Two gifted teachers share the fruit of two lifetimes' worth of historical and literary expertise in this introduction to one of the greatest works ever written. One of the most profound and satisfying of all poems, the Divine Comedy (or Commedia) of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) is a book for life.In a brilliantly constructed narrative of his imaginary guided pilgrimage through the three realms of the Christian afterlife-hell, purgatory, and heaven-Dante accomplished a literary task of astonishing complexity. He created an unforgettable gallery of characters. He poetically explored a host of concerns both universal and particular, timely and timeless. He tapped the combined riches of the biblical and classical traditions in a synthesis that forever placed Western writers in his debt as they tried to build on his foundation. James Joyce might have been speaking for those writers when he exclaimed, Dante is my spiritual food! Geographer of the Cosmos, Student of the Soul The full achievement of the Commedia, however, goes far beyond anything merely literary. Dante is a geographer of the cosmos and a student of the soul. His range spans not only the heights of heaven and the depths of hell but also the recesses of the human heart. As Dante the pilgrim makes his journey, Dante the poet dramatizes and asks us to reflect on fundamental questions: What is the quality of our moral actions? How does spiritual transformation come about? What is the nature of good and evil, virtue and vice, sin and sanctity? Why is the world so full of strife? How do we go on when we lose things we love, as Dante-through exile-lost his native Florence? What role do reading and writing play in human life? In the seven centuries since the Commedia was written, not one of these questions has lost its force. Moreover, Dante addresses them in a demanding and innovative Italian verse form called terza rima. His complex arrangement of materials makes the Commedia one of the great virtuoso pieces of world literature. Poet as Pilgrim, Pilgrim as Poet Set at Eastertide in the year 1300, the poem begins with Dante, in the middle of his life, feeling trapped in a dark wood of error. Lost and failing, he is rescued by the great Roman poet Virgil and can find his way again only by means of an extraordinary voyage. He must pass down through the nine rings of hell, up the seven levels of purgatory to the earthly paradise, and up higher still through the nine spheres of heaven to the empyrean realm where God dwells in glory. Along the way, Dante changes guides. Virgil gives way to Beatrice, a young woman about whom Dante wrote in his early love poetry and who becomes his guide through most of the spheres of paradise. And Beatrice, in turn, gives way to Bernard of Clairvaux, a Christian mystic who is Dante's guide for the final cantos-the poem's major divisions-of the Paradiso.Because Dante frames many of his concerns in terms of contemporary personalities and issues, and because so much of the poem consists of direct encounters between Dante and inhabitants of the afterlife, the lectures focus on providing essential background for and analysis of these encounters. We, Like All of You, Are Pilgrims Here Dante constructed the Commedia in three parts, and each part conveys an essential element of his message: In the Inferno, the poet describes the pilgrim's encounters with an eye toward deepening our insight into the nature of evil and moral choice. You see Dante meeting sinners drawn from each of the categories of sin he describes, ending with a vision of Satan frozen at the bottom of hell. In Purgatorio, the poet dramatizes the nature and purpose of moral conversion as repentant sinners arduously prepare themselves for the vision of God in heaven, strengthening their wills in virtue and against the seven deadly sins. Community and its great sustainers, art and ritual, become prominent themes as souls strive toward full redemption. In Paradiso, Dante has memorable encounters with great Christian thinkers in the Circle of the Sun and with his own heroic ancestor in the Circle of Mars. In the final cantos, Dante moves beyond the bounds of space and time and the power of language. At last, he is granted a mystical, ineffable vision of God. The moment brings to full circle the journey that began when the Love that moves the stars, mediated by prayer, first sent Virgil to help a troubled pilgrim who found himself lost along the way of life. Your Guides on Dante's Journey Professors William R. Cook and Ronald B. Herzman are recipients of the Medieval Academy of America's first-ever CARA Award for Excellence in Teaching Medieval Studies. The skills that earned that award are clearly reflected in these lectures, which provide a rich context against which to appreciate Dante's writing. You will learn: Invaluable background information on Dante's life and times Why Dante wrote the Commedia How to approach the various English editions available. As Professors Cook and Herzman guide you along the journey portrayed in the Commedia, you will learn how each part of the poem is connected to what has come before. You will see Dante raising the stakes as each of the questions with which he begins the poem are posed at ever deeper levels of development as the journey continues. By the time your own journey through these lectures is completed, you will learn why Dante's pilgrimage is an exceedingly enriching experience for anyone who chooses to accompany him. And you will understand why the Commedia is not a puzzle to be solved or a book to be read and put aside. It is a mystery whose beauty and power can be enjoyed for the rest of your life.