A canto by canto journey for Dante 2020
This year, 2020, marks the 700th anniversary of the completion of the great Divine Comedy. I invite you to experience the odyssey, too, by accompanying me as I discuss each canto.
Dante begins his journey by waking up in a dark wood. The air tastes bitter. He becomes fearful. Truth is out of reach. But his crisis is a turning point.
Many today, too, are waking up to something that’s gone wrong. We’re in a spiritual crisis. We must see the world afresh and understand. I believe Dante can help us discover how.
I’ll post reflections on two or more cantos each week as we reach for the highest heavens. Follow every step of the way on YouTube, via the films or MP3 below, or via the podcast, Dante’s Divine Comedy.
I recommend the translation by Mark Musa in the Penguin Classics edition, both for its accessibility and notes. Most of the images that accompany my discussion are by Priamo della Quercia, Sandro Botticelli, Gustav Doré and William Blake.
Dante frightened by his plight, terrorised by strange beasts, discovers a guide. MP3 here.
Dante wavers and Virgil reveals why he is here. MP3 here.
Dante and Virgil enter the gates of hell to find lost souls and a river. MP3 here.
Virgil leads Dante into the first circle of hell. MP3 here.
Virgil and Dante enter the second circle of hell and meet those whose love in life has trapped them. MP3 here.
In the third circle, they encounter Cerberus and the disfigured Caccio. MP3 here.
Virgil and Dante are in the fourth and fifth circles meeting those trapped by money and by anger. MP3 here.
Still in the fifth circle, they face the river Styx and the terror of Dis. MP3 here.
Terrified by the demons that block their path, Dante and Virgil wait. MP3 here.
Now inside Dis, they meet those who have followed their own way. MP3 here.
A foul stench prompts illumination of lower hell’s subtler evils. MP3 here.
Descending a steep slope, they see the minotaur, centaurs and a river of boiling blood. MP3 here.
They enter an ugly wood filled with wailing and those who killed themselves. MP3 here.
By burning sands and falling fire, they speak with a soul cursing Jupiter and see a vision. MP3 here.
Walking alongside the red stream, avoiding the burning sands, a gaggle of souls approach them. MP3 here.
Hearing ominous waters tumbling, they meet three more trapped souls and then stranger things happen. MP3 here.
Approaching the cliffs of deeper hell, they confront the monster Geryon and souls disfigured by usury. MP3 here.
They are in the eighth circle, the place called Malebolge, as the descent deepens further. MP3 here.
Dante perceives the bleak bankruptcy of exchanging spiritual gifts for temporal goods. MP3 here.
Dante is perturbed when they encounter the diviners, an art he practices too. MP3 here.
They meet the demons of Malebranche. Virgil reckons he can outplay them. Dante does not. MP3 here.
They find themselves escorted by ten demons. Something has gone very wrong. MP3 here.
Affection balances fear. Thought counters foolhardiness. They escape to fresh despair in the sixth bolgia. MP3 here.
Virgil helps Dante climb from the sixth bolgia. They come to the seventh, a melee of serpents chasing souls. MP3 here.
They see even more terrible metamorphoses in the seventh bolgia and realise the serpents are human souls too. MP3 here.
The eight bolgia appears almost majestic until Dante understands how its souls are trapped in flames. MP3 here.
Still overlooking the eighth bolgia of Maleboge, a new writhing flame approaches. The soul says he trusted a pope. MP3 here.
The ninth bolgia entombs figures Dante sees as schismatic in life, now rent asunder themselves. MP3 here.
Dante and Virgil argue. The next bolgia is infected with the pestilence of denuded nature and humanity. MP3 here.
Minds and bodies themselves begin to disintegrate in souls driven rabid and feverish by playing god in life. MP3 here.
Virgil and Dante wander into a grey zone, hear an ominous horn, and encounter the terrible giants. MP3 here.
Requesting heavenly help, Dante steps into Cocytus, revealed as a reality of imprisoning, deadening ice. MP3 here.
Dante and Virgil encounter Count Ugolino deeper in Cocytus, as well as the souls of the living dead. MP3 here.
The last canto of the Inferno sees Dante and Virgil face to face with Lucifer, before a surprising turnaround. MP3 here.
Virgil and Dante are in a world of freshness and hope, sunlight and stars, but also strangeness and novelty. MP3 here.
As the sun rises, an angel speeds towards them, bringing a friend and a tense sense of tremendous things. MP3 here.
Virgil is troubled. They encounter slowly moving souls, and search for an entry onto the mountain. MP3 here.
Virgil and Dante find the narrow path that leads up, and begin the climb. A break brings another group of souls. MP3 here.
At first distracted by the indolent, they encounter a new group of agitated souls, though keep their focus. MP3 here.
Hassled by agitated souls, Dante asks if prayers effect divine laws. Virgil opens up a new state of mind. MP3 here.
Virgil and Sordello embrace again, before Sordello explains they must find a safe place for the night. MP3 here.
In the lovely valley, angels and a serpent dramatically appear, though oddly no-one’s concerned. MP3 here.
Dante falls asleep and dreams. It’s erotic, transformative, and leads to the gate of Purgatory. MP3 here.
In Purgatory proper, a zig-zagging path leads to a terrace of beautiful images and burdened souls. MP3 here.
With the souls carrying heavy burdens, Dante speaks with them. He learns about the gordian knot of pride. MP3 here.
Alleviated of the constrained vision that pride brings, an angel sweeps down and shows the way up. MP3 here.
The second terrace looks barren, but the generous sun guides and they meet envious souls with eyes wired shut. MP3 here.
Still with the reforming souls of the envious, the fall of an avaricious civilisation comes into view. MP3 here.
Encountering another angel of light, Virgil explains a way of limitless growth in life. Dante is rapt. MP3 here.
Blind rage becomes righteous anger and a discussion brings revisionary truths about free will and love. MP3 here.
The midpoint of the Comedy. It’s filled with thoughts on love and, at the exact midpoint, the word itself. MP3 here.
The nature of love and its operation is developed, before a crowd of rushing souls run up behind them. MP3 here.
Dante has a second dream. It disturbs him as they make their way to the fourth terrace where souls mourn. MP3 here.
Dante speaks with another mourning soul and is led to lament the history that shaped his own life. MP3 here.
A transitional canto, Virgil and Dante meet the soul of Statius. The two pilgrims have become three. MP3 here.
Virgil and Statius talk on fresh revelations about the nature of reality, overturning Christian assumptions. MP3 here.
Dante meets a friend from life, and it becomes clearer how their communing did and didn’t truly sustain him. MP3 here.
Dante and Forese continue to talk on the nature of desire and perception. They encounter another tree and angel. MP3 here.
Dante is bursting with questions. Virgil and Statius to describe the creation of our physical and subtle bodies. MP3 here.
Dante is before the flames that would render him capable of divine love. He pauses. He desires and fears. MP3 here.
Dante is before the flames. He hesitates. But he gathers his will, with the help of Virgil and the angels. MP3 here.
They are an enchanting, mysterious forest. A solitary lady approaches at Dante’s request. They converse. MP3 here.
He follows the enchanting lady when, with a flash of light, the most extraordinary vision begins. MP3 here.
Cries and angels shock, and bring a chastising Beatrice, Virgil’s disappearance, and Dante’s bitter tears. MP3 here.
Beatrice continues to berate Dante, until he collapses. Then, he’s carried through the Lethe and changes. MP3 here.
Dante is saved from momentary madness, before Beatrice leads him to a display of spiritual corruption. MP3 here.
Beatrice prophecies about the future for Dante and Christianity, and Dante is ready for the stars. MP3 here.
Purgatory online discussion
Email me, email@example.com, for an online discussion of Dante’s Purgatory on Sunday 12th July, 5pm BST.