He seeks to regain his mojo by acquiring mistresses, fast cars, the divine comedy pdf modern english other totems of youth. What kind of chump has a mid-life crisis? Well, for one, a 46-year-old chump like me—and I didn’t see it coming. Good job, good church, good health?

True, my only sibling died in 2011, but that event turned into an occasion of grace, one that brought me the unexpected blessing of returning to my hometown after a lifetime of wandering. And the book I wrote about that journey had for the first time given me financial security. Yet last summer I was mired in despair. The cause was the failure of the expectation I had over my return home—a happily-ever-after hope that grace would forever bridge the fault lines between my family and me that had driven me to leave as a young man. It had not happened, even though I had done everything in my power to make it so. No matter how far I had strayed from home, I never felt the pain of exile as I did last year—a pain exacerbated by my felt inability to steel my mind and marshal my will to master it.

I was lost, but lost in a familiar way. When I was 17, as a restless, anxious teenager, I wandered unawares into the Gothic cathedral at Chartres. The wonder and beauty of that medieval masterpiece made me realize that life was far more filled with joy, with possibility, with adventure and romance than I had imagined. I did not walk out of the cathedral that day a Christian, but I did leave as a pilgrim who was onto something.

I recently wrote to a friend. What I meant was that I needed my vision renewed, my spirit revived, my world re-enchanted by what I perceived there in 1984 as a world-weary American teenager who thought he had seen it all, but who in truth had no idea how blind he was until he beheld the most beautiful church in the world. For the straight way was lost. I read on in that first canto, or chapter, and stood with Dante the pilgrim as wild beasts—allegories of sin—cut off all routes out of the terrifying wood. So Dante follows Virgil—and I followed Dante. I did not know it in that moment, but those were the first steps of a journey that would lead me through this incomparable 14th-century poem—all 14,233 lines in 100 cantos—through the pits of Hell, up the mountain of Purgatory, beyond space and time to the zenith of Paradise—and out of my own dark wood of depression. Florentine citizen who had been a soldier, a statesman, a diplomat, and, of course, a poet.

He had been caught up in the political intrigue and violence of his times, which, given the role of the medieval papacy in worldly politics, meant enmeshment in religious controversy and strife as well. Around 1301, Florentine authorities aligned with the corrupt Pope Boniface VIII exiled the poet from his beloved city. The trauma of this sentence, and the sins and failings that had brought about such injustice into his world, provoked a personal crisis in the middle-aged poet. He began writing the Commedia, his epic account of an imaginative journey from darkness to the ultimate light: theosis, or unity with God. Steeped in Scholasticism and church-state politics of the High Middle Ages, the Commedia is theologically deep and politically pungent, saturated in historical detail. In their excellent audio course on the Commedia, the contemporary Dantists Bill Cook and Ron Herzman say that different audiences they’ve taught have responded to different aspects of the poem. Undergraduates tend to prefer the cinematic vividness of the Inferno, inmates respond to the Purgatorio’s stress on moral reform, and monks love the contemplative nature of the Paradiso.

Cited as examples of temperance and gluttony by a voice hidden in a tree of temptation. You cannot judge a life by how you have chosen to live yours. In this way, and a Stoic. Father of Sylvius”, and the various timezones of the Earth.

Dante the pilgrim—that is, the protagonist of the poem, not its author—starts his journey to enlightenment by walking through the chaos of his own soul. For Dante, the worst sins are not those of the appetite—Lust and Gluttony, for example—but sins against the things that make us most human. Dante uses this categorization as a method of exploring the nature of sin as a perversion of the Good. To give oneself over wholly to lust, gluttony, or greed is damnable, but not as damnable as the higher—or rather, lower—sins, which involve not only the disordered bodily passions but also disordered passions of the mind. The pilgrim Dante comes slowly to recognize elements of each sinner’s fault in his own character. The purpose of this tour of the infernal regions is to awaken the pilgrim to the reality of sin—how it separates men from God, from their better natures, and from each other—and of his own responsibility for the disorder in the world and in his own soul. This is an examination of conscience that often catches one by surprise.

Early in the Inferno, Dante has one of the most memorable encounters of the entire Commedia. Dante finds the Lustful punished for eternity by being blown around endlessly, like leaves in a gale. In both Inferno and Purgatorio, the punishments disclose the nature of the sin. After asking to speak to one of the damned, Dante encounters Paolo and Francesca, who had been real-life lovers caught by Francesca’s husband and murdered. They are yoked together forever now, but only Francesca speaks. She tells the pilgrim that they read romantic literature together, and allowed themselves to be carried away by the narrative and seduced into playing the parts of the adulterous Lancelot and Guinevere. I swooned as if in death.

And down I fell as a dead body falls. What neither Dante nor the reader yet understands is that even though the damned concede that they belong in Hell, they all refuse blame for their downfall. As the pilgrim and his guide move through Hell, Dante must learn not to fall for the self-justifying stories of the condemned because to do so is to minimize in his own understanding the seriousness of sin. Francesca’s explanation of her fate is self-serving and self-deceiving. Yet for me as a writer, this canto had particular bite. In the previous one, the pilgrim found himself in Limbo, among the company of the Virtuous Pagans, including the great poets of antiquity, who count Dante as one of their own. He leaves feeling good about his status as a writer—until meeting Francesca, whose damnation came about in part through reading the vernacular love poetry of her day.

The moral point is that the poet cannot divorce himself from the social consequences of his art. To create is a sacred gift, and it must not be abused. One’s writing, Dante teaches, must be undertaken with a higher sense of responsibility. He addresses the writer’s vocation more forcefully in a later Inferno canto, in the flame-lashed desert where the Sodomites dwell.