Once upon a time I posted my musings about the relationship between Beatrice and Dante on an academic resource website from Columbia University called (sorry, link no longer exists) "Digital Dante." One of the readers of that posting, Dr. Alan Rawn, a professor of the classics at the University of Washington, asked if I could write a short version of what I had posted for use in his debut newsletter to be called "The Armchair Classicist." So I cut it back in size, and he cut it some more, and we ended up with the article in the premier issue of the newsletter, reproduced below. Please feel free to join the Northwest Society for Classical Studies and get the 'Classicist' for yourself if you like (see form at end of page).
PLEASE NOTE: I am not making this into a commercial page and am not soliciting memberships for this classics enthusiasts group. I am only including the newsletter verbatim, including its signup information, so you can see the entire work into which my article was placed. Nevertheless, don't let me stop you from subscribing either.
PLEASE ALSO NOTE:
(1) If you want
to fast forward to my contribution, scroll down to the red lettering!
(2) If you want to see my lengthier treatments of this Love/love story, click on my "Welcome" (etc.) link on my main page (the page you just came from).
Note that the original has some style and looks good, this copy has been
altered to make it more readable in this setting. However, this copy
has three additions NOT in the original, namely three paintings by
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) with some explanatory notes:
Official Newsletter of
The Northwest Society for Classical Studies Volume 1, Number 1
Welcome to the NSCS newsletter, your place for keeping up with Society events. Since this is the first issue, and since the Society is still in embryonic form, there are many questions that need to be answered. So here is a FAQ list.
1. What is this so-called "Society"? A. The Northwest Society for Classical Studies started as the germ of the idea that perhaps there was a way to offer many of the type of classes which were being taught by Alan Rawn through the Experimental College since 1995, but to offer more of them, and to widen the population base of people who might take them. The original plan was sketched on a napkin in a Greek restaurant. The idea stewed for a while until Alan Rawn, Marc Bateman and Deborah Knapp began to meet in Deborah's apartment, and laid out the legal and financial groundwork for such a Society. At first it was to be called "Schola Antiqua", and is still referred to as "Schola" by those in the know. The name Schola Antiqua was rejected finally, though, on the grounds that it was not in English, thus providing a possible barrier to some of our target population. Several other names were then proposed, each one rejected after the other, until we hit the perfectly bland compromise of NSCS which is entirely serviceable. Our goal is someday to offer classes by a variety of teachers, and to give hundreds if not thousands of people a forum for the learning, dissemination and sharing of studies related to the Classics and antiquity.
2. Are you really applying to the IRS for tax exempt, non-profit status? A. Yes. If the Schola gets its own space for meeting and teaching classes it will cost plenty. And if we are successful in getting this tax exempt status, that will allow all donations to the Schola to be tax deductible to the donor, which donations, when we lease a space to offer classes, will be quite helpful in keeping everything solvent.
3. When are you planning to get started? A. We hope to start offering classes in the Fall of 1998. To that end we have to find a space. This will be the tricky part of the whole enterprise. But until then there is this newsletter which is the official organ of the Society. Alan Rawn will be offering classes through the Experimental College in the meantime.
4. What are you planning to be offering? A. There are about 60 classes whose titles we have prepared in the fields of Classical Studies, Classical Languages, and Ancient Israel and Christianity Studies. A sort of preliminary catalogue of classes is available on the web at www.w-link.net/~nscs. We have great plans to offer trips to the Mediterranean and Israel. On a less ambitious scale we plan to have tee-shirts with "Schola" emblazoned on them, to have film series, free lectures, tea gatherings, traveling lectures, and more when we think of it. It should be fun for everyone. At least that's the main goal. Anybody have any ideas? Any "experts" out there who want to teach a class?
5. Are you accepting submissions for the Newsletter? And if so, of what kind? A. Yes. There is an ongoing call for essays to be published in our newsletter. We at Schola believe that there are frustrated writers who would like to know that hundreds, maybe tens of hundreds, of people will read their thoughts. If we are about anything, it is ideas. So essays may be of any variety having to do with our general focus. The best essays will describe a moment of personal revelation, even if it is someone else's. For example, a professor once commented how he had never understood why Homer in the Odyssey so often refers to Dawn as "rosy-fingered", until he traveled to Greece and noticed at dawn the streaming, reddish light of the sun shining through the dips between the mountain tops, giving the appearance of streaks of light, not unlike fingers. Could a poet in Kansas have ever thought to call Dawn "rosy-fingered"? As this illustration shows, Classical poetry is enhanced by reflection of the place and time of creation, but there can be no doubt that reading and studying the Classics in one's armchair, affords an unlimited number of personal reflections, any one of which could make a marvelous essay. Or if one is inclined, a more scholarly piece would be welcome. In fact we have in this issue a short piece about Dante and Beatrice, and courtly love in the Middle Ages. The author is a scientist working with nuclear waste in Nevada. More than a so-called "experts" (i.e., people with a list of publications in obscure journals), it is the "amateur" enthusiasts who are the likely contributors. At least that is our intended audience. In this issue too Alan Rawn includes his not-very-serious, but surprisingly illuminating, essay on the comparison between Homer's Iliad and baseball. These essays will be the kind of thing you won't read anywhere else.
6. I am incredibly excited about Schola, and can't wait to contribute, but how do I learn more and get involved? A. Since we are in the process of getting set up, these addresses and numbers will be temporary. Stay tuned for changes. But in the meantime one can attend classes taught by Alan Rawn through the Experimental College (no need to mention the NSCS (the Experimental College is quite separate) just ask for Dr. Rawn's classes in the Literature section (call the Experimental College at 68-LEARN to register, or call that number or 543-4375 to get a catalogue). But the best start for getting involved is to become a member of the NSCS.
Membership has its benefits:
Members will receive the Armchair Classicist Newsletter. We plan to publish it at least 8 issues a year. A Black and White edition of the Armchair Classicist can be mailed to your door, or a full Color edition will arrive via email.
Members will get a 10% discount on classes.
Members first will receive announcements of all upcoming classes and events. They will automatically receive a course catalog when it is prepared. They will receive preferential treatment at all times.
Members will be eligible for "Certificates of Merit" (upon completion of a certain number of classes). They will be esteemed in the community.
See last page for Membership Sign-Up, and more information.
Transcendental Love -- Dante and Beatrice
by Abraham Van Luik
The Divine Comedy is a grand love story. It is a story of a love that transcends time, space, and life itself: Love with a capital "L" --Divine Love! It is easier to pick up this Love-thread in the Divine Comedy by making a mental note of two related personal threads as you read this epic work: first, Dante is headed for a theophany. Second, Dante is hopelessly incapable of reaching this lofty goal. But Love, in the form of the spirit of the Lady Beatrice, reaches out of heaven, clear into hell, to rescue Dante from his spiritual immaturity. By testing and teaching, by causing him to grieve for his past sins and receiving a new baptism, she helps bring Dante slowly but surely to the level of spiritual development that allows him to approach the Divine Presence.
This development of the love story in the Divine Comedy is found through references to several incidents in his earlier life that are not explained anywhere else except in his earlier work, the "Vita Nuova" (Translation and interpretive notes by Mark Musa, Indiana University Press, Bloomington 1973). In that work we learn that Dante and Beatrice never had a "real" relationship. While she was alive Dante only saw her a few times in the street, and only once did she acknowledge his existence with a look and a smile. He wrote poetry to her but she did not respond. She never took a second opportunity to smile in his direction while passing. He was crushed.
She died, and he was further crushed in spirit, and even thought once that a certain young lady had been sent by the God of Love to replace Beatrice as the new intended recipient of his idealized love. This is the great infidelity that Beatrice accuses him of in the Divine Comedy, and that Dante sincerely acknowledges and repents of.
This entire love affair from afar, between Dante and Beatrice, is an instance of the application of the rules of Courtly Love, an institution created in the courts of France and celebrated by the traveling minstrels called Troubadours. According to these rules, the fact that both Dante as well as Beatrice were married did not present a problem. In that Courtly Love tradition, marriage (as society and the Church then dictated) was a political, business and child-rearing arrangement. Passion and romance were typically not to be found within the marital relationship, and was to be sought elsewhere. Judgment seems unwarranted from a modern perspective: these were the times in which Dante lived, and they were cruel and violent at every level. But Love still entered even this darkness!
(But don't get carried away with the romance of this situation, Dante Rossetti had many affairs. These no doubt contributed to his wife's suicide over depression, failing health and a tragic stillbirth.)
In the painting, a bird drops a flower denoting death into Beatrice's lap. A light shines on Beatrice, as if connecting her to heaven. In the background, Dante and the God called Love exchange glances at this precise moment. The painting thus connects many elements of the Vita Nuova, and symbolically, and correctly, suggests this was a meaningful moment in Dante's life as well as, obviously, Beatrice's.
Miraculously gracious to behold,
her sweetness reaches, through the eyes, the heart
(who has not felt this cannot understand),
and from her lips it seems there moves a gracious spirit so deeply loving that it glides
into the souls of men, whispering: "Sigh!" (Ch. XXVI.)
This "sigh" is a cosmic sigh. Beatrice has cosmic import. Saints and angels saw her glory on Earth and implored God to bring her into their heavenly presence:
The mind of God receives an angel's prayer.
"My Lord, there appears to be upon your earth
a living miracle, proceeding from
a radiant soul whose light reaches us here."
Heaven, that lacks full perfection only
in lacking her, pleads for her to the Lord.
And every saint is begging for this favor.
Compassion for His creatures still remains,
for God, who knows they are speaking of my lady,
says, "Chosen ones, now suffer happily
that she, your hope, live her appointed time
for the sake of one down there who fears her loss,
and who shall say unto the damned in Hell,
'I have beheld the hope of Heaven blest.'" (Ch. XIX.)
In unmistakable terms, Beatrice is, if not directly deified, identified with a messenger of a new covenant such as was the Christ, and these lines are a portent for Dante, they come true in the Divine Comedy:
. . . God has graced her with an even greater gift:
whoever speaks with her shall speak with Him. (Ch. XIX.)
Dante also combines the Divine and the Natural in Beatrice:
. . . God does have something new in mind for earth. .
. . . She is the best that Nature can achieve . . .
. . . her eyes, wherever she may choose to look,
send forth their spirits radiant with love
to strike the eyes of anyone they meet,
and penetrate until they find the heart.
You will see Love depicted on her face,
there where no one dares hold his gaze too long. (Ch. XIX.)
In Chapter XXIV's prose introduction, after he beholds his "miraculous" Beatrice, the God named Love says to Dante, "Anyone of subtle discernment would call Beatrice Love, because she so greatly resembles me." Thus, she is Love, Divine Love, Divine!
Dante's last chapter (XLII) says simply that "there came to me a miraculous vision in which I saw things that made me resolve to say no more about this blessed one until I would be capable of writing about her in a nobler way. . . . I hope to write of her that which has never been written of any other woman. And then may it please the One who is the lord of graciousness that my soul ascend to behold the glory of its lady, that is, of that blessed Beatrice, who in glory contemplates the countenance of the One who is through all ages blessed."
Now the reader is ready for the Divine Comedy, the story of the reunion of Dante and Beatrice and his spiritual maturation under her sometimes exacting, but always extremely loving and patient tutelage. Now the reader will understand the significance of her final smile for Dante as she returns to her heavenly place and allows Dante to go forward to approach the Divine Presence without her at his side.
Read it, look for the unfolding of this relationship, and weep with the recognition that this is indeed the breadth and depth of true, ideal love! The kind of love that we feel we are capable of, yet shrink from, because it will propel us forward into the Presence, into Love, whether we are ready or not!
Homer and Homers
by Alan Rawn
Few things in life are more perfect than baseball. I suggest this not just as an opinion or statement of personal taste, but as a verifiable fact, for baseball involves all three elements: teamwork, single combat and no clock.
Some sports feature that most elusive and frustrating element, cooperation with and reliance on others. Other sports stress the awful totality of single combat, where success or failure rests in the hands of an individual. Baseball, however, features both. Finally, unlike so many sports, there is no clock in baseball, no omnipresent third force imposing a relentless artificiality on the structure and continuity of the game. Uniquely, there is a self-governing rhythm to this game of combined effort played out in a series of individual encounters of one on one combat. In short, 1, teamwork, 2, single combat, 3, no clock.
There is no other sport in existence which combines all three of these qualities. Some have proposed doubles tennis, to which I have no response in regard to this jejune suggestion. Team volleyball comes close, perhaps, but at no time does an individual stand alone against the opposing champion. Many Americans have wondered if cricket qualifies. The answer is no. The clock is very much present in that game (so I've heard from a very English man). And of course no one has ever been permanently disfigured in a cricket match.
So how is baseball related to Classical Studies? I submit that one of the essential features of the Iliad is the rhythm and cyclical progress of the battles on the plains of Troy, the success of which requires teamwork, punctuated with individual combat encounters, unimpeded by a timekeeper.
In the first place teamwork is essential to the success of Iliadic battle. The warriors are in constant communication with each other, enlisting aid in killing, or in getting help for the recovering of a dead comrade's body. Indeed throughout the Iliad we encounter a sort of awful rhythm of killing generating another killing in revenge. Hector has to kill Patroklos in revenge for his killing Sarpedon, and the rest is too well known to rehearse.
Yet it is the element of single combat which provides the Iliad its main structure. Often the fate of a nation rides on the success of its national champion. When Hector falls, Troy is doomed. While the supreme single combat occurs in Book 22 when Achilles and Hector meet, there are others, Aias vs. Hector (Bk 7), Menelaos vs. Paris (Bk. 3), Hera vs. Zeus (Bk. 14), (as in war, so in love), and all throughout the epic, including the many speech combats. The parallels between the importance of single combat in war and baseball are clear; consider the Series, bottom of the 9th, two men out, and it's their ace against our best hitter.
Finally there is no clock in the Iliad. They fight during the day. They rest at night. Indeed, the advent of stadium lights in baseball has had the most unfortunate result of removing the similarity between the game and the war in this respect, and establishes the superior purity of the Iliad. The scene which best illustrates that single combat in the Iliad follows the timing of the heavens is the battle between Hector and Aias in Bk 7. This single combat contest was called a draw on the grounds that the Gods brought on nightfall. This was rather lucky for Hector, who was getting the worst of it, and who got to live for a few more days, only to be killed by a much more terrifying fighter.
In our modern era we have lost touch with these Iliadic rhythms. To regain the feeling we read the epic and watch movies about the days of old when major league ballplayers were paid only four or five times the salary of the average working man. To try to stop the corrosion of modernity we protest bitterly when they suggest putting lights in Wrigley Field. (To no avail.) We lament the attempts to "speed up the game". (It's a losing battle.) We don't mind when the ballplayers spit. It is a privilege we grant to our warrior saviors.
I wonder if this essay reveals more about the Iliad or baseball. I think it is fair to say that as the hero steps forward to engage the enemy and has the fate of his people at stake, either to their disgrace and destruction or to their pride and power, the spectator experiences a vicarious thrill, a sort of katharsis that need not necessarily end.
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