The 2007 syllabus included:
In several cases, only parts of the work were included (for example, The Divine Comedy). In most cases, I read the entire work unless noted. Although Pascal's Pensées was on the syllabus, Dreyfus dropped it halfway through the semester, when he realized that he was spending more time on each book than he had intended, and would run out of time, and it was not on the 2010 syllabus at all. Both versions of the course are about thirty hours long.
(Dreyfus at least has an understanding of student finances et al. He is not too picky about which translation of The Odyssey they use--other than warning them away from Fagles for reasons I will discuss later--but he says for Moby Dick it will be important to have everyone's page numbers matching. However, he said he found the perfect edition: the Dover Giant Thrift Edition. It is inexpensive, and printed on lightweight paper so it is not difficult to carry in a backpack.) And for "Paradiso", he provided photocopies since they were reading only about 10% of the book. (In the 2007 version, he still was unclear on what would be included, so he started by saying that he would cover just Cantos I and XXXI-XXXIII, and would hand out photocopies so people did not have to buy the entire book. Then he deded to add some other cantos, which he handed out, but did not clearly name in the podcast; they seemed to include IV and VI, but I was never sure if I had read the complete syllabus.)
The basic thing the course is looking at is what people show up as in various eras and societies. In ancient Greece, there were heroes and slaves, in medieval Europe saints and sinners, more recently as rational beings, etc. This is not the same as what people are "essentially", and it is not a belief system. It is more basic than that, and starts in infancy (e.g. distance standing, active versus passive). This "basicness" is embodied by William Butler Yeats's statement, "Man can embody truth, but he cannot know it," if we substitute "understanding of being" for "truth".
Dreyfus's plan is to read these works for the specific (and different) "understandings of being" that the authors had, rather than the universal truths to be found in them (the humanist approach). In other words, the ideas is to see how the ancient Greeks, the medieval Christians, and the 19th century Americans are different from each other (and from us) than how they are the same. As he observed, the man admired in medieval Europe was a saint, but someone with the traditional saintly qualities who lived in ancient Greece would be at best a slave, but quite possibly considered insane. (This is of science fictional interest in terms of time travel. Mark Twain captures this in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, where his beliefs of what constitutes admirable behavior is at variance with everyone else's.) Conversely, Odysseus was a hero to the Greeks, but placed in the eighth circle of Hell by Dante (though frankly this seems to be more because Odysseus opposed the Trojans, and the Trojan Aeneas found Rome and hence was an Italian hero). This is why Dreyfus has warned against the Fagles translation of The Odyssey--Fagles's goal was to make The Odyssey seem very current and immediate, and his method was to smooth over any differences between the Ancient Greeks and us.
(Dreyfus mentioned that St. Augustine wrote about how St. Jerome could read without moving his lips, and how unusual this was. I had been looking for this reference to approximately when silent reading was invented/discovered, and was glad to finally find it.)
Dreyfus distinguishes between "articulating" works of art (descriptive) and "reconfiguring" works of art (prescriptive). In specific, he describes "The Gospel of John" as a reconfiguring work of art, but since that seems to be the only reconfiguring work of art he mentions, I am not sure how applicable the distinction is here.
First off was The Odyssey. I had forgotten how much of this was not concerned with Odysseus's doings, but with Telemakhos and the suitors, or with Nausicaa, or with other characters. For those into trivia, of the three great "Trojan" epics (The Iliad, The Odyssey, andThe Aeneid) the only one which does not tell the story of the Trojan Horse is the one actually about the war, The Iliad. In Book IV of The Odyssey we get the story, told by Helen. She may be a bit of an unreliable narrator, because first she says when she discovers Odysseus spying within Troy, "My heart sand--for I had come round, long before, to dreams of sailing home, and I repented the mad day Aphrodite drew me away from my dear fatherland, forsaking all--child, bridal bed, and husband--a man without defect in form or mind." But Menelaos then says to her that later, when the Horse was outside Troy, "Three times you walked around it, patting it everywhere, and called by name the flower of our fighters, making your voice sound like their wives, calling." (This almost made the soldiers in the Horse call out in return, but they managed to stifle it.) This does not sound like the actions of someone repenting her flight with Paris and wanting to go home with the attacking Akhaians.
Dreyfus claims that "repented" is really the wrong word, and "regretted" would be better, and in fact that Helen was not responsible for her actions in going off with Paris, because she was overcome by Aphrodite's will. Dreyfus's premise regarding the world view of the Homeric Greeks is that they believed that people did things because the gods decreed it. Helen went with Paris because the gods made her do it--she was actually blameless. The question of whether the Greeks believed that anyone ever had free will, or for that matter, did the gods have free will, was discussed in the class, but not resolved. Dreyfus did seem to feel the suitors had free will and did what they did of their own accord. Given that what they did was bad, it did not make a good case for free will. But if all the heroes did what they did because of the gods, why are they deserving of admiration?
Dreyfus also seemed to think that asking if they gods have free will was a meaningless question (he compared it to asking if they had athlete's foot) because the gods are exemplars of moods (lust, domesticity, war, etc.) rather than actual beings. But that does not sound right to me; in fact, it sounds almost diametrically opposed to the caution not to try to see the Homeric Greeks' worldview in terms of ours. We think of the Greek gods as embodiments of different aspects of our internal states, but did the Homeric Greeks? It seems more likely that they thought of their gods in more tangible, or at least more anthromorphic, form. Clearly the gods' physical state is mutable and ambiguous, but that to them the gods have an independent existence apart from humans seems clear. For starters, the gods have conversations with each other. If Athena is supposed to represent some interior aspect of Odysseus and Aphrodite is an aspect of Helen, how could they have a conversation?
And to return to Helen, what does it mean for Helen to say she regretted doing it at one point and then later doing something that could only betray Menelaos and the Akhaians?
The idea of compulsion by the gods is not unique to the Homeric Greeks. In the Haggadah, we have the following:
Jacob went down into Egypt.
Why did Jacob go down into Egypt?
He was compelled by God's decree.
And later, God "hardens Pharaoh's heart," forcing him to act contrary to what he had been planning. The former might indicate that Jacob chose to do what God said, but the latter seems to indicate force or actual compulsion.
A question: If plugging their ears with wax will block out the Sirens' song from Odysseus's men, how could they possibly hear him asking to be released, or know when they are past the singing and may release him?
In Book XIII, Alkinoös tells all the guests to give Odysseus gifts, adding, "We'll make levy upon the realm to pay us for the loss each bears in this." I guess this makes him the original "tax-and-spend" guy, or at least an early example.
And speaking of contemporary issues, how about Antinoös's speech in Book XVII: "Who would call in a foreigner?--unless an artisan with skill to serve the realm, a healer, or a prophet, or a builder, or one whose harp and song might give us joy. All these are sought for on the endless earth, but when have beggars come by invitation? Who puts a field mouse in his granary?"
By the way, Fitzgerald uses some unusual spellings for the Greek names. He uses a "K" where we are used to seeing a "C", such as "Kirke" (Circe), "Akhaians" (Achaeans), and "Klytaimnestra" (Clytemnestra). He also adds accent marks, umlauts, and other pronunciation clues, such as an accent over the second 'e' and an umlaut over the last 'e' in Penélopë. This is a little distracting to a reader familiar with the usual transliterations, and Seir&ecaret;n&ecaret;s (with carets over the last two 'e's) instead of Sirens is particularly odd, since the name has passed into English as an ordinary word.
Next was Aeschylus's "Oresteia", a trilogy consisting of Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and The Eumenides. Greek drama was written for competition in the form of a dramatic trilogy and a related satyr play (in this case, the lost Proteus), and the plays were normally performed only once. Yet the "Oresteia" was so popular that it was performed over and over.
Dreyfus spent a lot of time explaining why the "Oresteia" did not fit Aristotle's framework (or for many, definition) for tragedy. It is not about the fall of a hero with a tragic flaw. If it has a hero, that would be Orestes, and he does not fall.
The first play, Agamemnon, has very little action and consists mostly of speeches relating what has come before the play starts. In particular, we get a sketchy outline, more in references than in descriptions, of the beginnings of the Trojan War and Agamemnon's sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia in order to get a favorable wind to carry the Argive fleet to Troy.
In Agamemnon, Agamemnon returns home, where his wife (Iphigenia's mother) Clytemnestra has taken up with Aegisthus (Agamemnon's cousin). When Agamemnon is in his bath, Clytemnestra kills him, claiming the reason was Iphigenia's sacrifice. (I would find this more convincing if she hadn't already taken Aegisthus as a husband.)
It is interesting to compare the stories of Iphigenia and Isaac. To get the frivolous similarities out of the way first, "Agamemnon" and "Abraham" both start with "A" and "Iphigenia" and "Isaac" both start with "I". (This is even more frivolous when one considers that the names are in two different alphabets and the comparison is being done in a third.)
In both cases, the father is told by (a) god to sacrifice his child. In the story of Abraham and Isaac, no reason is given--it is apparently just an arbitrary commend. In the story of Agamemnon and Iphigenia, Agamemnon's ships are stranded on an island with no way to get off, and Agamemnon is told by Artemis that if he sacrifices Iphigenia, they will get a favorable wind. With his men starving and his promise as king to come to Memelaeus's aid in jeopardy, Agamemnon at least has some reason for the sacrifice. A more modern interpretation is that if the king is willing to send the children of his people off to die in war, he must be willing to sacrifice his own as well. The modern explanation also emphasizes the purposeful nature of Iphigenia's sacrifice, as opposed to the arbitrary nature of Isaac's. Artemis stopping the sacrifice would have destroyed the message of Universal sacrifice." (In Iphigenia in Aulis, Euripides wrote a variant of the legend in which this does happen. Artemis sends a mist and replaces Iphigenia with a hind at the last moment, carrying Iphigenia off to serve her in a distant land. It is considered a lesser play by many, including H. D. F. Kitto in his classic work, Greek Tragedy, where he calls it "thoroughly second-rate.")
In The Libation Bearers, another of Agamemnon's daughters, Electra, is mourning her father and praying for someone to avenge his murder. Just then, Agamemnon's son, Orestes, returns from his long exile and, after a lot of speeches, confronts Clytemnestra and kills her. Before he kills her, she pleads with him, saying, "Oh take pity child, before this breast, where many a time, a drowsing baby, you would feed and with soft gums sucked in the milk that made you strong." (lines 896-898) Again, the conviction of these lines has been undercut by an earlier speech the Cilissa (Orestoes's childhood nurse: "I wore out my life for him. I took him from his mother, brought him up. There were times when he screamed at night and woke me from my rest; I had to do many hard tasks, and now useless; a bay is like a beast, it does not think but wants you to nurse it, do you not, the way it wants. For the child still in swaddling clothes cannot tell us if he is hungry or thirsty, if he needs to make water. Children's young insides are a law to themselves. I needed second sight for this, and many a time I think I missed, and had to wash the baby's clothes." (lines 750-759) This is much more naturalistic than anything else in the play, and hence much more convincing. Assuming it is not just a function of the translation, this is the beginning of naturalism in drama.
The Eumenides is in many ways the most interesting of the three plays. It has the most "action," by which I do not mean car chases (or chariot chases), but dialogue rather than soliloquy and (for the first time in the trilogy) nothing taking place off-stage. (By tradition, all gruesome events take place off-stage, so we saw none of the previous murders.)
The Eumenides is basically a courtroom drama, with the Furies charging Orestes with matricide and insisting on his death, and Apollo defending Orestes. One element of the defense was that Apollo had encouraged Orestes to do it. But Apollo had another argument that must seem peculiar to most people today. To the claim of the Furies ("He has spilled his mother's blood on the ground"), Apollo replies, "The mother is no parent of that which is called her child, but only nurse of the new-planted seed that grows. The parent is he who mounts. A stranger she preserves a stranger's seed, if no god interfere." (lines 658-661) This is apparently what the Greeks believed, and has on at least one occasion been used as the basis for an alternate history ("Seventy-Two Letters" by Ted Chiang).
Of course, the arguments of the Furies are also alien to us. When Orestes asks why the Furies did not hound Clytemnestra for killing Agamemnon the way they are hounding him, the Furies say that the person Clytemnestra killed was only a spouse and not a blood relative.
In terms of world-view (which is more the focus of this course), Dreyfus claims that the "Oresteia" represents a transition from the older gods and ways (the Furies and spirit of vengeance) to the newer gods (the Olympians and the rule of law and justice in a formal society). The problem with this theory, in my opinion, is that Homer barely talks about the Furies--and even Dreyfus admits this. It seems to me that if the Homeric era was all about the Furies rather than the Olympians, then The Iliad and The Odyssey do not represent that very well at all. And if that is the case, then trying to use them to deduce the Homeric world-view is just wrong.
Dreyfus claims that the "Oresteia" makes a distinction between "father" and "king", in that Orestes killing Clytemnestra for killing his father would have been similar revenge of the Furies' sort (hence improper), but killing her for killing the king is demanded by justice. (The apparent claim that one does not need a trial for the latter is glossed over--I guess the argument is that there might be an excuse for killing an ordinary person, but not for killing the king.)
I have written at length about The Aeneid previously (when I did a Teaching Company course on it in conjunction with a Stanford University course, so I will limit my comments here to the specific aspects of The Aeneid that fit in with the Dreyfus's focus for this course.
Dreyfus did not cover the entire Aeneid, just Books I, IV, and VI (the introduction, the story of Dido and Aeneas, and Aeneas's visit to the Underworld). One assumes the latter was included as much to serve as a parallel with similar visits in The Odyssey, The Libation Bearers, and The Divine Comedy. (There is also one in Christian tradition, based on I Peter 3:19-20, where Jesus visits Limbo during his entombment and brings certain souls from Limbo to Heaven. Dante references it in "The Inferno", Canto IV, line 53.)
If the interpretation of being in The Odyssey is "mood", and in the "Oresteia" it is "justice and the rule of law", then in The Aeneid it is "pietas", an untranslatable word meaning piety, patriotism, duty, and other emotions all combined.
So far, the course has covered three works, all about some aspect of the Trojan War. The Trojan War itself is usually placed around 1190 BCE. Homer's Odyssey was probably written in the 8th or 7th century BCE. The "Oresteia" was written in 458 BCE, and The Aeneid between 29BCE and 19 BCE. So the composition of these works spans over eight hundred years, and the events they describe are four hundred years before the earliest of them.
In fact, one could say that there is also a Trojan link to The Divine Comedy, which has Virgil as Dante's guide for at least part of it. All this makes me wonder if someone has done a course somewhere titled "The Trojan War in Literature Through History" which begins with these works (and possibly additional works such as Homer's Iliad and Euripides' Helen, Iphigenia in Aulis, Iphigenia in Tauris, and The Trojan Women), and continues with Geoffrey Chaucer's Troilus & Cressida, William Shakespeare's Troilus & Cressida, and Johann Goethe's Faust, Part 2. It was when Dreyfus got to "The Gospel of John" that I realized that I had some basic problems with his theories. Much of what he said about "The Gospel of John" seemed to be based on questionable translations or interpretations, and Dreyfus admitted he did not know New Testament Greek. He would interpret "world" in "He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not" [John 1:10] as meaning social structure of the (physical) world rather than the (physical) world itself. He seems to be unique in this. He also claims that Jesus/Christianity elevates the physical body in a way that the Romans did not, basing this on the Incarnation of the former and the description of bodies by those in the Underworld in the latter. Again, I do not recall any other interpretation that feels that Christianity glorifies the body. (If anything, various traditions emphasize the mortification of the flesh.)
Dreyfus's explanation of the Trinity is ... peculiar, to say the least. He argues that Jesus is a work of art--not that "The Gospel of John" is a work of art, but that Jesus is a work of art, and that there are three elements to a transformative work of art: the "background practices", the exemplar, and someone or something to explain how the exemplar embodies the background practices. In "The Gospel of John" these correspond to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. At least I think that is his claim, but I find it extremely contrived.
Now, I thought I had a metaphor for the Trinity, from mechanical drawing. A "puzzle" given to mechanical drawing students is to ask them to visualize a figure that has its three aspects a circle, a square, and a triangle. There is such a figure, but it obviously looks very different depending on which side it is viewed from. (I really wish that I could find an image on line, but I can't.) I think of this as a parallel to how a single "being" could have three very different "aspects". (I think that the Eastern Orthodox interpretation of the Trinity, at least as I understand, may be marginally closer to this than the Roman.)
However, reading "The Gospel of John", I find far too many verses that do not fit with this interpretation. One that encapsulates two types of contradicting statements is "The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand." [3:35] The first half has one of the two performing an action toward or on the second one that makes no sense if they are identical. The second half makes a distinction between the two in their functions. So when Jesus prays to his Father ("... And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me." [11:41]) that is a contradiction in the first sense, while when he says "For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son:" [5.22], that is a contradiction in the second sense.
(While some might claim that John 10:30 ("I and my Father are one.") and John 14:28 ("... for my Father is greater than I.") are contradictions, in some mathematical sense they could both be true if both the Father and the Son are infinite. E.g., there are the same number of positive integers and even positive integers, yet one can also say there are more positive integers than even positive integers.)
I had recently (November 2011) re-read Dante's "Inferno" in the John Ciardi translation, and discussed some of the differences in my column in the 12/10/10 issue of the MT VOID. Someone who read that recommended the Dorothy Sayers translation, so when I had to read The Divine Comedy again for this course, I read her translation instead of the Ciardi (which was the official class translation). So first I will expand my comparisons to include hers as well, even though that has nothing to do with the class.
For example, the description of Dante climbing a steep hill is rendered by Ciardi as:
"And there I lay to rest from my heart's race
till calm and breath returned to me. Then rose
and pushed up that dead slope at such a pace
each footfall rose above the last."
[Canto I, Lines 28-31]
"After I had rested a little my weary body,
I took my way over the lonely slope
[climbing] so that the firm foot always was the lower."
[Canto I, Lines 27-29]
Sayers is closer to Huse:
"Weary of limb I rested a brief hour
Then rose and onward through the desert hied,
So that the fixed foot always was the lower;" [Canto I, Lines 28-30]
Huse and Sayers are clearer, but not as poetic as Ciardi. They are also probably closer to the Italian, at least for the last line.
I said that in Ciardi one sometimes hears echoes of Bible verses:
"These are the nearly soulless
whose lives concluded neither blame nor praise.
They are mixed here with that despicable corps
of angels who were neither for God nor Satan,
but only for themselves."
[Canto III, Lines 32-36]
This reminded me of:
"I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth."
Neither Huse nor Sayers has the compact "either-or" structures of Ciardi.
And sometimes I saw something that might have been Ciardi taking his inspiration from elsewhere:
"... [I] walked at his side
in silence and ashamed until we came
through the dead cavern to that sunless tide."
[Canto III, Lines 76-78]
This sounds a lot like:
"Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea."
[Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "Kubla Khan"]
"We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea."
[Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"]
Huse renders this:
"Then with eyes ashamed and lowered,
fearing that my words might have offended him,
I kept from speaking until we reached the stream."
[Canto III, Lines 78-80]
"Abashed, I dropped my eyes; and, lest unmeet
Chatter should vex him, held my tongue, and so
Paced on with him, in silence and discreet
"To the riverside."
[Canto III, Line 79-82]
I had found the inclusion of Saladin, Galen, Hippocrates, Avicen, and Averroës in Limbo odd, since they lived after Jesus and according to Ciardi the residents of Limbo are there because:
"And still their merits fail,
for they lacked Baptism's grace, which is the door
of the true faith you were born to. Their birth fell
before the age of the Christian mysteries,
and so they did not worship God's Trinity
in fullest duty. I am one of these."
[Canto IV, Lines 34-39]
But Sayers translates this differently:
"They sinned not, yet their merit lacked its chiefest
Fulfillment, lacking baptism, which is
The gateway to the faith which thou believest;
Or living before Christendom, their knees
Paid not aright those tributes that belong
To God; and I myself am one of these."
[Canto IV, Lines 34-39]
According to Sayers's note, this inclusion of post-Jesus non-Christians in Limbo may be Dante's personal view rather than Church doctrine. Certainly the presence of Saladin, who fought the Crusaders, remains peculiar. In any case, her recognition of the problem may account for the difference in translation.
For that matter, there is some confusion over Virgil's place in all this. He is normally in Limbo, presumably because he is pre-Christian, but he says that God "wills not that I, once rebel to His crown," should be able to enter Paradise. [Canto I, Line 125] But how exactly did Virgil rebel against God? And if he add, wouldn't he be in the last circle with the other traitors to their lords?
(In this age of electronic texts, I could look at the original, but Dante predates even Chaucer, so I suspect his Italian would be difficult enough for a native Italian speaker, let alone someone who does not even know modern Italian.)
Another oddity is the semi-henothesitic view Dante seems to take. Henotheism is defined as "the worship of one god without denying the existence of other gods." Based strictly on the Biblical texts, there is nothing heretical about this: Exodus 20:3, for example, just says, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," not that there are no other gods. But these days we think of Christianity as allowing for the existence of only one God, and if any other "gods" are in existence, they are considered as demons.
But Dante constantly sees creatures from Greek and Roman mythology, and even some gods (e.g., Pluto). True, they're all in Hell, so they could be considered demons, but I was still surprised to see Dante acknowledging their existence.
(A fantasy novel that takes henotheism as its premise is Harry Turtledove's The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump.)
of course, none of this has anything to do with the course.
One thing that does have to do with the course is the translation chosen. Dreyfus chose John Ciardi's translation, but then spent a lot of time criticizing it (and Ciardi), explaining how Ciardi changed the words to say what he (Ciardi) wanted it to say, and so on. The obvious question is: why did Dreyfus pick this translation at all, especially since my comparisons among Ciardi, Huse, and Sayers indicate that Huse and Sayers are fairly consistent with each other, but that Ciardi is often very different.
Dreyfus says that the views given of the sins are Virgil's (and the Romans of Virgil's time)), and that is why Virgil is harder on sins that Dante is not as concerned with, but the actual presence of someone in a circle has to be Dante's decision as the author. You cannot claim that Dante did not think that chivalric love (for example) was not a sin, but that Virgil did and so that is why Paolo and Francesca are being punished.
For that matter, Dreyfus keeps harping on the notion that Virgil often gives speeches about the structure of the Inferno and Purgatory and sin and virtue which are based on the Christian view of them, but that this makes no sense, because Virgil's view would be that of a Roman pagan, and he would not know all this Christian theology. But why would one not assume that after death, everyone is made aware of the Christian view of the universe (as being the actual, true view)? All the pagans in Hell for having sinned seem to know why they are there, and understand that there is an Inferno and not a Hades, or Elysian Fields, or whatever.
Sayers says that the story of Paolo and Francesca mirrors that of Lancelot and Guinevere (which may well have been the story they were reading). In both cases, the man was sent to woo the woman for someone else. (Think of it as the "John Alden Syndrome"--or doesn't anyone learn about John Alden any more?) But Sayers does not mention Tristan and Iseult (who are mentioned--or at least Tristan is), and their story is the same one.
Dreyfus says that Virgil takes Dido to task as "untrue to Sychaeus' ashes," but that he (Dreyfus) knows of no ethical system that requires loyalty to a dead husband. Surely he has heard of the Hindu system, where even if the wife does not immolate herself, she is expected to become live celibate the rest of her life. (I found it odd that, although Dido "slew herself for love," she is not in the Wood of Suicides, nor is Socrates. According to Sayers, however, suicide is only a sin for Christians.)
The Inferno, according to Dante, is divided into two parts, the outer and the inner. The outside is for sins of excess, the inside (the City of Dis) for sins of rebellion: "willfully opposing gods will so as to will what you will." Dreyfus insists that the city is a fortress rather than the prison Ciardi describes it as, because there are guards on the walls that try to keep Dante and Virgil out and speak of "invasio." But a prison is also a fortress, with guards on the walls and the possibility of "invasion" (an attempt to stage a break-out), and while the demons and fallen angels may remain by choice, it is certainly questionable that the souls in torment do.
Dreyfus keeps referring to the war in heaven (described in Revelation) and assumes everyone knows it, though he felt he had to explain the Incarnation and many other theological points in "The Gospel of John" for students unfamiliar with them.
Less time was spent on "Purgatory" than on "The Inferno", and even less on "Paradiso". (As a side note, why do most people refer to the three pieces as "The Inferno", "Purgatory", and "Paradise"? It would seem as though either the first one should be "Hell", or the last two "Purgatorio" and "Paradiso".)
In one of the appendices to "Purgatory", "Note C: The Sacra Fame Riddle", Sayers writes, "But if Dante is really taking that to be the original meaning of Virgil's line, then he has committed the biggest howler in history, beside which the 'pink emu' looks pale, and the 'sorrowful wolf' hides its diminished head." I had no idea what this meant. Googling "pink emu" was not helpful at all, but "sorrowful wolf" got me the following extract from Thomas Hughes's Tom Brown's Schooldays:
The boy who was called up first was a clever, merry School House boy, one of their set: he was some connection of the Doctor's and a great favourite, and ran in and out of his house as he liked, and so was selected for the first victim.
'Triste lupus stabulis,' began the luckless youngster, and stammered through some eight or ten lines.
'There, that will do,' said the Doctor, 'now construe.'
On common occasions, the boy could have construed the passage well enough probably, but now his head was gone.
'Triste lupus, the sorrowful wolf,' he began.
A shudder ran through the whole form, and the Doctor's wrath fairly boiled over; he made three steps up to the construer, and gave him a good box on the ear.
Apparently this refers to Virgil's 3rd Eclogue, lines 80-81:
&nbps;&nbps;&nbps;&nbps;triste lupus stabulis, maturis frugibus imbres,
&nbps;&nbps;&nbps;&nbps;arboribus venti, nobis Amaryllidis irae
translated by H. Rushton Fairclough as: &nbps;&nbps;&nbps;&nbps;Baneful to the folds is the wolf, to the ripe crop the rains,
&nbps;&nbps;&nbps;&nbps;to trees the gales, and to me the anger of Amaryllis!
I still have no idea what the "pink emu" refers to.
The lectures covered Dante's arrival in Purgatory, a discussion by Virgil of free will and determinism, and the pageant upon Beatrice's arrival to meet Dante for the last leg of his journey, whereupon Virgil rather abruptly vanishes. Not surprisingly, Dreyfus chose the Cantos that would serve to illustrate or support his thesis that Dante's world view is one of order and of rankings--an orderly universe designed by a Creator where everything has been made for a purpose, and which is extremely hierarchical. Unlike the Underworlds of Homer, Aeschylus, or Virgil, where everyone seems to mingle together in a sort of equality, the Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise are places where people are assigned a position based on their worth, and some are definitely better than others.
Similarly, Dreyfus chose a limited number of cantos in "Paradiso", concentrating on those connected to his thesis (although as I noted, he somewhat expanded his original selection.)
The hierarchical nature of Paradise leads to the question, of course, as to whether the residents of Paradise who are further from God wish they were closer to God. The spirits having come up through Purgatory, where there is room for advancement (as it were), one might think that they would hope for something similar in Paradise. But, no, as one resident of the most distant area says:
"If we could wish to bide in lofty bowers,
Our wish would jangle with that will of His
Which hath assigned our proper place and powers;
[Canto III, Lines 73-75]
Dreyfus seems to make an error when he claims that the lowest level of Paradise is inhabited by all the nuns. (This is the Moon, though this is symbolic rather than indicating that they actually reside on the moon.) It is clear from Dante's description that it is inhabited by those who were inconstant in their vows, not just all nuns:
"From the vain world my eager girlhood leapt
To follow her; I donned her habit, chose
Her order's rule, and vowed it should be kept;
But men more apt for ill than good arose
To snatch me out from the sweet cloister's fold,
And what my life thenceforth became, God knows.
[Canto III, Lines 103-116]
One might argue that the omission of any monks from this lowest level indicates some amount of misogyny--were not some of them inconstant to their vows?
The symbolism connecting the Moon with inconstancy cannot fail to remind us of Juliet's speech in Romeo and Juliet:
O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,
That monthly changes in her circled orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.
And isn't it convenient that the flaws of those in Paradise are in same same hierarchical order as the heavenly bodies connected with them?
And to top it all off, someone asked what should have been an obvious question (but I do not recall having heard before): what makes Dante so special that Beatrice, Lucy, and Mary arrange for a personal tour for him through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise? There are millions of sinners in the world, but apparently Dante is either the only one worth saving, or the only one who requires such an elaborate attempt. (Which is just as well, because can you imagine the chaos if Hell was filled with a never-ending stream of tourists being guided through by dead Romans?)
As noted, Pascal's PENSEES was dropped. For my comments on MOBY