Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Dante and Leda

So, we've been reading Dante's Inferno in my World Lit class... I always feared reading it because I was worried I would be so opinionated about things like this... I worried that I could not appreciate some literary works like this because I was a Christian... but what's interesting is that over the past 3 years, works like Dante and writing papers about things like gay marriage and what not have made me shake in my boots... I used to hate having to engage with anything like that. Since then, I've realized that not only can I seperate myself from these topics in a way that I can appreciate some view different than my own, I can focus on the way things are written and the why aspect too... not to mention the fact that sometimes writing about or reading about things that are controversial help me flesh out my own view and get my own opinion straight.
That being said, I remember one time my friend living down the hall when I was in the dorms had me read her paper on Dante's Inferno.... She was an English major and taking this class, ENGL 208, her very first semester... I read it and was totally intimidated by the content of the paper and the meanings of the tale... it was down right creepy. So, I've spent a few years dreading this work, thinking of it as gorey, blasphemous, and spooky, but SURPRISE... I reallllllly have enjoyed it. The way Dante introduces Christianity to a pagan world is brilliant, it reads like a movie, but it's dark enough to creep people out and get them thinking about the real reality of Hell.

I like having those "I like this!" moments.
I hold onto them.
I did the same thing with Leda and the Swan when I first read it my freshman year in ENGL 208 (British Lit).... I was awestruck by how something so vile and so disturbing, could be so elegant, so beautifully written....

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.
How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?
A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

This is the power that lies in literature... and something I hope I can explain to my students one day.

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