Dante’s Divine Comedy

Dante’s Divine Comedy is a vast panorama encompassing man’s relationship to God and the rest of mankind set against the backdrop of all creation from the depths of Hell to the uppermost realms of Paradise. For Dante, the central fact of existence is free will and the unavoidable consequence of choice.

When most people think of the Divine Comedy, they think of a dismal and horrifying Hell full of grotesque punishments meted out by a vindictive and bitter poet galled at having been exiled from Florence and condemned to a life of wandering. But, as with so many of the classics, the Divine Comedy is much more than what figures in the popular imagination. Rather than being a cramped and constricted sojourn in the underworld, Dante’s Divine Comedy is set against a grand panorama encompassing all creation, from the depths of Hell to the uppermost regions of Paradise. On this magnificent stage a drama is enacted that can be interpreted in many different ways, and in fact not only is it possible to interpret it in many different ways, but Dante expects us to recognize the multiple meanings of his text. On one level it is the journey of a pilgrim through the afterlife.

When most people think of the Divine Comedy, they think of a dismal and horrifying Hell full of grotesque punishments meted out by a vindictive and bitter poet galled at having been exiled from Florence and condemned to a life of wandering. But, as with so many of the classics, the Comedy is much more than what figures in the popular imagination. Rather than being a cramped and constricted sojourn in the underworld, Dante’s Divine Comedy is set against a grand panorama encompassing all creation, from the depths of Hell to the uppermost regions of Paradise. On this magnificent stage a drama is enacted that can be interpreted in many different ways, and in fact not only is it possible to interpret it in many different ways, but Dante expects us to recognize the multiple meanings of his text. On one level it is the journey of a pilgrim through the afterlife.

As Dante goes through the various states of existence in which a deceased soul can find itself, the consequences of choices made by individuals in mortality are vividly illustrated, whether it be through the shocking scenes of punishment in Hell, the inspiring journeys of change and purification in Purgatory, or the luminous vision of the unity of souls in Paradise. This is the plain meaning of the text. On another more allegorical level we are meant to understand that these are states of the soul in this life: for example, there are times and situations in which we are as rooted in destructive behavior as the sinners are in Hell; at other times we are undergoing trials, but with the understanding and hope that they are only for a short time and that if we make it through them we will be better people; and at other times one glimpses the heavenly peace of a soul at one with itself.

As Dante goes through the various states of existence in which a deceased soul can find itself, the consequences of choices made by individuals in mortality are vividly illustrated, whether it be through the shocking scenes of punishment in Hell, the inspiring journeys of change and purification in Purgatory, or the luminous vision of the unity of souls in Paradise. This is the plain meaning of the text. On another more allegorical level we are meant to understand that these are states of the soul in this life: for example, there are times and situations in which we are as rooted in destructive behavior as the sinners are in Hell; at other times we are undergoing trials, but with the understanding and hope that they are only for a short time and that if we make it through them we will be better people; and at other times one glimpses the heavenly peace of a soul at one with itself.

Testimonials

“I never thought I would love learning from the classics so much! My first pass at Dante was a disaster! Working with Travis and Christopher’s Leisure Learning course has made Dante a delight! I love coming to class with no necessary preparation ahead of time, and leaving with insights, ideas and inspiration to keep studying and learning, and applying Dante to my own life. It’s a no-brainer! This course is top notch!”

—Alysia Hurtado

“Your class on Dante’s Divine Comedy has been an intellectual oasis for me. Travis Patten and Christopher Hurtado are superb scholars who have done an excellent job of painting a picture of Dante’s time and place and helping me understand the multiple meanings of this majestic work. It has also awakened in me a desire to study that period of history more thoroughly. I’ve enjoyed the small group format of the class which lends itself we’ll to creating a warm, inviting learning atmosphere.”

—Lenna Allred

“If you are considering taking a journey with Dante into Hell and beyond, I would recommend you take Travis Patten and Christopher Hurtado along as your tour guides.  They have developed a course style that is informal enough to make it feel like sitting around with good friends at the table over a cup of cocoa, while delving into profoundly deep materials that at the very least will impact your thoughts and could change your whole way of seeing the world. This is not hyperbole. Dante has been known to have that effect on people.”

—Patti Allred

“Dante’s Comedy provides a fascinating look into medieval thought and experience and is worth the time and effort for careful study and contemplation because it has the potential to clarify and broaden your perspective on your own life in the 21st century. The beauty of the poetry and inspiration to be found within its pages will be more accessible to you when you work with informed and experienced mentors like Christopher and Travis. I have found them to be knowledgeable, accessible, and highly motivated to help me get the most out of my study.”

—Jesse Carrell

“Having studied Dante’s Inferno at BYU many years ago (and not enjoying it) I was surprised at how enjoyable the reading was for me this time around.  Travis and Christopher were able to bring historical, political and religious context to the poem that served invaluable in understanding it. The forum for studying the poem was also very conducive to different personalities and learning. If one is more reserved one can just sit back and listen to others commentary as they read along.  On the other hand, if one is more apt to be more engaged in asking questions and providing commentary during the class, one is welcomed and encouraged to do so.  Travis and Christopher were both very patient and willing to listen to others thoughts and ideas on the poem.  No one was ever made to feel that their comments were wrong or silly which encouraged further discussion.  I appreciate the depth and breadth of  knowledge that Travis and Christopher brought to the experience of learning this respected poem.”

—Karen Monsen

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