Category: Reviews

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Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 32 – the river of light

Simon Chater

Beatrice appears more beautiful than ever as she nears the end of her ‘special relationship’ with Dante. Doing her bidding one last time, he bathes his eyes in a river of light to free his vision from the last vestiges of earthly defects. Born a Florentine girl and now among the redeemed in paradise, Beatrice […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 31 – why is God asleep?

Simon Chater

Mystics often describe their relationship with God as a love affair. Dante’s is full of joy, even ecstasy, but he also gets angry with God – a less acceptable emotion, that is harder to deal with. In Paradiso 27 we see the poet moving from one extreme to the other, then turning to Beatrice for […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 30 – Earthrise

Simon Chater

Dante’s “earthrise” moment is entirely imagined – no astronaut’s photos were available in 1320. Its emotional impact is no less powerful for that. As we leave Saturn, the most remote of the planets, to enter the heaven of the fixed stars, Beatrice addresses him: In the array of the seven planets, each sphere enclosing another […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 29 – through a glass darkly

Simon Chater

In the sphere of Saturn Dante meets a kindred spirit, Peter Damian, who leaves him in no doubt about the limits to human knowledge. Saturn is the outermost of the seven planets, the coldest and most remote from earth. This is the heaven of the mystics – those who, on earth, led a contemplative life […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 28 – a refugee’s sorrows

Simon Chater

In the sphere of Mars, spiritual home of the courageous, Dante meets his great-great grandfather, Cacciaguida degli Elisei, who predicts the poet’s exile from his beloved Florence. A 12th century nobleman who fought in the second crusade and died a martyr in the Holy Land, Cacciaguida speaks of a Florence long vanished, a city “sober […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 26 – I am the other, the other is me

Simon Chater

The souls in the heaven of Venus enjoy spiritual telepathy – wordless communication made possible by their participation in each other’s minds through the all-knowing mind of God. Dante invents new verb forms to convey their ecstatic mingling of identities. Venus is the third and last heaven on which the earth casts a shadow. Here […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 25 – dappled splendours

Simon Chater

Dante begins Paradiso 2 with a challenge to his readers: This is a parting of the ways, a separation of sheep from goats. The poet divides those who have read him thus far into two groups – “ordinary” readers, whose motivation is worldly curiosity, and readers with a deeper, divinely inspired thirst for knowledge – […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 24 – the poetry of light

Simon Chater

Here’s how Dante begins his Paradiso – not with himself, as in his previous two canticas, but with God: This third and final phase of Dante’s journey begins in the relative world – the world of more or less, of hierarchy, of the many not the One, of the universe as a separate physical entity. […]

26 Places in Cornwall / 26 Tyller yn Kernow

Tom Scott

A new book and touring exhibition takes visitors on a unique A–Z journey through Cornish places and their richly resonant names, in poetry and photography. Tom Scott writes about his involvement and the project’s objectives. Angarrack, Feock, Halliggye Fogou, Nancekuke, Ponsanooth, Zennor… What secrets of language, history and legend can Cornwall’s place names unlock? I’ve […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 21 – master of himself

Simon Chater

Reason can only take you so far. At the summit of purgatory Virgil reaches the limits of his knowledge. His task done, he crowns Dante master of himself, ushers him into the earthly paradise and turns for home in limbo. The wall of fire that purges the soul of lust is the final barrier before […]

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 […]

I saw the monster but couldn’t see the point

Mick Fletcher

On a cold, dull and windy day I went to Weston to see the monster. At a distance it looked disappointingly small, dwarfed by miles of empty sand and sea, but as I walked along the beach it grew until its full scale was apparent. So, too, was its oddity. The monster – a repurposed […]

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 […]

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 […]

The man behind Operation Mincemeat

Mick Fletcher

The film ‘Operation Mincemeat’ released over the Easter weekend, tells the exciting story of a key event in the second World War. The Germans were tricked into thinking that an attack on Europe from North Africa would start in Greece rather than the more obvious route through Sicily. Historian Hugh Trevor-Roper called it “The most […]

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 […]

Dante’s Divine Comedy: tasting notes 4

Simon Chater
Dante's Inferno colour plate from early edition

Enter Virgil, voice of reason Continuing his series of dips into Dante, Simon Chater begins the descent into hell and finds some interesting parallels between Dante’s Florence and the world in 2022. Reason, sweet reason! How we – or some of us, at least – long for you in the age of Brexit, Trumpism and […]