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: http://www.stanleymilgram.com/milgram.php 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.