Monday, February 11, 2008

Lenten Reading

Sci Fi Catholic is going to abstain from reading fiction during Lent. Instead, he'll be plowing his way through The New Complete Works of Josephus translated by William Whiston with new editing and additional commentary by Paul L. Maier (who apparently also writes novels).

If you'd like to join The 4o-Day Josephus Read-a-Thon "put the comics and sf novels down, pick up a weighty nonfiction tome, and prove to the world that Sci Fi Catholics don't just read ephemeral garbage; sometimes we read boring stuff, too." I'm tempted to join in, but surprisingly my library has no copy of Josephus in any edition. (I'm watching the budget pretty closely right now, so get thee behind me, Amazon!) Anyway, I've enjoyed reading about his comments about Josephus here and here.

Darwin Catholic is going for a second year of Lenten Meditations on the Divine Comedy. He'll be picking up at book 12 of the Purgatorio. As Darwin points out, modern readers tend to give most of their attention to the Inferno:

For far too many in the modern world, Dante is that medieval guy who wrote the poem about hell. The Inferno is by far the most read, and when it crops up in high school or college reading lists, it's often read quickly with an emphasis on some of the more horrific images involved and Dante's notorious propensity to put real characters (ranging from political enemies to recent popes) in hell. This is a shame, because in focusing on some of the more spectacular surface elements of the first third of the Commedia, one loses the real sense of what Dante was trying to achieve.

At root, the Divine Comedy is about the spiritual progress of the soul, from attachment to sin, through repentance and purgation, to virtue and salvation. . . In the Inferno, Dante learns the nature of sin, while in the Purgatory he learns to strive to replace each sin with its opposing virtue. The Paradiso is, in turn, an allegory of prayer and the spiritual life culminating in the beatific vision of God surrounded by a "celestial rose" made of the angels and the ever-rejoicing saints.

In this sense, a prayerful reading of the Divine Comedy is most appropriate for Lent, when we seek to assure that we are on the long road that winds Eastward, and making progress towards our Maker.
I've already got the book for this one, so I'm planning to read along. I'll probably use the Dorothy Sayers translation which has excellent notes. Many people do not care for her translation because she attempted to reproduce in English Dante's terza rima. Personally, I find her translation charming, but my tastes in poetry are very hobbitish.

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