Category: Humanities

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Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 18 – what is love?

Simon Chater

Virgil’s great exposition on love is centrally placed in the Comedy, occupying Cantos 17 and 18 of Purgatorio. With this, Dante signals that love, and the understanding of love, are at the heart of his poetic matter. Doctrinally, the ideas Dante attributes to Virgil are standard-issue medieval philosophy, derived from the teachings of Aristotle and […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 17 – better together

Simon Chater

Life’s not a zero-sum game, say the souls on the Terrace of Envy, so don’t live it that way. Dante doesn’t ‘get it’ at first, but Virgil explains. We have just met Guido del Duca, scion of one of the leading families of Romagna, the region next-door to Tuscany, where Dante comes from. Like all […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 16 – enlightening grace

Simon Chater

The Divine Comedy is primarily a vision. It is the story of how one man, through grace, becomes pure in heart and hence able to see God. During his first night on the mountain, Dante’s damaged inner sight is cleansed and healed in preparation for the work of penitence that awaits him in purgatory proper. […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 14 – a dewy facial

Simon Chater

The first canto of Purgatorio celebrates our release from the pain and grief of hell. Virgil washes Dante’s face in the morning dew. Dante begins by announcing the change of mood: Boats and ships feature strongly in the Comedy, as symbols of the soul’s journey towards the divine. Here Dante is at the helm, his […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 13 – the hidden passage

Simon Chater

We are out of hell, but still close to the centre of the earth and it is still dark. Through the blackness, Dante can hear the trickling of a stream: The hidden passage that connects Inferno and Purgatorio is one of Dante’s masterstrokes, entirely his own invention. It conveys the idea that there is, after […]

Education in crisis, and it can only get worse

Mick Fletcher

In any sane context the car crash that is Conservative education policy would be enough to bring down a government by itself.  The schools bill before Parliament has been so savaged in the House of Lords that ministers have stripped out 18 of the key clauses, leaving it bereft of its original purpose, yet doing […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 9 – What, are YOU here?

Simon Chater

On burning sands, under a soft rain of flames, Dante meets his former mentor, Brunetto Latini. His “sin” is homosexuality, according to the dictates of formal religion. But what does Dante think? We are in the circle of the violent against God, nature and art. The naked souls here, whose baked features are caked with […]

Mickey Mouse, Peppa Pig and the war on empathy

Tom Scott

The government’s trashing of arts education will do great harm to the UK’s ‘soft power’. But as Tom Scott explains, the damage will go deeper than that. A few days ago, I was at a meeting of University and College Union (UCU) delegates from around the country. Hearing from other delegates about the swathe of […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 8 – the wood of the suicides

Simon Chater

Suicide is the ultimate form of self-harm. In Inferno 13, Dante invents a new language of pain and despair to evoke the tortured minds of those who choose this ending. At the start of the canto we return to the landscape of the poem’s prologue, finding ourselves, again, in a pathless wood – not coincidentally, […]

Alfabetti spaghetti – become a pasta masta!

Mike Zollo
alfabetti pasta

It was probably due to World War Two and the British servicemen returning from Italy that interest in Italian food began to take off in the UK… as immortalised by Sophia Loren and Peter Sellers. As regards pasta, in the 1950s one had to shop at International Stores or J Sainsbury to buy macaroni and […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 7 – seduction by literature

Simon Chater
Rodin's 'The Kiss'

Among the carnal sinners in the second circle of hell, we meet Paolo and Francesca. Of all the stories in the Inferno, theirs is perhaps the one that most invites our empathy: the seventh of Simon Chater’s dips into Dante. Dante’s scene-setting is a powerful example of contrapasso ­– the idea that the punishment should […]

Au revoir to au pairs from Europe?

Tamsin Beadman
white black and brown hands on EU flag

“Carrero Blanco was blown up two streets away,” Isabel, my señora, mentioned casually on a chilly Madrid afternoon in December 1983 as we sat in her luxurious flat on Calle Hermosilla. “Have you heard of him? Ten years ago today, ETA blew up his car in Claudio Coello and it flew right over a church. […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 5 – the gate of hell

Simon Chater
gateway to Hell

Led by Virgil, Dante sets out on his journey. At the entrance to hell he sees these words inscribed over a dark gateway: The famous line here is the last, wryly quoted today in many a workplace and home. The absence of hope is the defining feature of hell, as anyone stuck in a dead-end […]

English language teaching: a troubled future?

Conor Niall O'Luby

The pandemic The ‘Teaching English as a Foreign Language’ (TEFL) sector has for decades played a vibrant cultural and economic role across the UK, not just in the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) area. The spring and, especially, the summer seasons, used to see large numbers of foreign students arrive to study English, make new […]

School trips abroad: the “Grand Tour”, blighted by Brexit

Mike Zollo

Cultural osmosis For many decades, visits, homestays and courses abroad in the country of the ‘target language’ have been considered essential to the study of a foreign language, both for UK young people going abroad and for young EU nationals coming to the UK. Indeed, this is nothing new: human beings have always travelled, mixed […]

Williamson’s Latin in schools wheeze…just another feles mortuus?

Valerie Huggins

I wake up to yet another ‘dead cat’ announcement from the hapless Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson: “Let them learn Latin” he declares in a £4m Latin Excellence pilot scheme to teach the language in 40 schools. It is not unreasonable for all those concerned in the difficult task of creating and maintaining an education system […]

Adieu Erasmus, bonjour Turing? A French perspective

Geneviève Talon

The celebrated Erasmus Plus programme started as a large-scale exchange programme for university students across the EU. It also provides grants for a wide range of activities, including the opportunity for students to undertake work placements abroad and for teachers and education staff to attend training courses. In 2018, the European Commission adopted an ambitious […]

Out-Foxing the Reclaim Party’s ‘war on woke’

Vicky Rosier

West Country Voices has previously reported on the government’s culture war against perceived left-wing or liberal bias in the arts, cultural heritage and higher education sectors. In October 2020, Virginia Button outlined government pressure on arts institutions and museums to toe the line on their involvement in contested reassessments of British colonial history, at the […]

Censuring students while censoring history

Mick Fletcher
black and white photo, man with finger to lips. secret

You could hardly make it up.  At the same time as government plans to appoint a ‘free speech tsar’ to stop students cancelling controversial speakers it also intends to summon heritage groups to be told by a minister what they can and cannot say about British history. It’s ludicrous but at the same time deeply […]

Has Brexit wrecked my life’s work?

Mike Zollo

“You may buy from us in English … but you must sell to us in my language!” This much-quoted maxim highlights the importance of language skills to international trade. What German Chancellor Willy Brandt actually said in the early 1970s was: “If I’m selling to you, I speak your language. If I’m buying, dann müssen […]

Goodbye to all that

Karol Kulik

As an American living in England for over 50 years, being neither a Brit nor a European, I’ve kept my views about the EU and the Brexit debate to myself… until now. Despite the last-minute ‘agreement’, I still find it incredibly sad to watch the British government and Brexit supporters turning their backs on the […]

In search of Cinderella – a virtual pantomime for Somerset

Richard Crowe

“In search of Cinderella” came out of a conversation between Deb Richardson, producer at Somerset Film, and me. It was late July/early August when theatres across the UK were announcing there would be no pantomime this year.  This was an intolerable proposition for a county like ours, with its numerous local societies producing an annual […]

Art Matters : Ashburton Arts

Anthea Simmons

Whatever Rishi Sunak did or didn’t say or did or didn’t mean  in his interview with ITV, the debate over the value of the arts and of artists in our society and economy has been front and centre recently. And rightly so. The UK’s creative industries are estimated to contribute around £13 million to the […]