Ham Omelet

The title is not an indicator that I am hungry but just a funny misnomer for Hamlet that one of my online buddies Lily Von Valley had posted . Though it would be totally justified if I was hungry because sadly I am no connoisseur of gourmet airline food ( I was on a 15 hour non stop flight)  gourmet and airline !!! Is that not a contradiction in terms ? . So why am I reading Hamlet instead of sleeping ?? because the question of to be or not to be came to mind . What am I debating ? I was debating TO BE a capital A hole and tell the women that they need to get their babies to shut up !!! because I cannot sleep with at two (or was it twenty ) screaming babies . I planned for my jet lag by skipping sleep on my last night out but I forgot that every time I get on a long distance flight , it is infested with screaming babies . I am personally jinxed that way. Screaming babies (and people who fart a lot) are the kryptonite of my air travel but onto to more important things.

One finds oneself rooting for Hamlet as he grieves for his father , berates his mother for re marrying too soon ,sympathize with him as the son of an unjustly murdered king who is out to avenge his father ,  look on with complete apathy as Hamlet murders Polonius , chastises Ophelia and breaks her heart and almost look on in bemused amazement as Hamlet does not murder Claudius when he is praying , applaud Hamlet for his brilliant trick with the play where he depicts the murder of his father in front of the Claudius ,listen with his impassioned monologue with Yorick’s skull as he recounts the fragility of life and the shortness of mortal pursuits, weep as he is killed by Laertes’s poisoned sword. But that is looking at the proceedings exclusively through Hamlet’s view .

Hamlet’s soliloquy is a complete masterpiece , one has to read it several times because the layers that peel are rich in depth.

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; aye, there’s the rub,

To be or not to be has been an universal dilemma pertaining to various aspects of life . However in Hamlet , he is dealing with the ultimate dilemma , to exist or not to exist. He is actually contemplating suicide because the torture of contemplating the various options that he perceives are so agonizing that he is actually questioning if it makes any sense for him to even live. In eastern traditions , suicide is not forbidden or even threatened with everlasting doom as much as the western Judeo Christian traditions ( I wonder how much of it is due to Dante) and in fact, in Japan we have the proud Samurai traditions of Seppuku. Without that particular filter in place,  it is harder for somebody from eastern traditions to grasp the mental anguish that he seems to be going through . I am not suggesting that humans are thrilled about the prospect of suicide regardless of culture but in western traditions , an onerous burden is added . About 10 years ago , a friend had committed suicide in Ohio and many people did not think twice before telling his friends and family that he was going to burn in everlasting hell.

The play gets richer as we move our roving eye and look through Polonius eye’s who is being extremely loyal to the king or through the eyes of Ophelia whose tragedy seems to surpass that of Hamlet . Hamlet’s tragedy is a result of his choices , Ophelia’s tragedy is a direct result of her love for her father and Hamlet, she is truly helpless. Laertes’s revenge could be considered the sub plot of revenge that mirrors Hamlet’s own demons . The grave diggers are relatively minor and yet there is a monumental gem that comes down to us from them . When Hamlet queries as to who is being buried , they remark that it is not a man or a woman that they are burying and only after further interrogation that Hamlet finds out that it WAS a woman. It is a reminder that all our differences exist only for the living . The dead have no sex , no color , no religion or beliefs. Gertrude has so few lines that one can mistake her for being inconsequential and yet she tries throughout to reconcile Hamlet with Claudius and eventually she makes the ultimate sacrifice for Hamlet . The only person that seems to show up throughout and yet , I am not sure what the reason or import is the character of Fortenbras .

It is clear that women are second class citizens in this world but why is this important for us? Because Gertrude getting married had little to do with Gertrude’s wishes and yet Hamlet berates her continuously , she is an important figure but she is a puppet for her brother in law who turns into her husband , her son and in one case even Polonius. Marrying a brother in law is hardly incest and yet , Hamlet considers it incestuous and accuses her of incest every opportunity he gets . Poor Ophelia gets the shrift as well , everybody including Hamlet runs her life for her ,while she is torn helplessly between her love for her father and Hamlet.

I have added myself to the long list of Shakespeare admirers who believe that Hamlet is his greatest work. There is a long list of quotes that have made it into the common lingo “Frailty, thy name is woman.” , “This above all: to thine own self be true”,”There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”,”Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.”,”Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”,”There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”,”One may smile, and smile, and be a villain. “, “Sorrows come not as single spies but in battalions”.

I think it is finally time for me to go get a Ham Omelet !!!

 

A Kolonos Cleansing by Oedipus

The title of this post is inspired by my friend Mike who can twist the most innocent of words into something teeming with profanity , a rare talent that has never failed to offend (or educate) innocent ears and therefore must not be taken lightly . I can presume that it probably took him the better part of six decades to hone and perfect . The title is but a pale imitation of what Mike would have come up with if he decided to turn his mind to it.

Oedipus at Kolonus is not nearly as dramatic as Oedipus Tyrannos (or Rex)  and starts off several years later after Oedipus leaves Thebes . Oedipus has taken to living by begging , his two sons are nowhere to be found and as is his daughter Ismene. Only Antigone accompanies him ,  Oedipus wanders into a sacred grove along with Antigone in Kolonus at the edge of Athens. The sacred grove is dedicated to the Eumenides (the Furies  or beings who are responsible for punishing humans who have committed heinous crimes such parricide or matricide) . Oedipus realizes that this is the place that Apollo has prophesied as his final resting place  however passers-by are aghast when they find out who he is and attempt to get him to leave , there is a genuine fear that he will curse their land because of his sins. Oedipus convinces them that he was merely a pawn of the gods and that he needs to talk to their King. Their king is Theseus of the Minotaur slaying fame .  At this point Ismene arrives and informs them that her brothers are fighting for the throne and Eteocles has overthrown Polynices and Polynices is preparing for retribution . Ismene leaves to perform rites since Oedipus has desecrated consecrated ground  and in comes  Creon . There is another prophecy that the side where Oedipus is buried will win so Creon wants to convince Oedipus to come back to Thebes so he can be buried in Thebes and thereby guarantee that Thebes will win. Here it is confusing because we remember Oedipus begging to be banished after he has blinded himself and Creon is compassionate but he also defers to the judgement of the Oracle . Here Oedipus is bitter and accuses him of exiling him . Keeping in mind that Oedipus is impetuous and very emotional , it is possible that he is just bitter but it is hard to understand. Creon is desperate and kidnaps Ismene  and tries to kidnap Antigone as well so that he can force Oedipus to follow him , Oedipus calls Theseus for help who rescues both girls and re unites them with their father. Oedipus is then informed that his son Polynices wants to see him , reluctantly and under pain of oath , Oedipus agrees to see him .Polynices begs his father to forgive him and accompany him.  What happens next is horrifying to me, Oedipus curses his son in the most vile language and tells him that he will kill his brother and his brother will kill him . A heartbroken Polynices leaves his father but stops by his sister Antigone and asks her to promise to bury his body . This will become the pivot of the play “Antigone” . Oedipus now proceeds to tell the king that his time has come and he is ready to go to his final resting place and he makes a strange request that nobody be told that location so that his sons or Creon would not attempt to move it and his final resting place will actually make the city a sacred place , a cleansing of sorts . Theseus does as he is bid . Antigone is heart broken and the two girls walk away , I can only presume that they are going back to Thebes.

Though the play is bleak , it provides critical information for the timeline between Oedipus Rex and Antigone . Watching Oedipus is a disturbing affair , what father curses his own sons in such a vile manner . We knew he was arrogant and impetuous from Oedipus Rex  but here we also see him a vituperic and bitter old man. I feel as though we are missing a big chunk  of what happened after Oedipus blinded himself . It shows the sad end of a man whose fate was designed to horrify one and all .

Another irritating aspect is the constant stream of prophecies , I cannot help but wonder if that is one of the reasons why the ancient Greeks revered Sophocles . He attributes everything to the gods , everything is known to the gods and we must follow blindly whatever they ordain for we as humans are powerless to do as we please , we can only do as we are bid. It does have the pseudo beneficent effect of providing a window into the unknown future thereby alleviating the worry that the unknown tomorrow brings.

 

 

 

 

Oedipal Tyrannies

In the hysterical 1999 classic “Analyze This” , Billy Crystal as a shrink asks the archetypal question that all shrinks presumably ask their male patients about the Oedipal complex to his patient , Robert De Niro about maternal fantasies . Instead of what a normal male would respond , Robert De Niro shocks us into befuddled laughter by stating “Have you even seen my mother? ” and makes a disgusted face . That was my inauspicious introduction to Oedipus followed by me promptly judging him to be a disgusting pervert.

The name seems to be keep changing but the one that I read was called Oedipus Tyrannous.  I instantly imagined that this meant a tyrant and since we know that he was not a tyrant in the traditional sense , I imagined that tyrant meant King. But eventually it comes to light that tyrant is somebody who deposed off the king and became the king .

The chronology looks like it was inspired by Christopher Nolan’s Memento . We start off in the present where Oedipus is the king of Thebes and trying to understand why the plague is  decimating his city , all he knows is that there is a foul corruption in the city and he needs to root it out. He has become the king fifteen years ago after solving the riddle of the Sphinx , a creature with a head of a human , body of a lion and wings of an eagle . Prior to Oedipus, travelers who failed to answer the riddle were killed by the Sphinx. After Oedipus answers the riddle correctly , the Sphinx jumps to its death . The grateful citizens made him the king and offered him Jocasta , the king’s widow whom he marries and has four children .But the plague stumps even the brilliant Oedipus and not having access to modern technology , Oedipus takes the advice of his brother in law Creon who brings in the blind seer Tiresias . The funny thing about Tiresias is that he shows up in so many Greek plays that I am beginning to wonder if he is like 300 years old by the time he is done making his appearances in all the plays. Tiresias reluctantly gives him a tidbit that Oedipus was the one who killed the original king of Thebes , his wife’s first husband . That is our first introduction to the fury and suspicion of Oedipus . As the play progresses , his fury seems to deepen yet his yearning for an explanation grows even as the strands seem to come together for him and the shades of the horrible truth come to light. The next piece is from Jocasta herself who recounts where her husband was murdered , followed by a confirmation for Oedipus that he is indeed the killer of the late king after she summons the lone survivor from the massacre of the king and his entourage many years ago , a shepherd. But the horrible climax is yet to come . That comes in the form of the Corinthian who comes to let him know that he has become the King of Corinth since his parents died . This is where we are introduced to the prophecy that Oedipus was told when he was a young man that he would kill his father and marry his mother which is also the reason why he left Corinth in the first place . While he is relieved that his father has died a natural death, he is still concerned about the part where he would stuph his mother. The Corinthian tries to put his fear to rest by assuring him that he was adopted but that opens a fresh can of worms.  The shepherd who was first tasked with killing the baby Oedipus confesses under pain of death that he had handed the baby to the Corinthian and that the baby was the child of Laius and Jocasta and at last Oedipus is face to face with the awful truth that he has committed patricide and worse committed the foul act of mating with his own mother . Jocasta has already killed herself by now after realizing that her husband is also her son . Oedipus in a fit of anger and disgust uses her brooch to blind himself , his reason being that his eyes have performed the abominable act of seeing his mother naked.

Oedipus has been dealt a terrible fate, the stuff of nightmares . Not only has he killed his father but he has defiled his fathers bed and has become father to his own half siblings, husband to his own mother . If I could understand music better , I would imagine that this is where the crescendo comes in , the point at which Oedipus finally realizes that he never could escape that terrible fate that was ordained for him . In the play , there is an amazing missing insight that comes from the Corinthian and the shepherd who is a far better device than the traditional Deux Ex machina that the Greek dramatists  liked to employ.

Something that I failed to realize until I talked to others was the impetuosity that Oedipus portrays throughout . He is quick to anger which is the reason why he ended up quarreling with his father’s party , he is quick to imagine Creon and then Tiresias plotting against him , he also jumps to conclusions when he hears the Oracle’s prophecy and runs away from his adopted home. Those turn out to be fatal flaws , his impetuosity and his intelligence which leads him to believe that he can escape his own fate .

So what does one take away from this awful tragedy ?? If it was written , it shall come to pass . Predestination or the concept that the Celestial watchmaker has already ordained everything that shall come to pass and we as humans are powerless against it . In India , this was a concept that seemed very familiar and something I grew up with and I hate it because it is contrary to the concept of free will, it implies that we humans are powerless . Taken to an extreme , it states that we are not responsible for our actions .

Henry Ford had a saying “Whether you believe that you can or you cannot , you are right” .

This is the riddle of the Sphinx .  Can you solve it?

“What animal walks on all fours in the morning , two in the afternoon and three in the evening ?”

 

 

Macbeth

This play is far more interesting and complex than King Lear and Othello. The plot is far more richer and the number of fascinating characters involved are far more than either of the other two tragedies.

Macbeth and Banquo , the victorious generals are returning after quelling a rebellion for the King of Scotland .The play starts off with the three witches spouting off prophesies to Macbeth and Banquo, about Macbeth becoming the Thane of Cawdor and eventually  the king of Scotland and Banquo’s descendants will become kings. This single event is the catalyst for what is to come .

Banquo says the following verse to Macbeth as a warning

And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s
In deepest consequence.

Macbeth does indeed become the Thane of Cawdor and following the confirmation of the first prophecy, he is seduced into committing the most dastardly acts to make the second prophecy come true , i.e  murdering the king of Scotland who is also his cousin and become the king in his stead .

Lady Macbeth is a fascinating woman . She is the perfect wife in some sense , she encourages her husband in his ambitions and even steadies his conscience at difficult times

Art thou afeard
To be the same in thine own act and valour
As thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that
Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life,
And live a coward in thine own esteem,
Letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would,’

In some ways she is the wife that most husbands aspire for and yet having said that, she is also completely callous and prays that she be more ruthless . She even accuses Macbeth of having a breast full of the ‘milk of human kindness’ when he has seconds thoughts about murder his cousin and guest, the king. She would have nothing stand in the way of their ambition .

In the beginning ,Macbeth seems to have a moral compass but the prophecy of the future seduces him completely and utterly. He begins by not only murdering the king but murders his bodyguards after planting evidence of the murder on them. The sons of the king  flees to safety and become suspect. At this point as the kinsman, he assumes the throne . After this Macbeth decides to clean house i.e kill Banquo who has witnessed the prophecies and has started suspecting him ,kill Banquo’s son who is prophesied to become the king  . In Casino Royale ,when  James Bond says that the second time is easier , he could have been echoing Macbeth’s sentiments. However Banquo’s son does escape though poor Banquo is murdered on his way to the banquet that Macbeth has thrown for the celebrations.

At the celebratory banquet and when he arrives , Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo at  the table after which he starts raving and upsets his guests who cannot see the ghost . This is our first insight of the fear and paranoia that plagues Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and will eventually consume them.

Macbeth approaches the witches , this is the famous scene where the witches repeat

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

And there is a dialogue that would have made the oracle of Delphi proud. Macbeth  is informed that he will only be killed of one not of a woman born and he will be vanquished only when Great Birnam wood moves to high Dunsinane hill. Here he also finds out that he needs to be aware of Macbeth

As the end approaches , we see that Macduff instructs his soldiers to cut down branches of Great Birnam wood so the spies would not have a good number and moves to high Dunsinane hill . Before he kills Macbeth, he informs him that he was ripped from his mother’s womb.

There is a dialogue between three witches and Hecate , the queen of witches who takes them to task for seducing Macbeth with visions of the future  , this is the second time that Shakespeare tells us that it is better for us not to know what is in store for us . It is clear that even the prophesies that were foretold for Macbeth , he was unable to heed the warnings because he was unable to understand them . This is an interesting theme that keeps repeating in books throughout , on the one hand there is the concept of predestination which states that whatever is foretold will come to pass and then there is the concept that we are unable to grasp the future until it comes to pass. Long ago , I had read that unless we actually experience something , the knowledge remains abstract , if the knowledge remains abstract then it is impossible for us to understand and act upon it.

As all Shakespeare plays go , this one is full of delicious nuggets of poetry

Bloody instructions which, being taught return to plague the inventor

There’s no art
To find the mind’s construction in the face:

who could refrain,
That had a heart to love, and in that heart
Courage to make ‘s love known?

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Macbeth starts off gloriously returning triumphant and victorious . It reminded me of Othello , Othello returning from his triumphs and getting married . It is a useful trick for a tragedy , start off on a high note so you can lead your audience off that emotional precipice come time for curtains. It is a wonderful story , the verse is magical , the characters mesmerizing , the plot brilliant . It certainly has not lose any of its charm 400 years later.

Kafkaesque Trials

It is probably a disgrace but for the longest time I imagined that Frank Zappa , Frank Capra and Franz Kafka to be the same person and I imagined that author of the various articles made a spelling mistake (I also got creative and imagined that Franz Kafka after immigrating to the US anglicized his name to Frank Capra) . Watching “It is a wonderful life” and “It happened one night” and reading the Metamorphosis cleared up that blunder in a jiffy. But long before I heard of any of them , I had heard the adjective Kafkaesque to describe a book of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories.

Josef K starts his day as any other but finds out that he has been arrested and nobody is able to give him the reason for his arrest. At the beginning we are as incredulous as Josef K but as time passes , one cannot help but start feeling a sense of empathetic desperation . He encounters a series of people who seem to be cogs in the machine , likeable and willing to help but powerless to help . It is interspersed with entanglements with various women whereby which his spirits rise but crash again . That enhances the despair in the protagonist and us as we follow him. And the icing on the cake is when he is berated by family for bringing disgrace .  It is probably the greatest book on the shortcomings of bureaucracy . The whole book is chilling

The Trial was written almost 2 decades before Nazism came to power and arrested people for reasons of religion , appearance and gender preferences. History is rife with entire communities treated in a similar manner for some bizarre reason or the other ; Jews, Poles ,Russians,Gypsies, Jehovah’s witnesses  and homosexuals under Nazism , liberal minded people under communism , the Japanese Americans interned during the Second World War, India during the Emergency and the list goes on. I imagine this is exactly how life is , under any despotic regime.

To get a better idea of the horror , I decided to watch Schindler’s List after almost 20 years and while horrifying , it did not have the same quality as the Trial. Perhaps 1984 would have been a better idea. But I realized that with Nazism or Socialism any of the other schisms, one is provided a reason (even a lousy reason is better than no reason). Man being a reasonable creature; loves having a reason (regardless of good or bad) so one knows what one is up against. A faceless tormentor is far more insidious . The shadow of the faceless tormentors follow us incessantly throughout the novel as Josef K leads us on a roller coaster of emotions. I wonder if that is also why (good) horror movies tend to have such a hold on us.

I had read the Metamorphosis before but the Trial is far more gripping and darker. It is not something that I would want to visit again but it is a mesmerizing story.

Othello

In 2002 , I used to work for a small electronics company in Ohio . The president of the company was a loudmouth transplant from Philly and liked to hear himself speak. He was giving us one of his rah rah speeches and he wanted to tell us little people that he had problems similar to everybody else and could empathize with us . He listed out a litany of problems in his family including one that took me completely by surprise , having a bi-racial couple in the family .Until that day , I was not aware that this was a problem!!

But interestingly ‘Un Capitano Moro’ written by Cinthio over 5 centuries earlier seems to ignore it . And it must have fascinated Shakespeare because he used that plot for Othello ,  changing minor details . Personally I think Othello the moor could have been replaced by a white man and we could still have a story rife with intrigue and drama and tragedy .  The racial tones provides for extra drama such as Desdemona being scared of Othello to begin with and eventually in stark contrast ends up falling in love and marrying him.

The plot is simple and plays upon men’s fear of being cuckolded and though the play is called Othello , the most fascinating character is Othello’s lieutenant , Iago . Iago controls the downward spiral in the play , he is responsible for Othello’s friend Cassio falling out of favor with Othello , he encourages Cassio to ask Desdemona to request that he be put back into the Moor’s good graces , he conspires with Roderigo who is in love with Desdemona , he has his wife Emilia steal the prized handkerchief that Othello has given Desdemona and plants it in Cassio’s apartment , he attempts to have Roderigo kill Cassio and eventually kills his own wife Emilia when she tells the truth to the Moor and of course poisoning the ears of the Moor and inciting jealousy in his unsuspecting heart. But Iago as knavish as he is, he is being tormented by the same emotions that he is exploiting in Othello. Iago is convinced that he has been cuckolded.Another reason seems to be his resentment at being passed over for promotion. But to me, losing a promotion hardly seems to be cause enough to warrant the kind of havoc that he brings about. 

The backdrop in the play is the Ottomans attacking Venice and Othello being in charge of repelling the attack . That earns him favors from the nobility of Venice and also their support for his marriage.

There is a long entertaining monologue from Iago where he chides Roderigo for wanting to kill himself out of disappointment and he keeps repeating the phrase “Put money in thy purse” . Iago is convinced (or convincing Roderigo) that given enough money , Roderigo would be able to snatch Desdemona from Othello. Shakespeare (or Cinthio) gives us fascinating character sketches for these very different human perspectives . Othello is a remarkable man but when clouded by emotions of  jealousy, he is unable to think normally. Sometime back , I read that the human brain is actually 3 different brains , the lizard brain or the amygdala is responsible for  controlling emotions , the mammalian brain and finally the cerebral cortex which is in charge of rational thought . In terms of speed ,the amygdala functions in milliseconds , whereas the cortex takes up to 30 seconds to process the same information so if you see a tiger , your amygdala tells you to flee but rational thought takes longer to process the same information and in 30 seconds one could end up as the main course for the tiger. On the other hand when Othello is plagued by jealousy , his normal cognitive powers are no longer evident , having been hijacked by emotions and he is doomed to make disastrous decisions . Shakespeare displayed shrewd insight into human psychology 400 years prior to us finding the actual reasons. Also the term ‘Green eyed monster’ seems to have its origins here in this play.

Another one of my favorite passages was from Desdemona .

Men’s natures wrangle with inferior things,
Though great ones are their object. ‘Tis even so;

As expected in a tragedy , the main characters Othello and Desdemona lie dead . Today we would blandly call it a murder suicide . Iago is in chains and taken off to be tried .

If there is a lesson to be learned from Othello , it is that Hasty Othello should have been more patient before strangling Desdemona . He certainly needed to understand whom he could and could not trust

Haste hath no redemption in Shakespeare’s world … or ours.

 

Traveling through Purgatorio

When I was reading Inferno (part I of the Divine Comedy) , I could easily form translations in my mind for some of the examples (some that sounded nonsensical like philosophers and scientists being relegated to various circles) but it was woefully apparent to me that I needed to read the Bible and the Aeneid before I could truly grasp what he was talking about . But I decided to put it off for a later date and instead proceed to finish the series .  Reading the Purgatory was far harder than Inferno without having any idea of the Bible. There was some hint of the tortures listed in the Hindu texts that I had read in my childhood , namely in the Mahabharata , the longest epic poem in the world . Yudhishtra , the oldest Pandava (who commits a sin by not stating the truth explicitly to his former teacher Drona about his son being dead) is led through hell just to glimpse its tortures as penitence for that one solitary sin. Another was a story in the Upanishads , a young boy named Nachiketa is led  on a tour by the god of death himself . The imagery in both of these stories  reminded me of Inferno  .But Purgatory was a strange concept for me.  It is like a waiting room before you are admitted to the next stage. As I plowed through , I realized that the Bible is not the only book that is a pre-requisite but also the Aeneid by Virgil , Ptolemy’s Almagest , the Metamorphoses by Ovid , Plato and Aristotle. The Almagest describes the Solar system that was the standard fare of astronomers before Copernicus found out that Sun is the center or the Heliocentric theory.  Why is this useless information important to us for reading Dante ? The Almagest describes the earth as the center of the universe with all the other planets orbiting it  . Dante informs us that God lives outside of the solar system and therefore we living on earth are the furthest away from God  . It is a simple and convenient invention which derives its basis in 3rd century science  thereby giving it greater credence. The revered and convenient dogma that Earth / Humans was farthest away from God would have come under attack once observation and science proved that Earth was not the center of solar system let alone the universe and who knows what would be next to fall. I finally see now why Copernicus was so terrified of revealing his heliocentric theory during his lifetime and why poor Galileo was imprisoned for the rest of his life . Drawing parallels into the Copernican system  about God being at the edge of the solar system, Martians are closer to god and Venusians are further away from God (That is a John Gray joke!!! Please dont beat me up). Coming back to the Almagest, the entire structure of Inferno and Purgatory is mapped using principles similar to the Almagest so Dante can merely tell us what level he is referring to and we know instantly where they are located . I read some reports that 60% of the world’s population prefers a visual medium for learning , about 20% for aural and only 7% learn by reading . Long before people were aware of these predilections , Dante executes a stroke of genius using a visual map for his masterpiece.And it speaks volumes that 4 centuries after the demise of the geocentric model, the visual imagery of the Inferno/Purgatory is still alive and well.

Some of the visual imagery is gruesome  , in Canto 13 , he describes the second cornice where the envious are to repent .The cornice is the color of a bruise because the souls of the envious are always bruised by the good fortune of their neighbors . To prevent more envy ,their eyes are sewn shut . What made it worse for me was Dante explains it by means of a simile , he says that their eyes were sewn shut like baby Falcons . Apparently that is common practice, sew the eyes of baby Falcons shut in order to train them. In Canto 22 , he discusses Gluttony where the sinners starve in the presence of a fruit laden tree , it reminded me of the punishment for Tantalus who had a fruit tree with ripe fruits hanging just over his head but when he tried to reach, the fruits would extend just outside his reach , there is a water fountain just under his mouth but when he bends down , the water recedes .  That’s where we get our wonderful adjective , tantalizing.

Dante proceeds with an intriguing device as to how faith transcends the limit of reason . Though I am not one to believe in faith , I could not help but admire the effort and technique . Virgil is the voice of human reason that guides Dante through the Inferno and as they reach the end of Purgatory , Virgil disappears because according to Dante  ,the sole purpose of human reason is to save us from earthly sins (I can only presume doctors in the middle ages prayed hard for patients to be cured) .When we reach the end of Purgatory, we have been purged of our earthly desires and urges and therefore no longer susceptible to earthly foibles  . Goes to reason that human reason(Virgil is the epitome of reason) is vestigial and no longer required for Dante to proceed (It was ironical that Dante uses reason to deny the purpose of reason). A master stroke by a master craftsman!!!

There was a couple of times that I found an intriguing paradox  , Beatrice is the woman that Dante loves and she is his guiding angel , she sends Virgil to guide him and on the other hand , he delivers invective about the way women dress in Florence and another time , he launches a tirade against widows re marrying. I suppose that the two can be reconciled if you set women on so high a pedestal that it would be impossible for them to survive as normal human beings .

All in all , the Purgatory is an feast of amazing imagery . A feat of incredible imagination that Dante guides us through his religious fantasy all the while passing judgement on popes and kings while we sit in the jury seats watching . Don’t forget to bring the popcorn .