Section: Arts/Humanities

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The Divine Comedy is life-changing!

Simon Chater

That’s why you should read it, says Simon Chater. Widely revered but little read, Dante’s Divine Comedy turned 700 years old in 2021. I celebrated this anniversary by writing some Tasting Notes to introduce the poem to new readers.   Shakespeare fans say God came to earth twice: the first time as Jesus, to show us […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 32 – the river of light

Simon Chater

Beatrice appears more beautiful than ever as she nears the end of her ‘special relationship’ with Dante. Doing her bidding one last time, he bathes his eyes in a river of light to free his vision from the last vestiges of earthly defects. Born a Florentine girl and now among the redeemed in paradise, Beatrice […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 31 – why is God asleep?

Simon Chater

Mystics often describe their relationship with God as a love affair. Dante’s is full of joy, even ecstasy, but he also gets angry with God – a less acceptable emotion that is harder to deal with. In Paradiso 27 we see the poet moving from one extreme to the other, then turning to Beatrice for […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 30 – earthrise

Simon Chater

Dante’s “earthrise” moment is entirely imagined – no astronaut’s photos were available in 1320. Its emotional impact is no less powerful for that. As we leave Saturn, the most remote of the planets, to enter the heaven of the fixed stars, Beatrice addresses him: In the array of the seven planets, each sphere enclosing another […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 29 – through a glass darkly

Simon Chater

In the sphere of Saturn Dante meets a kindred spirit, Peter Damian, who leaves him in no doubt about the limits to human knowledge. Saturn is the outermost of the seven planets, the coldest and most remote from earth. This is the heaven of the mystics – those who, on earth, led a contemplative life […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 28 – a refugee’s sorrows

Simon Chater

In the sphere of Mars, spiritual home of the courageous, Dante meets his great-great grandfather, Cacciaguida degli Elisei, who predicts the poet’s exile from his beloved Florence. A 12th century nobleman who fought in the second crusade and died a martyr in the Holy Land, Cacciaguida speaks of a Florence long vanished, a city “sober […]

The etymology of Brexit

Mike Zollo

‘Brexit’: a word which inspires irrational passion in some, and sadness and loathing in so many of others. “Brexit means Brexit” – really? What is its etymology, its origin? The very word ‘Brexit’ is nothing more than a corny ‘portmanteau’ word, a blend of words in which parts of multiple words are combined to make a new […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 26 – I am the other, the other is me

Simon Chater

The souls in the heaven of Venus enjoy spiritual telepathy – wordless communication made possible by their participation in each other’s minds through the all-knowing mind of God. Dante invents new verb forms to convey their ecstatic mingling of identities. Venus is the third and last heaven on which the earth casts a shadow. Here […]

Tinners Moon Festival, Ashburton, 21 April – 8 May

Anthea Simmons

We are so lucky to have so many creative, motivated people in our west country communities. People like Ashburton Arts Centre director and celebrated jazz musician Andy Williamson who puts together cracking events like the Ashburton Chamber Music Festival 13 – 23 July and the diverse, eclectic but accessible Tinners Moon Festival which kicks off […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 25 – dappled splendours

Simon Chater

The opening cantos of Paradiso contain an extended and complex argument about how we gain new knowledge and how we can trust what we perceive. The challenge, for Dante, is to understand that spiritual reality works differently to the physical world he is leaving behind him. Dante begins Canto 2 with a challenge to his […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 24 – the poetry of light

Simon Chater

Here’s how Dante begins his Paradiso – not with himself, as in his previous two canticas, but with God: This third and final phase of Dante’s journey begins in the relative world – the world of more or less, of hierarchy, of the many not the One, of the universe as a separate physical entity. […]

26 Places in Cornwall / 26 Tyller yn Kernow

Tom Scott

A new book and touring exhibition takes visitors on a unique A–Z journey through Cornish places and their richly resonant names, in poetry and photography. Tom Scott writes about his involvement and the project’s objectives. Angarrack, Feock, Halliggye Fogou, Nancekuke, Ponsanooth, Zennor… What secrets of language, history and legend can Cornwall’s place names unlock? I’ve […]

West Country radical? : a celebration of Paul Robeson in Devon

Helen Beetham

Most of us know the West Country as home of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and their struggle for trade union rights. It is less well known that Dartington Hall in Devon is where the Labour Party manifesto Let Us Face the Future was written. This set the direction for the 1945 Labour government, founding the NHS […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 21 – master of himself

Simon Chater

Reason can only take you so far. At the summit of purgatory Virgil reaches the limits of his knowledge. His task done, he crowns Dante master of himself, ushers him into the earthly paradise, watches in silence for a while, then turns for home in limbo. The wall of fire that purges the soul of […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 18 – what is love?

Simon Chater

Virgil’s great exposition on love is centrally placed in the Comedy, occupying Cantos 17 and 18 of Purgatorio. With this, Dante signals that love, and the understanding of love, are at the heart of his poetic matter. Doctrinally, the ideas Dante attributes to Virgil are standard-issue medieval philosophy, derived from the teachings of Aristotle and […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 17 – better together

Simon Chater

Life’s not a zero-sum game, say the souls on the terrace of envy, so don’t live it that way. Dante doesn’t ‘get it’ at first, but Virgil explains. We have just met Guido del Duca, scion of one of the leading families of Romagna, the region next-door to Tuscany, where Dante comes from. Like all […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 16 – enlightening grace

Simon Chater

The Divine Comedy is primarily a vision. It is the story of how one man, through grace, becomes pure in heart and hence able to see God. During his first night on the mountain, Dante’s damaged inner sight is cleansed and healed in preparation for the work of penitence that awaits him in purgatory proper. […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 14 – a dewy facial

Simon Chater

The first canto of Purgatorio celebrates our release from the pain and grief of hell. Virgil washes Dante’s face in the morning dew. Dante begins by announcing the change of mood: Boats and ships feature strongly in the Comedy, as symbols of the soul’s journey towards the divine. Here Dante is at the helm, his […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 13 – the hidden passage

Simon Chater

We are out of hell, but still close to the centre of the earth and it is still dark. Through the blackness, Dante can hear the trickling of a stream: The hidden passage that connects Inferno and Purgatorio is one of Dante’s masterstrokes, entirely his own invention. It conveys the idea that there is, after […]