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Annunciations

Were it not the Monday of Holy Week, the Roman Catholic Church would be celebrating the feast of the Annunciation today, March 25. Lovers of Dante also celebrate March 25 as the day the pilgrim began his descent into the Inferno. Yes, there is a bit of a scholarly discussion about that, as there is with everything in Dante. In Dante's time, March 25 was considered the anniversary of the creation of Adam, the conception of Christ, and the crucifixion. It also marked the Florentine New Year. I'm on academic leave this year, and so it is the first time in more than four years that I haven't read part of Dante's Commedia. So, I have a proposal for dotCommonweal readers: I'm planning to read the entire Commedia from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday. The Inferno has 34 cantos, the Purgatorio 33, and the Paradiso 33. One hundred in all. That works out to two cantos a day for fifty days. If people would like to join me, I can write up posts on Verdicts a couple of times a week, and we can have a bit of a discussion of the text in the comments. It is certainly much more interesting to talk about Dante than it is to talk about the vagaries of ecclesial or national or international politics. I should warn you that I am by no means a Dante expert, but I'm proud to be a Dante enthusiast. If you've never read the Commedia,why not give it a try? Beginners and veterans, enthusiasts and scholars are all welcome. If people indicate interest in the comments to this post, I'll start posting some time next week. Who's in?

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Just a little background regarding the liturgical calendar.March 25 is so close to Good Friday because the early church thought it was the actual date of the death of Jesus.March 25 is the Annunciation because, in a mindset which viewed history as cyclical, it seemed appropriate to make the annual commemoration of the death of Jesus be also the commemoration of his conception. See Thomas Talley's book on the Liturgical Year for the entire academic explanation of this.By the way, this is the reason, as I explain each December to several audiences, that the Nativity is on December 25, a perfect nine months after the death/conception date of 25 March. The Xmas date has NOTHING to do with any preexisting pagan feast. In all likelihood, the feast of Sol Invictus was instituted in the third century, no earlier, as an imperial attempt to distract from the pre-existing Christian celebration on that date.

Team Capaneus, here.

Scott, what a wonderful idea. It has bothered me for years that I've never read Dante. I've been to his grave and listened to an audiotape about his life; now you have inspired me to pick up the three beautiful, slender volumes gathering dust on my bookshelf. Avanti!

I see it's online:http://www.bartleby.com/20/

Count me in. (I'm a scholar of Renaissance literature, but the English Renaissance--so a few hundred years later! Haven't read the full Commedia since college.)

I've done an annual read-through for many years now. Used to use the wonderful Allen Mandelbaum translation (easily available in paperback), went through Singleton several times (deadly accuracy, I'm sure, but a bit prosaic, though with magnificent notes), and more recently have used the Robert and Jean Hollander version (all of these are Italian-English on facing pages). I wish my Italian were good enough to stick to that, but Dante's Italian is a bit distant from the modern language -- imagine not reading contemporary English very well and trying to deal with, say, John Donne.Thanks to the Princeton Dante Project, the Hollanders' version, notes and all, is available on line: http://etcweb.princeton.edu/dante/pdp/

I am in! Also, I have to preach at Regis on April 8 (the date to which the feast has been transferred), so I am certainly scrounging around for ideas.What translation would you recommend?

Be sure to check out this website, too: http://www.worldofdante.org/

Just in time for Dan Brown's new novel Inferno scheduled for release May 14, 2013!!Here's a websites that doesn't get into all the weeds but is still quite useful:http://danteworlds.laits.utexas.edu/index.htmlAnd an audio interview (54 min) of leading Dantista (and charming gentleman) John Freccero who has an Augustinian view of Dante: "This week, Dante's Inferno. You'll hear poet Robert Pinsky reading from his award-winning verse translation. And Eleanor Wachtel talks to John Freccero about why The Divine Comedy is up there with Shakespare and the Bible."http://www.cbc.ca/writersandcompany/episode/2012/02/12/sunday-12-feb-201...

I would love to be part of this endeavor. I still have my copy of "The Divine Comedy: A New Prose Translation" edited by Howard Russell Huse, New York: Rinehart & Co. (1954).

I'll be courageous enough to participate.

Speaking of the Annunciation, here's a poem by Denise Levertov:AnnunciationHail, space for the uncontained God (From the Agathistos Hymn, Greece, VIc)We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,almost always a lectern, a book; alwaysthe tall lily.Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,whom she acknowledges, a guest.But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentionscourage.The engendering Spiritdid not enter her without consent.God waited.She was freeto accept or to refuse, choiceintegral to humanness._______________________Arent there annunciationsof one sort or anotherin most lives?Some unwillinglyundertake great destinies,enact them in sullen pride,uncomprehending.More oftenthose momentswhen roads of light and stormopen from darkness in a man or woman,are turned away fromin dread, in a wave of weakness, in despairand with relief.Ordinary lives continue.God does not smite them.But the gates close, the pathway vanishes._____________________________She had been a child who played, ate, sleptlike any other child but unlike others,wept only for pity, laughedin joy not triumph.Compassion and intelligencefused in her, indivisible.Called to a destiny more momentousthan any in all of Time,she did not quail,only askeda simple, How can this be?and gravely, courteously,took to heart the angels reply,perceiving instantlythe astounding ministry she was offered:to bear in her wombInfinite weight and lightness; to carryin hidden, finite inwardness,nine months of Eternity; to containin slender vase of being,the sun of power -in narrow flesh,the sum of light.Then bring to birth,push out into air, a Man-childneeding, like any other,milk and love but who was God.

So what translation should I order? There were a few different recommendations in the posts above.

My favorite Annunciation is the painting by Henry Tanner, the African American artist. http://www.artchive.com/artchive/t/tanner/annunciation.jpg.html

Wow, this is a great response! As for translations, I'm partial to the translation that Jean and John Hollander did. http://www.amazon.com/The-Inferno-Dante/dp/0385496982/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8.... I think it's the best translation of the Commedia because it captures both the lyricism and strangeness of the Italian. Somehow the notes are both encyclopedic and not overwhelming. I also like the Italian-English facing pages.But if you already have an edition of Dante, stick with that. The different translations will probably help our discussions of the text.I'll put up my first post on Wednesday April 3, and I'll discuss the first six to eight cantos of the Inferno. Looking forward to seeing everyone then.

Scott:i cannot sign on but what a wonderfl idea! Chesterton, when asked what book he would like to have if stranded on a desert island, said "Compton's Guide to Ship building" but I, rather liking the idea of an island sojourn, would take the Commedia.

Great idea, Scott. I'm in!

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you ... Gabriel probably said it best, if the Annunciation has anything to do with your post ... But please, read on.

This is a great idea. Not sure I can keep up with the reading and participate in real time, but I'll be avidly following the discussion.And thanks to Gene Palumbo for Denise Levertov's "Annunciation." She's one of my favorite poets, not least because of the poetic record she created of her self-described "slow movement from agnosticism to Christianity" (specifically, to Catholicism, about a dozen years before her death in 1997). Many of her poems with religious themes have been gathered in "The Stream and the Sapphire," and what I believe is the first biography of her (by Dana Green) came out just last year. Here's my favorite part of "Annunciation":But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions courage.The engendering Spiritdid not enter her without consent.God waited. She was freeto accept or to refuse, choiceintegral to humanness."God waited." Just wonderful. :)

I have never read it but it's been mentioned on this blog often enough to make me curious. Not sure I can keep up with the reading, but I just got Jacqueline Risset's translation into French. I was ready to regret the coming ending of the Komonchakian Lenten posts, so this might make a nice sequel. Interesting idea, in any case!

Gene, thanks for the poem. Lovely. Easter to Pentecost is a bit busy around here, but I agree with William Collier that this is a great idea. I'll certainly follow along, though I can't promise to keep up. either.

Wonderful poem by Levertov -- many thanks for posting it. (And in the contest of this discussion, reminiscent of St. Bernard's apostrophizing of Mary in Paradiso xxxiii.)

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About the Author

Scott D. Moringiello is a Lawrence C. Gallen fellow in the Humanities at Villanova University, where he teaches the Augustine and Culture Seminar and courses in the theology department.