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The Divine Comedy: Dante's Journey to Freedom, Part 2 (Purgatorio)

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Now I shall sing the second kingdom,

there where the soul of man is cleansed,

made worthy to ascend to Heaven.

-Purgatorio, Canto I, lines 4-6

While Hell is “black, confined, stinking, noisy, and suffocating, the great Mountain of Purgatory rises in pure sunlit solitude out of the windswept southern sea.” (Sayers, Purgatorio; Introduction) Dante has undergone a conversion which has, literally, turned his world upside down.

Sadly, the majority of Dante’s readers do not accompany him beyond his escape from the Inferno, in part, perhaps, because of an instinctive anticipation that when the excitement of adventure is over, then the hard work of maturation must begin. Indeed, there is work aplenty on Mount Purgatorio, but there is also so much more. There is day and night, labor and rest, waking and dreaming, all the rhythms of diurnal living; but above all, there is the delight of hope. All that the penitent souls suffer here, they undergo in the eagerness of passionate yearning to be healed of the wounds of sin inflicted on them as part of the universal heritage of humanity. Purgatory is a “school of contemplation,” where the healing of wounds coincides with learning to suffer the weight of responsibility for one’s own identity as a person. For those willing to undertake the steep ascent of Dante’s seven-story Mountain, nowhere in the legacy of human culture is the process of becoming a “whole person” more closely observed or rendered with deeper psychological and social insight than in the cantos of Dante’s Purgatorio.

For us as modern readers, Mount Purgatorio is a steep ascent indeed, and if fewer of us accept this challenging invitation than do for the careen through Hell, then it should come as no surprise for us to learn of the untold years, centuries perhaps, that the souls whom Dante meets there require to complete their climb. A realistic willingness to suffer consciously and voluntarily, motivated by authentic hope, is hardly recognized as a possibility by most of us today for whom security and prosperity are accepted as the unqualified goals of our striving. Even to consider an alternative of the sort which Dante offers us in the _Purgatorio _is already a notable achievement, but one which the imaginative power of Dante’s poetry here places within our reach. Do not let the opportunity pass you by.

In this course, you will be asked to participate in learning activities on both edX and on MyDante, an innovative platform for deep reading that emphasizes mindfulness and contemplative reading habits as key to deriving lasting meaning from poetic texts. We begin on September 28 with an optional reading week. If you have not previously worked with the MyDante platform and are not familiar with the Contemplative Reading approach to the text which it is meant to support, the week offers a chance for you to become acquainted with MyDante and the practice of contemplative reading before we begin the course in earnest on October 5. Equally important, if you have not already read Inferno, we strongly suggest you do so before beginning Purgatorio. It is possible to read, understand and enjoy Purgatorio without having read the Inferno, but it is also true that familiarity with the first part of the journey will increase both your understanding and your enjoyment of the second. Finally, if you were with us for the Inferno, then we urge you to read through the Purgatorio in the reading mode of MyDante, or even as much as you can, during this week. The basic premise of contemplative reading is that re-reading is the best way to read. Try it; we are very sure you will agree.

  • Gain familiarity with the theory and practice of “Contemplative Reading” that constitutes one of the principal structural dynamics of Liberal Arts education.
  • Apply the general practice of “Contemplative Reading” to Dante’s Divine Comedy.
  • Demonstrate in-depth and relatively advanced familiarity with and knowledge of an epic poem of the highest cultural significance; in specific, Dante’s Divine Comedy.
  • Begin to articulate for themselves their own personal convictions in response to reflection questions about human dignity, freedom and responsibility with which the Divine Comedy inevitably confronts its readers.
  • Engage with the most fundamental goal of Liberal education, promoting the universal dignity of personhood.
  • Become acquainted with the specific contributions that the Christian, Catholic and Jesuit traditions of Georgetown University bring to the promotion of human dignity.

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The Divine Comedy: Dante's Journey to Freedom, Part 2 (Purgatorio)
7 weeks
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