As I prepare opening notes for Dante’s Inferno, I am reading about the medieval world view and how our idea of the human being has evolved. Dante offers a wonderful road into these deep and dense queries as his Divine Comedy is his attempt to construct an intellectual universe based on the visions of his faith. Several interested participants have wondered how the study of the Inferno might be approached if one is not formally religious. I am finding, as I did in the previous Paris-based study of this work, that the pilgrim’s exploration of his moral and spiritual universe—and the fantastic images that result—provide the reader a map for their own inquiry.
Dante fought the Church—his banishment form his beloved Florence was in part a result of his criticism of Pope Boniface and the political party he supported. His creation of the realms of Hell, Purgatory and Paradise were his attempt to bring his intellect and faith in alignment; a struggle that humans have been inspired by since Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. Although I will provide background on the historical moment of Dante’s Florentine world and the political and ecclesiastical struggles that tore at his home, these are background to the very human pursuit: to understand the human soul. Although Dante’s terms are Christian, I do not think this desire is limited to the Christian realm. As always, the Salon conversation is enriched with a variety of perspectives, those who hold a formal faith as well as those who hold a formal questioning, along with those, (and I would place myself in this category) whose inquiry is loose and fluid and lifelong. We have so few spaces to share diverse views in religious ideas or spiritual traditions; I propose the study of a great work that engages a vigorous questioning of a formal belief offers that space.