Saturday, March 30, 2013

Reading through the Divine Comedy in real time

This year I am attempting to read through Dante's Divine Comedy in real time. The Comedy tells the story of Dante's journey through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise.

The trilogy is set over the Easter period. In Canto XXI of the Inferno, Dante is told that "yesterday, five hours by the clock from now, 'twas just twelve hundred, sixty and six years since the road was rent by earthquake shock". This refers to the earthquake that occurred when Jesus was crucified.

I am reading the Comedy in Dorothy L. Sayers' translation, which helpfully includes the time at which each canto is set. Occasionally Dante includes a reference to the time at which something occurs, and so Sayers' scheme is as follows:

Canto I
Good Friday – morning
Then I looked up and saw the morning rays” (I.16)

Cant. I – VII
Good Friday – evening
To that place wherein the sun is mute” (I.60)

Canto VII
Good Friday – midnight
All stars that rose when I set out now sink” (VII.98)

Holy Saturday – morning
Horizon-high the twinkling Fishes swim” (XI.113) = 4am

Holy Saturday – afternoon
Night is rising on the world once more” (XXXIV.68)

Easter Sunday – morning
By this we climbed, and thence came forth, to look once more upon the stars” (XXXIV.138-139)
Cant. I – IV
Easter Sunday – morning
And the dawn rose triumphant, making flee the morning breeze before her” (I. 115-116)

Canto IV
Easter Sunday – noon
Look how the sun doth stand Meridian-high” (IV.137)

Cant. IV – VIII
Easter Sunday – afternoon
Te lucis ante, so devoutly he breathed forth” (VIII.13) – this is Ambrose's evening hymn

Cant. IX – XI
Easter Monday – morning
About the hour when the sad swallow... pipes out her mournful way to greet the dawn” (IX.13-15)

Canto XII
Easter Monday – noon
Look how the day's sixth handmaiden resigns her office now (XII.80-81)

Easter Monday – afternoon
When I first spied the sun again, which now was near to sinking” (XVII.9)

Easter Monday – evening
Retarded near to midnight now, the moon... was making the stars appear but dimly strewn” (XVIII.76-78)

Cant. XIX – XXIV
Easter Tuesday – morning
Broad day had masterdom now of the holy mountain's every ledge” (XIX.37-38)

Cant. XXV – XXVI
Easter Tuesday – afternoon
The Sun had to the Bull transferred” (XXV.2) = 2pm

Easter Tuesday – evening
As when his earliest shaft of light assails the city where his Maker shed His blood... so rode the sun; thus day was nightward winging” (XXVII.1-5). Dante places Purgatory in the southern hemisphere. When it is dawn in Jerusalem, it is sunset on Mount Purgatory

Easter Wednesday – morning
The shades of darkness fled away all round” (XXVII.112)

Paradiso doesn't follow a particular time scheme. But you can see from this table that most of the reading is to be done on the Saturday. It's quite a challenging reading schedule.