Answer to Question 1 Dante’s Divine Comedy
Dante had his fifteen minutes of fame during a deeply contentious time in Florence, Italy just at the beginning of the new century, the century of the 1300s that is. The Whites and the Blacks were had split the city with their rigid partisan views. Dante was an outspoken member of the Whites; the side that supporting the “Ordinances of Justice” and the government. The Blacks political leanings were towards the aristocratic and they were backed by the Pope. Dante was a Prior, a powerful elected civil servant position for two months. The committee of Priors (the Signoria) was the main magistracy. (Gardner, 2011, newadvent.org)
He held the position for only two months, but Dante would take actions that would determine how the rest of his life would be spent. During his short tenure from June 15 to August 15, 1301 the Signoria continued the political processes started by the member who they had replaced. Anti-Papal measures were signed, leaders of the Whites and Blacks were thrown out of the city and the Papal Legate was ‘pushed’ back to Rome. A shift in power changed Dante’s fate and by January 27, 1302 he was exiled from Florence. That exile informs his writing in the Divine Comedy.
The Divine Comedy does follow the catechism of the Roman Catholic Church but it is also coupled with the imagination of the author (Gardner, 2011, newadvent.org). Some of the characters are imaginary but some are not. For example the Pope is based on Pope Nicholas III who lived in Dante’s time and was punished in Dante’s Inferno. The Roman Catholic Church would not have punished a Pope or allowed such a condemnation to come from the church.
Dante must be using his pen here as a ‘vindictive’ tool when he writes about meeting the Pope in the Third area of the Eighth Circle of Malebolge (Miller, 2005, p. 379). When Dante was on the committee of the Signoria he signed anti-Papal measures so Dante had political reasons for putting Pope Nicholas III in his Inferno.
“Woe to thee, Simon Magus! Woe to you,
His wretched followers! Who the things of God,
Which should be wedded unto goodness, them,
Rapacious as ye are, do prostitute
For gold and silver in adultery!” (Inf. Canto XIX, Lines 1-5)
Dante was very upset with the Catholic Popes for using their power to grant favors. In particular simony which is the selling of spiritual ‘goods’ like extra prayers, grace or even a guarantee of the “eternal welfare of the soul.” This selling of spiritual favors was labeled simony after Simon Magus who according to the Bible was infamous for the practice. (Weber, 1912, newadvent.org)
Below is my favorite part of the Inferno because the Pope is in a terrible situation with his head and body planted into the ground and his legs and feet sticking out. Not only that, fire tickles the soles of his feet.
Of every one, emerg’d a sinner’s feet
And of the legs high upward as the calf
The rest was hid beneath was hid. On either foot
The soles were burning, (Inf., Canto XIX, Lines 1-5)
An example of a sinner that Dante put in the Inferno that the Roman Catholic Church would agree should be in Hell would be Dante’s mentor Brunetto. Dante is surprised and happy to meet Brunetto again. Brunetto is in place where ‘sodomists’ are put for punishment. (Inferno, Canto XV, Line 30)
Today the Roman Catholic Church teaches that homosexuality is wrong. In Dante’s time charges of sodomy were for any inappropriate behavior between an older and younger man. In Florence during that time it was common for men and their young male students to have affectionate relationships. But Miller suggests that Brunetto may have been considered an enemy of the Roman Catholic Church because of some of his writings or some other intellectual or political transgression (Miller, p. 179).
Dante meets Brunetto with great affection and Brunetto even calls him “my son.”
“My hand inclining, answer’d: “Sir! Brunetto!”
“And art thou here?” He thus to me: “My son!” (Inf. Canto, XIX, Lines 31, 32)
They are happy to see each other but Brunetto is shocked to see his former pupil there. He wants to know how things are on the surface (in Florence) so the two sit awhile to talk.
“I commend my TREASURE to thee,
Wherein I yet survive; my sole request.” (Inf. Canto, XIX, Lines 119, 120)
Brunetto wrote Treasure, an encyclopedia which he wrote while in exile. Dante and Brunetto were both great intellectuals of the time. I think Dante was happy to see someone so smart and someone with whom he could share an interesting conversation. While on the opposite side the Roman Catholic Church did not like the intellectual class and would not have approved of conversations that didn’t fit within the boundaries that the church felt was appropriate. I suggest the Roman Catholic Church would have been satisfied to see Brunetto in Hell.
Answer to Question 2 Ancient lyrical poetry.
Lyrical poetry comes from the poetry which could be sung with the accompaniment of the lyre. There were different types of lyres like there are different types of guitars. People could dance to the music as the poems were being recited or sung.
The themes of the poems were a person’s emotions and passionate feelings. During the Renaissance the lyrical poetry that developed from ancient Greek poetry was mainly about love and romance.
In ancient Greece a lyrical poem was written in a particular metrical style and accompanied by a lyre to distinguish itself from other performances such as tragic dramas which were accompanied by choruses and elegies which were accompanied by flutes. The ancient Greek lyrical poet Pindar did expand somewhat the rigidness of the musical form allowed with lyrical poetry performances though. Pindar is considered the greatest of the Hellenic Alexandrian nine lyrical poets. He wrote about the themes of ancient Greece such as the beauty of the human body and the great heights that humans can reach.
The ancient Romans though did not perform their lyrical poetry. The same Greek rhythms and meter were kept but the Roman poetry was recited in dramatic readings rather than with music. A famous poet of ancient Rome is Heroides, especially the poems of Ovid from a trilogy of love poems which were written on the theme of love. They were (supposedly) written from the Gods and Goddess to their beloved heroes.
Egyptian lyrical poetry was affected by the beauty and power of the Nile River. Also Egypt was a great ancient place for trading so many different cultures affected the lyrical poetry of Egypt. It was not as strict as the Greeks who accompanied lyrical poems with the lyre only. Egypt accompanied poetry with many different times of instruments from the Arabic world especially but also from Turkish and western influences. The poems often had naturalistic settings and told stories of life after death.
The Songs of Chu are the most famous poems of ancient China that have been found. These are sometimes called the Songs of the South in English. The author Qu Yuan is considered the most important poet of the poems in the anthology, Songs of Chu. It is interesting that the life of Qu Yuan and Dante have some striking similarities. Qu Yuan was part of the government but very upset by the corruption practiced by the officials. Due to his politics and his outspokenness he was ostracized. He left and put himself into a state of “self-exile” but he was not able to put a more positive attitude on his exile as was Dante. Qu Yuan became very depressed and ended up drowning himself.
Like Egypt, China’s lyrical poems were influences by the surrounding cultures so they are more flexible and easily accessible. Some of Qu Huan’s verses have as a subject morality and patriotism and show parallel’s with Dante’s Divine Comedy. Both poets were influenced by their state of exile. In general with the ancient lyrical poems of China there is a journey taking place, most often a spiritual journey. There are also wonderful love poems and are noted historically for speaking from the point of view of “I.” (Wang, 2003)
Here is a short portion from “The Nine Songs of the South.”
I miss you dearly and am in great sorrow.
My oar is of cassia and my rudder of orchid.
I accelerate my boat and the waves are stirred like drifting snow.
Can one pick fig leaves in the water?
Can one pluck lotus flowers from the tips of a tree?
When two hearts do not share the same passion,
The matchmaker labors in vain.” (Wang, 2003, p. 133)
The ancient Aztecs also gave dramatic presentations of poetry and they had many poetic genres. The most interesting and shocking being that of the poetry that was used when making human sacrifices. No one seems to be sure whether these were religious or political poems (the ones associated with the human sacrifice).
The most famous person living right after the successful Spanish conquests who is associated with the Aztec’s literature is Juan Bautista (de) Pomar who was bilingual in Nahuatl and Spanish. He lived through the 1500s and collected and translated their poetry.
Inomata (2001) writes, “Nahuatl was the most widely spoken language in the Basin of Mexico, and Nahuatl as a language was full of metaphorical possibility–it was no wonder that the Aztecs composed poetry for pleasure” (p. 245). She also explains,
“Xochipilli/Macuilxochitl’s (God of Pleasure) domain was flowers, hallucinogens, feasting, and gambling–all as important components of Aztec palace life as political decisionmaking and virtuoso poetry recitals. The affluence and perquisites of nobles afforded them pleasurable and intoxicating activities not permitted to the common folk. (Inomata, 2001, p. 248)
Here the author has emphasized that poetry was only for the nobles and aristocrats.
The Islamic lyrical poetry of the Middle East was romantic and religious so the poetry would be outwardly a work about romantic love but also have a deeper meaning which alluded to heaven or the heavenly (DelPlato, 2002, p. 207) The most famous ancient Persian poet is Rumi who wrote over 40,000 verses which are collected in one book. He wrote in a language called New Persian. He was born in Afghanistan and is associated with the Sufi religious beliefs which are very mystical. His poems are mystical and spiritual. They are beautiful even when read in English.
Answer to Question 3 Heroic readings and Fate.
A) Gilgamesh Poems that leave a hero’s future in the hands of fate often have a traveling King or a King who sends the hero on a journey where his fate will be determined. Perhaps there is a goal for finding an object which must be returned to the kingdom to save the land or to win the hand of the Princess. Or perhaps the hero goes on the journey to prove that he is courageous after all.
Leed, (1991) explains that many the first journey’s undertaken by king heroes were to face the decision of the Gods not to allow Kings to be immortal too. He explains this very well in the following paragraph. (Gilgamesh is a King from Ukur who was at war with Lebanon.)
“Gilgamesh’s motives are different and characteristic of the heroic journey: he desires fame, and the journey is a means to this end.
“The desire for fame, for extensions of the self in space and time, is a prominent motive of male, heroic travel and prestige trade. Here this motive is generated by the presentiment of finality, of the terminability of human life, of death. Gilgamesh’s journey is a circumvention of the god’s incomprehensible decree denying immortality to mere men: the proximity of death supplies the chief motive for his departure and for many departures of kings and would-be kings after him. The circumvention of death, too, is at the root of travel literature, those stories of journeys that seek to fix and perpetuate something as transient and impermanent as human action and mobility. The ideas of death and departure have long been linked historically. In Gilgamesh’s text, the order of their occurrence is meant to suggest a causality: the idea of death awakens the idea of departure.” (p.28)
So Gilgamesh essentially knows his fate is death not living forever like the Gods, but still he has some small hope he can find a way to change his fate during his journey. He has free will when he chooses to take his journey but fate is his guide and determines his direction.
B) Magic Jade Hogan (2003) describes the journey of Black Jade from the Chinese novel A Dream of Red Mansions by Hsia. The young man Magic Jade is deeply in love with his cousin, Black Jade. His aristocratic family does not accept his choice and insist he marry someone else. At the wedding Magic Jade has been led to believe that under the bridal veil is, in fact, his true love Black Jade. But instead it is Precious Hairpin, the bridal choice of his family.
Black Jade dies from this turn of events and Magic Jade seems to go crazy. He joins a wandering monk and his hero journey begins. Hogan (2003) explains,
“When he learns that Black Jade has died, Magic Jade begins “howling” in sorrow until he passes out (vol. 4, 371). In his unconscious state, he finds himself on the road to the Nether World, though it is not yet time for him to die. A “stranger” on the road tells him that he must return to life, explaining that “if you really want to find [Black Jade] you must cultivate your mind and strengthen your spiritual nature. Then one day you will see her again” (vol. 4, 372).” (p. 105)
Hogan (2003) views the end of the journey as a happy reunion between the two lovers (in the spiritual realm).
“When Magic Jade’s “worldly karma was complete” – when the effects of his past acts no longer bound him to the world, his “substance had returned to the Great Unity” (vol. 5, 371). This is, in effect, an absolutization of the romantic reunion.” (p. 105)
Magic Jade’s journey seems to be bound to fate from the beginning. He has lost his mind because of his grief at the death of Black Jade so cannot be held to be responsible for his choice to leave with the wandering monk. On the other hand he does choose to take a spiritual journey in order to meet with Black Jade again. He chooses to lead a life of wandering and self-discipline so it would be hard to argue that Fate ruled the whole journey.
C) Aladdin from the story of the 1001 Arabian Nights Aladdin starts his hero’s journey the moment he lays eyes on the gorgeous Princess Badral-Budur. They live in the same time and place but they are divided by the seemingly insurmountable boundary of class. Aladdin is from a very poor family and his mother tells him to forget about the princess because a poor son of a deceased tailor will never marry royalty.
Aladdin is convinced he will die if he can’t marry the Princess so we can recognize the first step of the hero’s journey: he is facing death or he must reach his goal. Aladdin has an incredible journey which has a happy ending, finally, when he and the Princess are married. He uses both his intelligence and magic to win his prize. How much has fate been a part of the happy ending and how much has free will been the happy ending? I’m not sure because of the magic which is such a big part of the journey. Aladdin chooses to use magic by his own free will, but when magic enters the story it seems to me Fate is given more power than Aladdin’s ability to control any situation.
D) Greek King Oedipus
In the Greek story Fate seems to have the upper hand. No matter how hard the hero tries to avoid his fate he cannot avoid it. And the actions he takes to avoid his fate seem to carry him closer to his fate. The decisions he makes using what he assumes to be free will are the choices that take him closer to his fate of making love to his mother and killing his father.
The “ground” of Free Will and Fate is Self-Knowledge is what the Raman Maharishi has said (as cited in Hogan, 2003, p. 483). In India the idea of the hero journey is a journey of goodness and finding virtue. The ending is joyful because at the end the hero is victorious. Even if the hero dies this is a happy ending if he has acted morally and made ethical choices during his journey.
I believe using free will is how we should live our lives. To claim that fate is in the driver’s seat is an excuse for not taking responsibility for our actions.
Alighieri, D. (2005). The Divine Comedy, Complete. Translated by Rev. H. F. Cary. Kindle version.
DelPlato, J. (2002). Multiple Wives, Multiple Pleasures: Representing the Harem, 1800-1875. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.
Dinsmore, C.A. (1919) Life of Dante Alighieri. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. Retrieved from .
Miller, J. (2005). Dante and the Unorthodox: The Aesthetics of Transgression. Waterloo, Ont: Wilfred Laurier University Press.
Inomata, T. & Houston, S. D. (2001) Royal Courts of the Ancient Maya: Theory, Comparison, and Synthesis. Volume: 1. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Rūmī. (1968). Mystical Poems of Rumi: First Selection, Poems 1-200. Translated by A. J. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Wang, R. R. (2003). Images of Women in Chinese Thought and Culture: Writings from the Pre-Qin Period to the Song Dynasty. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.
Weber, N. (1912). Simony. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved December 10, 2011 from <http://www.newadvent.org/>.