On Monday I introduced our new (free) series, an introduction to Dante’s Inferno.
Canto 1 is here, if you missed it.
We’re publishing short extracts, along with a commentary by Francesca Colombo, one of our regular writers.
And an English translation, for the uneducated masses, amongst which I proudly count myself.
Since Monday I’ve argued with several club members, one of who directly called me stupid and nationalistic.
After an exchange of emails during which he failed to moderate his tone in response to reasoned argument, I ‘unsubscribed’ him, which was satisfying.
Someone else (a notorious troll) argued that Dante couldn’t be difficult for anyone who knows Italian well, as Shakespeare isn’t difficult at all for native speakers, is it?
Which I disagree with.
Literature (prose, poetry, plays) from hundreds of years back is notoriously hard for most people – the vocabulary is often obscure and the many cultural references are mostly meaningless to a modern reader.
Who ARE all these people Dante’s going to meet in hell?
I’ve no idea.
However, that’s not a reason not to show an interest (though honestly? I’d rather read a newspaper.)
Alan’s email was much more polite.
He wrote to thank me for the material and to tell me that he and his Italian class love this sort of thing, and go out of their way to learn more about Italian culture (by which he means the hard stuff like Dante, not today’s rap and Instagram).
When you’re learning a language, do you have to learn the (dead, white people’s) culture to accompany it?
If that were true, the multi-billion-dollar English as a Second/Foreign Language industry would be much diminished.
And most Italian language schools would go under.
Nevertheless, different strokes for different folks, and all that.
There’s nothing WRONG with ‘culture’, as long as you remember that just being old doesn’t necessarily make it any ‘better’ than what writers, artists, musicans, film directors, and so on are producing today.
Culture, Google tells me is:
the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively: “20th century popular culture”
It’s just the older it is, the harder it is to fathom out.
So I’m persisting with Dante, even though it’s tricky, and despite the fact that it provokes a small fraction of club members to bombard me with elitist nonsense.
If only to find out what the fuss is about…
Hence Canto II.
With Francesca’s help, I more-or-less made sense of the Italian extracts, and bouyed up by that, read the whole of the English translation of Canto II (also hard, as it’s full of people I’ve never heard of. But anyway…)
Here’s a sneek preview: Virgil, the poet and Dante’s guide, lets on that it was Beatrice, Dante’s lost love, who intervened to ask him to help Dante out.
Which news cheers Dante up (perhaps it’s a bit like coming across a former lover’s Facebook page…) so off they set for hell, where they’re scheduled to arrive in Canto III, to be published on Friday, unless I get fed up with the snobbish abuse and decide to sulk.
If you like this sort of thing, enjoy!
If you don’t, or think you don’t, that is to say, if you’re a ‘culture denier’ like Thiemann and I (“Whenever I hear [the word] ‘culture’… I remove the safety from my Browning!”), do have a look anyway.
It makes a change from cat videos on Youtube.
A venerdì, when things ‘hot up’ somewhat…
Or you could listen to Tuesday’s bulletin of ‘easy’ Italian news.
It has pirates, and astronauts!
Boys’ Own stuff, but fun.
And there are no poets, at least not yet.