Civil Reads 2017
Saint Louis native T.S. Eliot famously said, “Dante and Shakespeare divide the modern world between them: there is no third.” While most people are still exposed to Shakespeare, even if only a couple of plays in school and a handful of pithy quotes wrenched from context, few Americans have read Dante. This is a crime (or perhaps a sin).
Having not read Dante since I studied him in the mid-nineties, I have decided to make 2017 the “Year of Dante” for me. Next year, I will primarily be reading Dante’s Divine Comedy in several translations, as well as lots of relevant background material by Virgil, Augustine, Ovid, Aristotle, and many others.
I would like to invite Civil Readers to join me on this rare journey. Next year we will meet just three times (April, August, and December) to discuss the Inferno, the Purgatorio, and the Paradiso. If you’ve ever thought you should read Dante but haven’t had the gumption to sit down and actually do it, now is the time.
Most modern editions come in three fairly inexpensive paperbacks consisting of the one hundred cantos of poetry making up the three parts of the Divine Comedy, as well as notes putting the work in its late-thirteenth-century Florentine context. There are prose as well as poetry translations. I hope we will read many different translations, so we can compare how different poets render various passages.
I am currently finishing rereading the Mark Musa translation I studied many years ago and getting ready to tackle Singleton’s six-volume Dante with thick commentaries. There are excellent translations by Dorothy Sayers, John Ciardi, Allen Mandelbaum, Charles Hollander, Robert Pinsky, and many others. Ideally you might read excerpts from several translations and pick one that speaks to you.
And speak to you Dante will. The Divine Comedy would not still be translated, read, and discussed today if it did not remain deeply relevant. To distill this work down to its essence, the Divine Comedy is about love (in all of its forms). It is widely considered one of the greatest works of literature written in any language at any time. And with it and Dante’s decision to write in his vernacular instead of Latin, he essentially created modern Italian. Soon writers throughout Europe turned to their native languages as suitable vehicles for art, changing the face of European literature.
Despite the Divine Comedy’s “importance,” sometimes abstruse subject matter, and elaborate structure, don’t let this very readable work intimidate you. There is something for everyone to enjoy. Oxford University Press has a good post on why we should still read Dante: http://blog.oup.com/2015/02/enjoying-dante-vsi/
Pick out a translation of this excellent work and join me in reading it next year. There probably aren’t too many reading groups tackling Dante. Then again, there aren’t too many breweries focusing on malt-forward session beers. See you in 2017 if not before. Until then, drink civil and be civil … and keep reading!
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~Patrick Hurley, Barman Civil Life
The Civil Blog has returned. It is predominantly authored by Civil Life Barman, Dr. Patrick Hurley, who can be found tending to our bar patrons on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He is also responsible for tending to our draft lines, which is recognized as one of our most important tasks. Special guest writers will appear from time to time. We hope reading this blog will give you much insight about the Civil Life and most importantly help you understand a bit more about all of us that work here and the beers we put our hearts into.