There were times when, in the course of my schooling, field trips had to be postponed. Due to unexpected circumstances, we could not reenact the Battle of Antietam on the Alamosa High School lawn with Mr. King’s history class. As a result of finances we couldn’t accompany Dr. Dick to the ‘Bat Cave’ in Northern New Mexico for a dig. Whatever the causes, the result was we were relegated to lectures as opposed to participating in object lessons. Hence, the same is here, as Prof. Hollander states so well in his notes from the Princeton Dante Project site.
Indeed, I would encourage one and all to take advantage of these notes on the site. [Professor Robert Hollander, professor emeritus at Princeton provides the study notes and helped with the translation. His wife, Jean Hollander crafted the poetry of the translation being a published poet herself.] The study notes are the most extensive available. In hardback there are 670 pages for the Inferno, 768 pages for the Purgatorio and a whopping 944 pages for the Paradiso, and one can read them for free on the Princeton website. (You gotta love my Princeton!) You will find Hollander comparing different views and reviews of this great work through the centuries. He brings in views from Dante’s contemporaries to stolid Christians like Tozer to radical modernists like Durling who tried to prove that Dante was gay. For those who truly want to dive into the languages or any reader who has studied any foreign language, Italian or Greek or Hebrew, Hollander lets one know when a “hapax legomenon” appears in the work. This is a technical term that describes when a word is used only once in a work of literature. But Hollander will explain if it’s used only once in the Commedia, or once in each part, or only once in all of literature: remarkable and fascinating [at least for me, nerdy dude that I am…]. I also appreciate his willingness to take a stand in some places, stating that such and such were way off in left field when they assumed a certain interpretation of Dante’s work. In one place he is rather kind when he calls one view an “extravagant misreading” but in another place he lets fly with a blunt diagnosis: “this is a numb-brained remark.” Great! I’m sorry not to have taken a course with him.
Click on the SUMMARY button in the bar just above the text and one gets this review for Canto XI
1-9 a second group of heretics: Pope Anastasius
10-15 the stench of sin from lower hell
16-27 Virgil's description of the sins of lower hell:
malice resulting in use of violence or fraud
28-51 violence (Circle 7) vs. neighbor, self, or God
52-60 fraud (Circle 8) vs. others
61-66 treachery, a worse form of fraud (Circle 9)
67-75 Dante's question: why are not the inhabitants of
Circles 2-5 punished in Dis?
76-90 Virgil's answer: incontinence less offensive to God
than malice and mad brutishness
91-96 Dante still puzzled by Virgil's words about usury
97-111 Virgil on the sin against art, 'God's grandchild'
112-115 coda: Virgil announces it is time to go (ca. 4am)
Explore while we pause here with Dante the Pilgrim and Virgil. This website is a stunning resource not to be missed … as is Dante himself!
We are treated to an overview of Dante’s organization of Hell based on Aristotle, Virgil and Cicero. The levels of sin, the reasons for their placement in Dante the Poet’s scheme and the moral landscape which dictates the suffering necessitated by each sin are of his own creation. We will find a similar pause to get our bearings and view the layout in Purgatory and Paradise as well. I’d like to share a few thoughts on this Canto XI without trying to justify or correct Dante’s views of sin and judgment. Again, it is remarkable how this work is embraced by the full spectrum of worldviews through the centuries: theology, philosophy, literature, and recently, psychology, morality and ethics. Prue Shaw in her recent book “Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity,” does a remarkable job in opening up the many ways which Dante continues to create wonder and insight for a wide variety of readers. For doctrinal Christians, there will be more and more views of clarification of Medieval Christian Scholasticism as Dante the Pilgrim progresses through all three levels of this universe. For the secular atheists, one will find enough food for thought and philosophical discernment to last a lifetime. For anyone who lives, moves and has being there are insights and allegorical lessons around life, love, morality, self-centeredness and sacrificial surrender.
It is fascinating to me that Dante uses Aristotle and Cicero in his division of Hell, yet he infuses it all with Christian teachings in the allegory and symbolisms. I love the fact that we find classical characters like Ulysses mixed in with his own Florentine contemporaries. And covering it all, at least in my opinion, is the fact that sin at the most basic level, is just as relational as love. The level in Hell that one finds oneself planted is dependent upon the depth of betrayal and harm that has been done to the other: a person, in society, God. It is entirely consistent with this relational worldview, Christian or secular or classical, that Satan is stuck in a loveless frozen waste, munching on three who have betrayed their dearest friends and their Lord. Personal betrayal is placed furthest away from God, the heart of love and the incarnation of sacrificial love for each and every one, as if they were the only one.