Dante's Divine Comedy
Dr. Ronald B. Herzman is Distinguished Teaching Professor of English at the State University of New York at Geneseo, where he has taught since 1969. He graduated with honors from Manhattan College and earned his master's degree and Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Delaware. Dr. Herzman's teaching interests include Dante, Chaucer, Francis of Assisi, Shakespeare, the Bible, and Arthurian literature. He has written many articles and book chapters and is the coauthor of The Apocalyptic Imagination in Medieval Literature and coeditor of Four Romances of England. Professor Herzman received the Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1976, and in 1991, Manhattan College awarded him the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. Professor Herzman and Professor William R. Cook have been collaborating intensively since 1973, when they team-taught a course at SUNY-Geneseo called The Age of Chaucer. Subsequent courses included The Age of Dante and The Age of Francis of Assisi. Both prolific writers in their own right, together they have published The Medieval World View with the Oxford University Press, currently in its second edition. In 2003, Professors Cook and Herzman were presented with the Medieval Academy of America's first-ever CARA Award for Excellence in Teaching Medieval Studies.
01: Reading the Poem - Issues and Editions
This lecture introduces the entire course by outlining the nature of Dante's achievement in the "La Divina Commedia," discussing the available translations, and providing an overview of Dante's life.
02: A Poet and His City - Dante's Florence
Dante puts heavy demands on modern readers; he himself was deeply involved in political issues that need to be retrieved from the past. This lecture will emphasize those political events in Dante's time that have the most direct impact on the poem.
03: Literary Antecedents, I
Dante goes to many literary sources - but above all to the Bible and Virgil's "Aeneid" - to tap their energy and bring them into dialogue with his own concerns, thus universalizing his poem without giving up its particularity.
04: Literary Antecedents, II
In addition to the Bible and "The Aeneid," Dante is in serious conversation with his own earlier poetic, political, and philosophical writings as well as with Augustine's great spiritual autobiography, the "Confessions," which provides a model of first-person narrative and much more.
05: “Abandon Every Hope, All You Who Enter”
In Canto 3, Dante passes through the famous gates of hell, on which this legend appears. In Dante's vision, hell is the place where sinners exist as if nothing stood between them and their evil desires. What is the "geography" - both physical and moral - of damnation?
06: The Never-Ending Storm
The nature of incontinence - the sin of subjecting reason to desire - is the theme of Inferno 5. Here, the pilgrim has a sustained discourse with the famous Francesca da Rimini. This is the first sustained encounter that Dante has with anyone besides Virgil. What clues do we find here about the nature of hell and its denizens?
Dante's "Inferno" deals with sins of wrong belief, as well as wrong action. In this lecture, we analyze Canto 10, where sinners are punished for heresy. According to Christian doctrine, heresy is the sin of wrong belief. But Dante's analysis goes much deeper than any textbook definition.
08: The Seventh Circle - The Violent
Next in gravity after sins of incontinence come sins of violence. How does Dante the poet understand and classify such sins? How does this ring of the Inferno teach Dante the pilgrim about the evil of violence and the temptations to commit it that he may encounter?
09: The Sin of Simony
The third and last major category of sin in Dante's "Inferno" is fraud. Among the defrauders who are being punished are those, including popes, who have bought and sold sacred church offices, thereby abusing sacred things for material gain. Why is this passage especially important in the structure of the Inferno? What does it tell us about where the pilgrim now stands on his journey to wisdom?
10: The False Counselors
Why does Dante the poet locate the ancient epic hero Ulysses in this part of hell? And how does the contemporary figure of Guido da Montefeltro reveal another side to that perversion of the intellect known as "false counsel"?
11: The Ultimate Evil
The ninth circle of the Inferno deals with the worst defrauders of all - those who have betrayed people to whom they owed a special trust. How does Dante the poet figure the terrible nature of terminal evil?
12: The Seven-Story Mountain
Dante developed the modern imagery of purgatory, as well as the idea of it as a place of spiritual growth that prepares souls to see God. We discuss the structure of purgatory, a mountain with seven terraced stories in which all of the seven tendencies toward sin - called the seven deadly sins - are successively purged. Why is purgatory the part of the afterlife that most resembles life on Earth?
13: Purgatory's Waiting Room
Until we pass through the gates of Purgatorio in Canto 9, we are still in antepurgatory, where those who were slow to repent on Earth must spend time before the actual process of purification begins. In this lecture, you meet some of the most intriguing figures Dante encounters in this place of preparation.
14: The Sin of Pride
The most serious and universal of the deadly sins is pride, and it is the first that must be purged. The souls on the terrace of the proud learn from both positive and negative examples of pride and its opposite, the virtue of humility. Classical and biblical cases are placed side by side as parts of a profound Dantean meditation on the power of art to shape the soul.
15: The Vision to Freedom
At the exact structural center of the "Commedia" are three cantos that deal with one of its most important issues, the nature of free will, and hence of love. Listen in and learn from a three-way discussion among Dante, Marco Lombardo, and Virgil.
16: Homage to Virgil
Near the top of the seven-story mountain, Dante and Virgil meet the Roman poet Statius. Although he too has been guided in a sense by Virgil, Statius does not at first realize to whom he is speaking. What makes this episode, which comes just before Virgil must leave the poem, such a poignant comment on poets and the meaning of what they do?
17: Dante's New Guide
The last five cantos of the Purgatorio bring together the personal and the political, the particular and the universal, and the personal and the theological, in a way that reveals much about the nature of the entire "Commedia." Purgatory ends with the pilgrim, now guided by Beatrice, cleansed and ready to ascend to the stars.
18: Ascending the Spheres
How are Dante's encounters with the souls of the saved in heaven different from his previous encounters in hell and purgatory? What clues about the meaning of the entire poem may we draw from the light imagery, which now becomes so prominent?
19: An Emperor Speaks
Paradiso 6 is the only canto that has but one speaker, the Roman emperor Justinian. His fascinating discourse on law and the virtues of the true ruler continues the discussion of politics begun in Inferno 6 and extended in Purgatorio 6.
20: The Circle of the Sun - Saints and Sages
In a canto that celebrates the virtue of wisdom, Dante meets great figures in the Christian intellectual and theological tradition. Yet his deepest lesson may come from reflecting on the life of the decidedly unlearned St. Francis of Assisi. Wisdom includes intellectualism and scholarship, but hardly stops there.
21: A Mission Revealed - Encounter with an Ancestor
The sphere of Mars is the heavenly seat of the courageous. Not least among these is Dante's own ancestor, the Crusader Cacciaguida, whom the pilgrim meets and talks with. How is this soldier and martyr a model for his poetic descendant?
22: Can a Pagan Be Saved?
Cantos 19 and 20 of Paradiso sing of the circle of good rulers in Jupiter, where the defining virtue is justice. Here Dante revisits the question of the salvation of non-Christians (first introduced in the uppermost ring of Inferno), and entertains some intriguing possibilities for salvation.
23: Faith, Hope, Love, and the Mystic Empyrean
What are the final lessons that Beatrice must teach the pilgrim before his culminating vision of God can be granted? Why is the saintly mystic Bernard of Clairvaux, who takes over here, such an appropriate third and final companion for this journey?
24: "In My End Is My Beginning"
As the poem opened, divine love was turning Dante's fear and confusion into a pilgrimage - a journey with a goal. Even as Dante suggests (he cannot directly describe) his vision of "the love that moves the stars," he is preparing us for a return to the world of space and time. As part of this "return," we reflect briefly on why Dante is someone with whom we should all spend time.