28, November 2010 § 1 Comment
Students attending the Italy-Greece Session in the Aegean Center are drawn, either by serendipity or design, to the life and works of Italian poet, Dante Alighieri. Our days in Villa Rospigliosi in Pistoia were spent comprehending the intricacies of the heart in La Vita Nuova, which articulates the poet’s love for his muse, Beatrice. We likewise immersed in Dante’s milieu during our visits to Firenze, Siena, Pisa, Lucca, and Prato. In the words of our highly able instructor and guide, Jeffrey Carson, “we’ve been Dante-d.”
What started out as a class intended for two has blossomed into a twice-a-week affair of seven students. We began reading The Inferno as soon as we settled in Paros. After the semester break, we continued with The Purgatorio. There is something remarkable about reciting Dante’s poetry along with other people. Perhaps it is the theme of journeying together that makes his works a highly appealing read, or as Dante puts it in the opening Canto of The Inferno:
Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
ché la diritta via era smarrita.
When I had journeyed half of our life’s way
I found myself within a shadowed forest,
for I had lost the path that does not stray.
As readers, we (and not just “I”) embark on a quest with Dante through Hell and Purgatory. With Jeffrey explaining to us the contexts that underlie the verses, we obtain a more refined understanding of the text. Also, as students of the arts, the words of Dante are significant in our attempts to reconcile our craft with our daily lives.
The rewards after reading The Inferno and The Purgatorio are, of course, unquantifiable. As Dante braved past rings and cornices in his own lifetime, we, too, strive to come into terms with ourselves. We feel more human and alive as we read Dante not because we already know about the natures of Sin, Hope, or Love, but because there is still so much more to discover.