PHL 337A    DANTE'S JOURNEY      FALL 2004     MW 1:20 – 3:00     DR. JOHN G. SULLIVAN

Office: Philosophy House 101 

The Philosophy House is a small yellow house on corner of E. Haggard Street

(across from the Science Building) and N. Antioch Street (across from the tennis courts)

(o) 278-5697  (h) 584-4029   E-mail:

Homepage:    Course Page  http://



Office Hours:     Tuesdays and Thursdays  2:30- 4:30 p.m.

                        Mondays – 11:00 -12:00 noon and 3:30- 4:30 p.m.    + other times by appointment


            Philosophy -- literally "love of wisdom" -- is, as Bertrand Russell remarked, "a no man's land between science and religion."  From the "science" side, philosophy shows its analytic, logical aspect; from the "religious" side, it shows its symbolic, mythological aspect.  But whether you take a logical or "mythological" approach, if you are doing philosophy, you are always inquiring into the enduring issues of human life.  These enduring issues, one might say, form the subject matter of philosophy.


            Dante’s Divine Comedy is a poetic summation of the Christian Middle Ages and a hint of things to come.  It can be read profitably as literature, as philosophy, as theology, as spirituality or spiritual psychology, as a historical document, and as a vision of political harmony. Dante himself places the work in the category of moral philosophy -- its purpose being   "to remove those living in this life from the state of misery and lead them to the state of felicity."  Furthermore, he means the work to be read according to the fourfold method developed for the reading of scripture: with attention paid to the literal, moral, allegorical and mystical levels.  The synthesis revealed by these dimensions is one great value of the work.  The work requires an interdisciplinary approach to be faithful to the intentions of the author.  Our concerns will be especially with its philosophical-theological aspects and its depth psychology/ spirituality aspects.  In addition to Dorothy Sayers’ commentary, we shall also take follow Helen Luke’s Jungian archetypal approach -- thus giving a central place both to depth psychology and the mystical tradition.


Goal of the Course: The course will encourage students 


A.  to enter into the mind of the high middle ages through the great poetic synthesis of Dante;

B.      in following Dante's journey, to explore the phenomenon of courtly love, to go through Hell together, to learn the process of getting in touch with the more subtle obstacles to our growth, and finally to explore levels of consciousness that take us to the stars.

C.      to think archetypally using Dante's fourfold method -- seeing each passage not only on the literal level but also on the ethical level, the faith level (community/culture),and the mystical level.

D.      to think hermeneutically -- Hermes, the messenger of the gods, encourages us to move back and forth between Dante's time and our own and between Dante's experience and our own


As Dorothy Sayers says: "Our main business is to ask ourselves: `What did this poem mean in the experience of the poet?  And what does it mean in our own experience?'" (Introductory Papers on Dante, p. 127)


E.      to fulfill -- each to his or her own degree -- Dante's aim -- "to remove those living in this life from the state of misery and lead them to the state of felicity."


Course Objectives: By the conclusion of the course, students will be able to


a)       have an over-all view of the High Middle Ages;

b)       think archetypally using Dante' s fourfold method;

c)       think hermeneutically, moving back and forth between Dante's times and our own.

d)       live a larger and deeper life -- hence fulfilling to varying degrees Dante's aim "to remove those living in this life from the state of misery and lead them to the state of felicity."





Dante Alighieri, La Vita Nuova, trans. Barbara Reynolds (New York:

                                Penguin Books, 1969)

Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy 1: Hell, trans. D. Sayers (New York: Penguin Books, 1949)

        The Divine Comedy 2: Purgatory, trans. D. Sayers (New York: Penguin Books, 1955)

        The Divine Comedy 3: Paradise, trans. D. Sayers &  B. Reynolds (New York: Penguin Bks, 1962)                                                                                                                          

Helen M. Luke, Dark Wood to White Rose: A Study of Meanings in Dante's Divine Comedy,

(1st pub. Pecos, NM: Dove Publications, 1975; reprinted New York: Parabola Books, 1993)



CLASS MEETINGS:                    Mondays                                                        Wednesdays                                                   


background                                                                   Sept. 1

Read VN, pp. 11-41 for                   Sept. 6                      Read VN, 41-70 for                      Sept. 8  

Read VN, pp. 70-99 for                   Sept. 13-R                 Read Inferno, can.1-6                  Sept. 15-O


           Note: You are to supplement readings of the Comedy with Helen Luke's From Dark Wood to White Rose as noted in fuller homework questions.  Luke's commentary is also useful for class presentations.


Read Inf., can. 7-12 for                  Sept. 20-Y                  Read Inf., can. 13-18                  Sept.22-G

Read Inf., can. 19-24                     Sept. 27-B                  Read Inf., can. 25-30                  Sept.29-I

Read Inf., can. 31-34                     Oct. 4-V                     Review class                              Oct. 6

First Test on                                Oct. 11                      Read Purg., can. 1-6                   Oct. 13

Break; no class on                        Oct. 18                      Read Purg., can. 7-12                 Oct. 20

Read Purg., can. 13-18                  Oct. 25-R                   Read Purg., can. 19-24   Oct. 27-O

Read Purg., can. 25-30                  Nov. 1-Y                     Read Purg., can. 31-33                Nov.-3

Review class                                Nov. 8                        Second Test on                         Nov. 10

Read Paradiso, can. 1-6                Nov.15                       Read Para., can. 7-12                 Nov. 17-G

Read Para., can. 13-18                  Nov. 22-B                   Thanksgiving break                       Nov. 24

Read Para., can. 19-24                Nov. 29-I                     Read Para., can. 25-30                 Dec.  1-V

Read Para., 31-33                         Dec. 6th -- We will conclude the Comedy and review all of Dante

Final exam 3:00-6:00                     Friday Dec. 10  


Note: As explained below, the names of the 5 presenting groups are: ROY G. BIV = Red-Orange-Yellow-Green-Blue-Indigo-Violet. The letter after certain dates refers to these groups.




   A)  HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENTS ------------------------------------------------------- a possible 15 points


            For homework questions, go to my website and scroll down to Dante’s Journey under courses.  Click here and you will have a menu page with link to assignments.    Syllabus and assignments and enrichment material may be accessed via this menu page.


DOING HOMEWORK FAITHFULLY IS A DISCIPLINE.  Homework questions are the basis for class discussion. The homework assignments will be collected on EACH CLASS DAY for the first TEN weeks.  Each assignment is worth 3/4 pt; each week's assignments = 1 1/2 pts; the ten weeks' work adds up to 15 points. Except for cases where a student has missed class with a valid excuse, ASSIGNMENTS HANDED IN LATE WILL GAIN NO CREDIT.  ALL HOMEWORK SHOULD BE TYPED. Please hand in hard copies of the homework.  Only in BIG emergencies will I accept homework as email attachments.


   B) TWO GROUP PRESENTATIONS ------------------------ each worth 10 points; together, 20 points


            Seven groups of approximately 3-4 persons each will be formed. Each group will draw by lots a color of the rainbow as its name.  The order of presentation will follow the order in which the colors appear in the rainbow, namely:  ROY G. BIV = Red-Orange-Yellow-Green-Blue-Indigo-Violet.

Separate instructions will be given regarding these group presentations.    

            The 1st set of presentations will be on: R = Sept. 13; O = Sept. 15; Y = Sept. 20; G = Sept. 22; B = Sept. 27; I = Sept. 29;  V= Oct. 4.      

            The 2nd set of presentations will be on: R = Oct. 25; O = Oct. 27; Y = Nov. 1; G = Nov. 17; B = Nov. 22; I = Nov. 29; V = Dec. 1.


 C) TWO IN-CLASS TESTS* ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ each worth 21 points; together, 42 points


            The tests will be on MONDAY, OCTOBER 11th and WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 10th.

            *Note: a major paper -- c. 10-12 typed pages -- may, with prior permission, be substituted for the second in-class test. 

Last day to exercise this option: the Wed. after Fall Break -- Oct. 20th.


D) CUMULATIVE FINAL -- in final exam period – Friday, Dec. 10th from 3:00-6:00 p.m.-- worth 23 points


Grading at a Glance


                                    Homework -- a possible                          =   15  points

                                    Two Group Presentations                        =   20  points

                                    First Test  (Oct. 11)                                =   21  points

                                    Second Test or Paper (Nov. 10)               =   21  points

                                    Final cumulative exam                            =   23  points

                                     TOTAL                                                 =  100  POINTS



                ATTENDANCE:  Class attendance is absolutely crucial.  I expect the same responsibility in regard to this as you would show in your career work. For absences to be excused, you must have serious reason and must let me know within 24 hours on either side of the absence why you chose not to be present. Call or e-mail and leave word. You need not talk directly to me. My office phone is 278-5697; my e-mail address is I have no predetermined number of excused absences, yet I expect they will not be excessive. Unexcused absences will be penalized at the rate of 1 point off final mark for each absence.

                PREPARATION:  Come to class prepared, having done the reading and homework. Class preparation and participation will be taken into account when I judge borderline marks.

                TESTS:  Generally, there will be no make-up tests given.  If missing a test is unavoidable, a student with proper documentation will be allowed to write a paper in lieu of the missed test.




            The class presentations should be c. 20 minutes in length.  They should illuminate the images of Dante by bringing them to life for our day.  Color, poetry, music, ritual, short dialogues -- all may be used.  Each presentation is meant to engage and elevate the imagination, the feelings, the heart.  Hence, it is not to be dryly informational.  DO NOT OPERATE MERELY ON THE LITERAL LEVEL.  You may meet as a group with me to discuss your ideas.  Typically, your group will have to meet twice -- once, after having read the relevant material, in order to brainstorm for ideas on how to bring the material to life in a dramatic manner and a second time to rehearse.  Here are the topics for the first series: 

            The RED GROUP will present (Sept.13) the Dante's notion of courtly love in the Vita Nuova -- in three movements. 

            First an experience (often in childhood) "in which the Divine Glory is perceived as immanent in some created person or thing" [the created seen as God sees it -- as Dante saw it in Beatrice]; then,

            Second, something or someone dies (as Beatrice did) and we become ensnared in the "things of this life with their false pleasure" or as Wordsworth says: the glory "fades into the light of common day." [perhaps the second image is the Donna Gentile or "real world" commitments]; finally,

            Third, the first image returns but on a higher, more universal level. As Dorothy Sayers writes: "The glory which was once known only in the beloved creature is diffused upon all creation, and taken up into its Eternal Source." [Introductory Essays, pp. 123-24] 


            The ORANGE GROUP will present (Sept. 15) images of the Dark Wood and of the three obstacles -- in Dante imaged as the Leopard, Lion and Wolf -- these can have many images -- see Luke, also see Inferno p. 139 on the three-fold structure of Hell.

            The YELLOW GROUP will present (Sept. 20) modern images of the City of Dis and all that of nether Hell which it contains.

            The GREEN GROUP will present (Sept. 22) images dealing with the circle of violence -- the river, the forest, the desert are Dante's images.

            The BLUE GROUP will present (Sept. 27) new ways to represent the types of fraud located in the first five malbowges of circle eight, i.e. 1-5. See Cantos XVIII -- Canto XXI.

            The INDIGO GROUP will present (Sept. 29) new ways to represent the types of fraud located in the second five malbowges of circle eight, i.e. ditches 6-10. See Cantos XXII-Canto XXX.

            The VIOLET GROUP will present (Oct. 4) new ways to understand deepest Hell -- the Ninth Circle.  In Heaven we find the image of the Christian Trinity where the God the Father (life-giving), God the Son (light-giving) and God the Holy Spirit (warmth-giving).  By contrast the deepest circle of Hell manifests death, darkness and cold and there as a kind of parody of the trinity is the three-headed Satan, frozen in ice.  [Instructions for the second series of presentations will be given later.]




            We are exploring Dante’s journey in its philosophical-theological aspects and its depth psychology/ spirituality aspects.  This will call upon our abilities


 a) To think  archetypally -- going beyond the literal to the dimensions of faith, ethics, mysticism; and                                                                                                                              

 b) To operate hermeneutically -- with Hermes, moving back and forth between Dante's time and our        own and between Dante's experience and our own, and thus to encounter anew Dante’s own             purpose in writing the Commedia:

"To remove those living in this life from the state of misery and lead them to the state of felicity."


1.  Supportive Listening: 


            Take turns, restating the main insights of your partner’s homework and asking any clarifying questions. [No interruptions or judgmental remarks allowed at this juncture -- Seek first to understand and then to be understood].   Here are some simple rules for supportive listening:

            a.  people take turns, equal time for each person

            b.  when listening, listen.  Only questions that draw out the talker are allowed. (no interruptions,                                                                               no comments, no giving of advice, no judgments)

            c. if personal matters are mentioned, confidentiality is meticulously respected

            d. no criticism before, during, or after by either one

            e. when feelings are expressed, welcome them warmly


2.  Further Steps:     


 After the understanding phase, in light of the course goals, the listener/ facilitator may ask the following:


            a.  what has gone well for you in this assignment ?

            b.  what difficulties were encountered?

            c.  what would make a positive difference in future?


3. Moving Back and Forth Between Two Worlds:  [Keep list on these]


                        Dante’s world (13th century Italy)                  Your world (late 20th century USA)

            What features do you notice about Dante’s world?          How does his world contrast with ours?

                For example: features of romantic love.                           For example: your outlook on love.


4. Utilizing the Fourfold Method:


            What examples of key symbols or notions can you find in this assignment which can be opened up so that they resonate at the levels of the ethical story, the faith story, and the mystical story?


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