About this courseSkip About this course
Turn back if you would see your shores again.
Do not set forth upon the deep,
for, losing sight of me, you would be lost.
-Paradiso, Canto II, lines 4-6
Joy is the business of Paradiso, that much is clear; but could there be a more mysterious word in the whole realm of human imagination than “Joy?” “Joy” boggles the human imagination because it asks us to follow the vector of hope to its maximal extension and intention, until it arrives at that point which Dante locates “nel mezzo,” at the very center of everything, at that point where every centripetal and centrifugal force of both the physical universe of energy and the symbolic universe of creative imagination and meaning first arise and finally return.
From beginning to end, the Pilgrim’s progress through Paradiso is enabled and guided by his enactment of the role to which he consented in the climactic episode of the Purgatorio in the garden of the Earthly Paradise. Now leaving Earth behind and beneath, the Pilgrim is transformed into the disciple; specifically, the disciple of Beatrice. She now becomes his true path, la diritta via, along which he gradually discovers the Joy that Christianity identifies as the hope of Resurrection.
Dante’s_ Paradiso_ maps the physics of freedom, tracing a universal history of meaning. Just as there is a physics of matter and energy, there is a physics of freedom governing the evolutionary history of hope which directs the human search for meaning in every person’s life and in all human culture. In this universe, meaning functions as does light in the physical universe, acting as its absolute measure and enforcing its most basic law—the law of relational identity, where “all are responsible to all for all.” Like the principle of relativity in the physics of energy, relational identity means that each personal existence has historical reality only in relation to all other personal identities.
Almost everyone agrees that the poetry of the_ Paradiso_ is sublime. Sublimity, however, is a highly rarefied and strenuously acquired taste. This is why Dante himself warns us in the second canto of the_ Paradiso that unless we have become used to eat the “bread of Angels,” we should turn back and not attempt to follow him on this final leg of his journey, and we as modern-day readers might well be tempted here to turn back as the Pilgrim himself was tempted in the second canto of the _Inferno. But to paraphrase Virgil’s response then, which both encouraged and challenged, “Why be so afraid to reach for what your heart most hopes for; where else do you have to turn?”
In this course, you will be asked to participate in learning activities on both edX and on MyDante, an innovative platform for deep reading that emphasizes mindfulness and contemplative reading habits as key to deriving lasting meaning from poetic texts. The pedagogical approach of the course goes beyond mere academic commentary on the poem as literature; it introduces the reader to a way of thinking about the meaning of the poem at a personal level. This module is the third of three modules that compose the full course. Part 1 (Vita Nuova and Inferno) and Part 2 (Purgatorio) of the course are available as archived versions on edX and MyDante. This course features Robert and Jean Hollander's contemporary translations of Dante Alighieri's Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, permission courtesy of The Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC. The print editions contain valuable notes and commentary which are highly recommended as companions to the course materials.
What you'll learnSkip What you'll learn
- Students will become familiar with the theory and practice of “Contemplative Reading” that constitutes one of the principal structural dynamics of Liberal Arts education.
- Students will be able to apply the general practice of “Contemplative Reading” to Dante’s Divine Comedy.
- Students will demonstrate in-depth and relatively advanced familiarity with and knowledge of an epic poem of the highest cultural significance; in specific, Dante’s Divine Comedy.
- Students will begin to articulate for themselves their own personal convictions in response to reflection questions about human dignity, freedom and responsibility with which the Divine Comedy inevitably confronts its readers.
- Students will engage with the most fundamental goal of Liberal education, promoting the universal dignity of personhood.
- Students will become acquainted with the specific contributions the Christian, Catholic and Jesuit tradition of Georgetown University bring to the promotion of human dignity.
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