

I was going to post on a different subject, but I feel that I need to respond to Rhiannon and everyone else who believes that it’s rude and a waste of time to disagree with Dante.

I really don’t see what’s wrong with questioning Dante. I agree that he was a great poet and this is a great work, but I’m not just going to accept that everything is how it is just because he says so and that he’s great just because everyone says he is. I’m going to continually question and challenge, because this is a method of learning that is especially important to use as part of our university education. The culture that I come from encourages me to engage authority, and I don’t believe that just because I question a work means that I have disrespect for tradition. I don’t believe that by disagreeing with a few of Dante’s uses of poetic license that I am nullifying his achievement in creating the Divine Comedy, and I don’t believe that it prevents me from learning from Dante. I believe that it just keeps me from blindly following and agreeing without analyzing what I agree with.

I adore the humanity of Dante the character. Most of the time I am there with him, understanding his reactions, or looking at the notes if I’m confused as to why he would react a certain way. I believe that the Comedy is a great work. I also believe that part of my university education allows me to see past my cultural biases, and I take them into account not only when I analyze medieval works, but also any other work, like those by African authors or those by Japanese authors or other cultures that are very different from mine. When I analyze where I differ from Dante, I describe his position and then mine. This is a constructive method of disagreeing, and I don’t believe that it’s wrong.

If anyone has heard about the Stanley Milgram experiment, it’s the one where he found out just how many people do respect authority in our culture, and will do what that authority says even if it means killing another person. Here’s a link to examine: or just Google “Milgram.” Over 60% of the people who were told to increase the voltage of the electrical shocks administered to the test subject above the lethal limit did so when told by the authority figure running the experiment. I think Dante would not accept that these individuals were acting just because an authority figure told them to do this. He would say that they chose their own actions and they chose not question the directions that were given to them. Free will was involved in this experiment just as much as it is involved in The Divine Comedy, and Dante scorns those who pretend that they don’t use their free will. He supports the questioning of human authority, as do I.