Liberating the Soul: A Comedy in Three Parts, by Dante Alighieri

"The Inferno" is the only portion of Dante's great Commedia the majority of twenty-first-century readers will encounter. Regrettably, this means that the majority of Dante's readers mistakenly think of Dante as merely a moralist: first and foremost, a writer who is primarily interested in sin and its punishment. But the Inferno forms only a minor fraction of the greater poem Dante wrote in the early 1300s. The true subject of the Commedia is the liberation of the soul. In "Paradiso," the third and final part of the epic, Dante invents a new word for his profound vision of liberation: trasumanar ("to transhumanize," we might translate, to be as literal as possible). The word is meant to point to the miraculous possibility of crossing beyond the ordinary limits imposed by our humanity. This miracle - the wonder of trans-humanizing - is achieved by the human imagination when it is liberated by poetry. So Dante claims. This seminar aims to show the full arc of the Commedia by examining short selections from each of its canticles: Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso.