Dante’s background Italy in Dante’s time • North Italian city-states largely independent • Strong papal influence rivaled imperial authority • Each city had factions favoring either emperor or Pope Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) • Minor noble family, extremely well educated • One of the rulers of Florence in 1300 • Picked the emperor’s side over the Pope’s – oops • Spent his life in exile after 1302 • Started Comedy in 1309
Dante’s Background Italy in Dante’s time • North Italian city-states largely independent • Strong papal influence rivaled imperial authority • Each city had factions favoring either emperor or Pope Durante “Dante” degli Alighieri (1265-1321) • Minor noble family, extremely well educated • One of the rulers of Florence in 1300 • Picked the emperor’s side over the Pope’s – oops • Spent his life in exile after 1302 • Started Comedy in 1309
Dante and PUBLIC AFFAIRS • CULTURAL COMPETENCE: Dante was highly educated in both Latin (the high language) and in Italian (the vernacular). As an ambassador, he had to be very aware of each city-state’s particular culture • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT: Dante was highly involved in political life, risking his life in military service and on political embassies. • ETHICAL LEADERSHIP: Dante chose exile and an in absentia death sentence rather than compromise his principles. He also chose to write his master work, The Comedy, in Italian.
Why comedy? • Dante thought of his work as Commedia. • The “divine” part was a value judgment courtesy of his readers • Commedia = vernacular language, not Latin • Commedia = happy ending (Paradiso) • Disgust with existing power structures in Italy • Disgust with the corruption of the Church • Trying to achieve a “serene outlook on life” as Six-Fingered Jake would put it
Dante’s KATABASIS • Midway on his journey through life, Dante realizes he has taken the wrong path. • The Roman poet Virgil searches for the lost Dante at the request of Beatrice (Dante’s teenage crush and all-around muse) • He finds Dante in the woods on the evening of Good Friday in the year 1300 and serves as a guide as Dante begins his religious pilgrimage to find God. • To reach his goal, Dante passes through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise.
Beatrice Portinari (1266-1290) • Born to a wealthy Florentine banking family • Met Dante at a May Day party in 1274 • They met again in the streets of Florence in 1283 • Dante married Gemma Donati in 1285 • Beatrice married Simone dei Bardi in 1287 • Dante admired her from afar = courtly love • Died at the age of 24 in 1290 • Obviously Dante could not have known her at all! • His “Beatrice” is obviously an idealized creation
Dante’s KATABASIS In the middle of our life's way I found myself in a wood so dark That I couldn't tell where the straight path lay. Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, chè la diritta via era smarrita.
Classical figures • Poets (IV): Vergil, Homer, Horace, Ovid, Lucan • Heroes (IV): Hector, Aeneas, Caesar • Philosophers (IV): Socrates, Plato, Cicero, Seneca • Lustful (V): Dido, Cleopatra, Achilles • Heretics (X): Tombs of the Epicureans • Pagan Prophets (XX): Tiresias with his head on backward • Evil Counselors (XXVI): Ulysses (Odysseus) and Diomedes
Questions • How is Dante’s katabasis a PUBLIC AFFAIRS katabasis? • What sort of sins does Dante consider particularly evil, and why? Does Dante have a system? Where does it come from? • What similarities does Dante’s underworld have with Vergil’s, and what differences? • What is Dante’s opinion of Odysseus/Ulysses, and what are his reasons for feeling that way?