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The Inferno by Dante Alighieri - Barron's Booknotes
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REFERENCE

THE CRITICS

ON BEATRICE

She is an invention, but an archtypal one, appealing to the
deepest emotions, which was not only to be the focus of
Dante's own religious idealism but was also, in a less
calculable way, to affect ideas of the relationship between art,
religion, saintliness and womanhood permanently. Though
made so early in his career she is in a sense Dante's most
original and profound creation.

George Holmes, Dante, 1980

THE SUPREME WORK OF THE MIDDLE AGES?

The Divine Comedy is classically referred to as the epitome,
the supreme expression of the Middle Ages. If by this is meant
that many typically medieval attitudes are to be found in it, it
is true: the reasoning is scholastic, the learning, the mysticism
are those of the author's time. But if from such a statement one
is to infer (as is frequently done) that the poem is a hymn to its
times, a celebration and a glorification of them, as Virgil's
Aeneid was of Rome, then nothing could be more misleading.
The Comedy is a glorification of the ways of God, but it is
also a sharp and great-minded protest at the ways in which
men have thwarted the divine plan. This plan, as Dante
conceived it, was very different from the typically medieval
view, which saw the earthly life as "a vale of tears," a period
of trial and suffering, an unpleasant but necessary preparation
for the after-life where alone man could expect to enjoy
happiness. To Dante such an idea was totally repugnant. He
glorified in his God-given talent, his well disciplined faculties,
and it seemed inconceivable to him that he and mankind in
general should not have been intended to develop to the fullest
their specifically human potential. The whole Comedy is
pervaded by his conviction that man should seek earthly
immortality by his worthy actions here, as well as prepare to
merit the life everlasting.



Archibald T. MacAllister, Introduction to John Ciardi's
translation of The Inferno, 1954

THE INEXHAUSTIBILITY OF DANTE

The supreme art of poetry is not to assert meaning but to
release it by the juxtaposition of poetic elements. Form, in its
interrelations, is the most striking element. Because in any
extended poetic structure these juxtapositions when looked at
from different points of vantage, that release of meaning is
subject to endless meaningful reinterpretation. The
inexhaustibility of The Divine Comedy is a consequence of
this structural quality. It is for that reason that no one can ever
finish reading it. There will always be a new way of viewing
the elements. But if no man can finish the poem, any man can
begin it and be the richer for having begun. The present
imperfect gloss-skimming though it be-is really about all one
needs to start with. And having started, all he needs is to pay
attention. The poem itself is the rest of the way, and the way is
marked.

John Ciardi, "How to Read Dante," 1961

DANTE'S ALLEGORY

The greatest mistake consists in measuring Dante's allegory on
the same terms as all other allegories: that is, as an idea which
is dressed up, a concept in figurative terms. It is precisely the
contrary. Dante moves from earth to heaven, from human to
divine.... He refuses to make of his figures merely the symbols
of ideas, as if they had no reality in themselves. But for him,
form has a reality precisely because it is a symbol; thus,
inasmuch as it signifies something, it is such as it is; and art is
the portrayal of this something, by which every form lives in
its allegorical essence, not as a garment but rather in its
authentic reality. It is not Grace which becomes Beatrice; it is
Beatrice who lives in her essential form of divine Grace. It is
clear that we have here an absolute reversal of the concept of
allegory. Whoever does not understand this cannot understand
Dante.

Luigi Pirandello, Dante: A Collection of Critical Essays,
1965.

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