Day-to-Day Dante Overview & Sample Pages

My latest book, Day-To-Day Dante: Exploring Personal Myth Through The Divine Comedy, is now available!

Overview

Day-to-Day Dante by Dennis P. Slattery

Day-to-Day Dante by Dennis P. Slattery

The premise of this series of 365 meditations on Dante’s poem of the 14th. century is that his journey outlines the complex and rigorous process of individual maturation on several levels simultaneously. In addition, not a contemporary guide is the focus but rather the great poet of the Middle Ages who has crafted a work most have heard of but few have read, his Commedia, which was in circulation by 1314. It is the story of one soul, lost in a dark wood, who, with guidance from several sources, finds his way into what might be called the mythic and mystic sense of his life, in harmony with the larger created order. It is a poem, Dante wrote of it himself, “not for speculation but for implementation.” It is intended for those interested in using it to meditate on their own pilgrimage and to gain insights by the power of poetic analogy of the process of coming into wholeness within themselves.

Each page is divided the following way:

1 A selected passage from one of the three canticas—InfernoPurgatorio and Paradiso—of approximately 6-9 lines.

2. A summary paragraph or two on what is taking place in these lines that furthers the plot.

3. A more general meditation on what the lines of the poem invite us to think about, imagine and consider within our own lives.

4. A Writing Meditation question or statement that encourages readers to further their own exploration of their lives by means of the  poetic insights they will arrive at from the initial quotation.

There are approximately 121 passages from each of the three canticas. Implicit within the entire structure is the hope that the reader may, but it is not essential, buy and read the entirety of the poem. However, the passages were each chosen to keep intact the main trajectories of the plot.

I have cited occasionally only one source, that of the translator, Allen Mandelbaum, where his notes prove very helpful in situating the action of the lines in as efficient a way as possible. I avoid citing other writers on the poem because I do not want to detract from the reader’s own working of the lines with too much historical, political or theological commentary, of which whole libraries exist on these disciplines relative to the poem.

The premise is that the poem was originally written for an intelligent literate audience. Dante chose the Italian language rather than Latin in which to compose the poem, for he wanted as large a reading public to enjoy and be instructed by his poetic journey. I am trying in a modest way to reaffirm his original idea for the poem’s audience.

I have taught the poem for many years and find its implications inexhaustible. I want to share some of that excitement with modern readers, each of whom will find within the more than 14,000 lines large bits and pieces of their own life journey. No one could ask for a more sympathetic and astute guide than Dante Alighieri, poet, political activist, theological and philosophical student of the Western tradition and one of the subtlest poets that has ever lived.

Sample Pages

January 1

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.
Ah, it is hard to speak of what it was,
that savage forest, dense and difficult
which even in recall renews my fear. (Inferno 1.1-6)

Dante’s loss of himself in wilderness suggests how he has regained consciousness and seeks to know by expressing his dilemma, what actually happened to him. With the word “our” (nostra), the poet/pilgrim invites us as readers into his poem as a journey that begins in a dark wood. I call it “the woods of awakening.” Falling asleep to ourselves, our goals, desires and purposes is not a strange experience for any of us. In fact, we may fall asleep a number of times before a full awakening occurs. He also reveals the power of memory here to recreate the past with such force that the original fear accompanies it. His recollection is a recreation and with it, a reliving of the original experience.

When and by what means we awake is a crucial and often transformative moment because it determines what we will pick up again or retrieve from our life before we lost consciousness of our true path. It is a moment that reminds me of a threshold because we decide at such a juncture or crossroads what to let go of that bought us to such an impasse. Perhaps to go on, we must forget certain circumstances, forgive certain people, to be free of what keeps us in the woods. They are a place of awakening and entrapment at once.

The path that does not stray is our path to wholeness and completeness, one that yields joy in the making. Awakening renews the path of discovery.

Meditation:

What are the forces, powers, presences in your life that put you to sleep in the shadowed forest in the first place?

May 4

When we had reached the point where dew contends
with sun and, seconded by soft sea winds,
wins out because it won’t evaporate,
my master gently placed both of his hands—
outspread—upon the grass; therefore, aware
of what his gesture and intention were,
I reached and offered him my tear-stained cheeks;
and on my cheeks, he totally revealed
the color that Inferno had concealed.  (Purg. 1. 120-28).

Dante offers himself to the cleansing touch of his guide in order to begin the physical cleansing that will find its analogue in a more psychological and spiritual catharsis when he steps through the doors of Purgatory proper. But first he begins by yielding to another, his guide, mentor and close companion. This moment is one of grace for Dante in a liminal space where light and dew contend; the vapor on the grass wins out over the sun’s heat, at least long enough for him to be bathed in a lush natural setting, a micro version of the natural beauty of the Earthy Paradise at the summit of Mt. Purgatory. The bathing waters are virginal and universal. To remove the soot of Hell is a first step to removing all the sins accumulated in half a lifetime.

This moment between master and student is soothing and beautiful. The healing balm of morning dew is the cool water used to cleanse. It witnesses the intense therapeutic catharsis of the natural world: a hike in the morning forest, a walk along the shore of a lake, river or ocean in the evening; sitting on a rock in the forest to enjoy the healing songs of a chorus of birds. Not often enough are individuals gentle with themselves to allow these moments of grace. One’s face is the most expressive part of one’s soul; yielding it to the hands of another in care and compassion is a gentle reminder of the healing power of another.

Meditation:

What ways do you employ to refresh yourself in small ways during the day?

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2 Comments
  1. Dennis –

    Once again, you have vexed me. Now it will be on a daily basis! May our conversations continue . . . .

    With all my affection and admiration,

    Steve

  2. congratulations, dear professore, and thank you for letting me in on this super book of yours. xoxoxoxo