The Sydney Misadventure

I’ve found myself in a few sticky situations over the years. (See, for example, my ridiculous Tinder date or The Russian Penthouse…) But the Sydney Hilton incident comes near the top of the list. Some people have found this story uncomfortable. I choose to treat it as a funny story, and I promise it’s not because I’m traumatised.

A New Friend

I was nineteen, naïve and spending some time in Sydney on my gap year. A family friend called Tess was hosting me in a studio apartment in Potts Point. This little flat was so well-located that the most convenient free Wi-Fi spot was the waterfront bar beneath the Sydney Opera House.

One Tuesday evening in July, I strolled to the Opera Bar, where I was due to have a Skype call with my girlfriend at 7pm. She was in Italy, so I had to wait for her to wake up before I could call her. I sat on one of the concrete seats overlooking the harbour, catching up on my travel journal. When this was done I still had an hour to kill, so I sat there skimming the internet and waiting for the time to pass.

So I was pleased when a man sitting near me struck up a conversation. “Tell me,” he said in a thick Scottish accent, “what is there for a visitor to do on a Tuesday evening in Sydney?” Continue reading →

Dante’s Paradiso: A Summary

Dante Summary Part 3: Paradiso

The Divine Comedy is much more than just an interesting medieval text about Christianity. It’s really, really well-written. Dante’s poetry still feels intense and immediate, even after seven hundred years, even when it’s talking about the planets in a way that seems strange to modern readers. In Paradiso, for example, Dante and Beatrice ascend through the nine spheres of the Universe and then pass into the Empyrean beyond the boundary of time and space – and Dante makes every sphere feel more joyful and radiant than the previous one. Every time Dante seems to have reached his limit, he finds a way to make his next description even more extraordinary. Dante’s joy is his reward for the hardships of his journey up to this point. And at the same time, Beatrice explains more and more about the workings of God and the Universe, so everything that Dante has seen makes more and more sense, and the reader is gripped by the idea that they are receiving the same revelation as Dante. After the horrors of Hell and the hardships of Purgatory, we finally understand the secrets of the Christian Universe.

Back to Dante Summary Part 1: Inferno

Back to Dante Summary Part 2: Purgatorio

In Dante’s theology,  the Earth is at the centre of the Universe, surrounded by a series of heavenly spheres like the layers of an onion. Dante, with Beatrice, must visit each of the ten Heavens in turn, from lowest to highest, as his comprehension expands and he passes through each stage of revelation. This is continuously symbolised by Dante’s increasing ability, in each sphere, to see yet more of Beatrice’s beauty and the ever-more-pervading light of the Lord, as he is successively prepared for higher visions. As Dante is still mortal, he has limitations: he perceives the souls in Paradise to be on different spheres according to their rank, only at the end seeing them united in fellowship with God in the Empyrean; he lacks the omniscience and the ability to read minds of the other souls; and his memory cannot cope and struggles to recall reflections of divine splendour that surpass earthly understanding.

Paradiso Summary 1
Dante and Beatrice (Ary Scheffer, 1851)

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Dante’s Purgatorio: A Summary

Dante Summary Part 2: Purgatorio

Dante, writing in the early 1300s, understood that the world was a globe. He believed that the Southern Hemisphere was mostly made up of a huge ocean, except for the mountain of Purgatory rising up towards the sky. On the top of the mountain was the Garden of Eden, and the second part of Dante’s journey is all about his experiences climbing the mountain. The prize at the top of the mountain is a reunion with Beatrice, and the redemption of his soul.

Back to Dante Summary Part 1: Inferno

On to Dante Summary Part 3: Paradiso

Dante descends to Hell on Good Friday and emerges on the morning of Easter Sunday, having travelled with Virgil through the centre of the earth. Now he must ascend the mountain of Purgatorio armed with his new understanding of what is at stake. When Virgil and Dante enter the main part of Purgatory, they must climb by a spiralling path up the seven terraces where souls are purged to be ready for Paradise. Purgatory is a place built upon hope: the souls are assured of a place in Heaven someday and they understand the error of their ways, so they submit willingly and joyfully to the torments that will cure their souls. The sun – representative of God’s light – is a constant presence as they climb up towards it, so that the time is often laboriously told by the sun and whenever it sets the characters can physically go no further until it returns.

Dante Summary 1
The design of Purgatorio – an etching

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Dante’s Inferno: A Summary

The Divine Comedy Summary Part 1: Inferno

Back to all Book Summaries

The Divine Comedy (La Divina Commedia, written c.1308-20) is one of the greatest literary masterpieces ever written. Its author, Dante Alighieri, was so talented that he helped to shape modern Italian. He was so self-confident that he cast himself in the role of a prophet sent by God to rescue His people. And he was so bitter that he used his poem as an opportunity to savagely settle personal scores. This Divine Comedy summary covers the key points and briefly outlines what happens in each of the 100 cantos, or chapters, of the poem.

Divine Comedy Summary Part 2: Purgatorio

Divine Comedy Summary Part 3: Paradiso

See Also – Machiavelli and The Prince

The Divine Comedy Summary: An Overview of the Poem

The poem is a fictional memoir, in which Dante tells the story of the time he was granted access to the three realms of the Afterlife – Hell, Purgatory and Heaven. Dante got this special treatment – this unique chance to visit the Afterlife while still alive – because of the intercession of an angel called Beatrice. Beatrice had once been a girl whom Dante had loved before she died young; when Dante wandered further and further away from God’s love, Beatrice had begged the Almighty for the chance to show Dante the error of his ways. Heaven granted this request because not just Dante but the whole of Italy was ruining itself and turning away from God – so if Dante went on this special journey, he would be able to write about what he saw and use his poetry to guide people back to the true Christian path.

Dante holding The Divine Comedy
Dante holding The Divine Comedy, with his hometown Florence, the pit of Hell, the mountain of Purgatory and the spheres of Heaven. By Domenico di Michelino (1465)

Obviously, it’s not a true story. But it presents itself convincingly as a real account of Dante’s experiences, and the Divine Comedy is a vivid, visceral read. And as far as Dante was concerned, his prophetic role was real: he was clearly constantly aware of the import of what he was creating and the truth which he passionately believed his allegories contained. His Afterlife is filled with three groups of people: famous Biblical figures and ancient Christians; important names from the classical tradition of Greece and Rome; and contemporaries of Dante, including political leaders and friends that he had known personally. Continue reading →