Saturday, November 7, 2015


Dante is of particular interest because he is the parade example of a renaissance man,. He combined science, Biblical and Classical Learning, and Philosophy in a unified poetic vision, and did so without existential pessimism — the besetting sin of the modern world.

Dante fascinates Americans: there have been nearly as many Dante translations as there are years between 1800 and the present. The explanation is probably, in part, to be sought in America's lack of any comparably exotic (but still imaginable) historical period. The classics don't draw us in the same way, perhaps because they are so distant in time and space, so other, that they seem as unapproachable as the constellations or the dinosaurs. It is hard to say whether the Bible can still reach us: it has been so wholly associated in the general apprehension with conservative politics and  an illiberal social agenda that it is (sadly) disdained by almost all intelligent and educated persons.But Dante appeals to us greatly, because, though his world is as fantastic as great SF, his characters are vivid and understandable. His Christianity is so exotic as not to seem religious, any more than the Catholicism of the movie The Exorcist.  

And of course Dante is the morning star of the Italian Renaissance: who understands his world will not be baffled by anything to come in the quattrocento.

One of my projects is to post on Youtube a complete Divine Comedy translation. This will be read aloud, an audiobook. I am making the translation with all the explanatory materials woven into the translation itself so that it may be understood at once, without the nuisance of playing peek-a-boo with footnotes at every moment. Dante's poetry was designed to be read aloud: after all, it preceded printing! To experience him on the page rather than with the ear is to lose much of the work's original dimensionality.

With the a narrative framework that draws the reader on from episode to episode, and the strongly drawn vignettes with new memorable characters in each, the Divine Comedy, designed for oral performance, would make a great radio drama, without need for any re-writing!

In addition, I am posting a series of videos on the illustrations to Dante, beginning with Botticelli's complete comedy. Future videos will included Rauschenberg and the Yates-Thompson manuscript.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Beauty of Mathematics and the Mathematics of Beauty

The purpose of Online Renaissance, for which this blog is just a sort of bulletin board, is to foster a renewed Humanism. This I hope to see achieved through a broader understanding of mathematics and art as twin windows onto a higher reality. 

Mathematics concerns itself with the compulsory features of the imagination (in Michael Shapiro's elegant formulation.). For example, if I tell you to picture "green," you are unlikely to see what I have in mind. But if I tell you to visualize a circle, we both see a shape identical in every important particular. Mathematics deals with the agreeing features of mind, found in all people. And these are, I assert an intellectual patent of nobility.
Then let us consider mathematical proofs. If you are not familiar with any of these, then picture a basic geometric form, like an equilateral triangle or a square — for these essential shapes are so composed of law and proportion they may fairly be called proofs incarnate. 

Mathematical proofs, whatever they say in particular, all of them demonstrate that truth, order, fullness and perfection, validity and meaning, are intrinsic to the human mind, and to the world.

Mathematics, thus understood, are a proper pursuit for a poet; Greek philosophy and computer coding are both essential attainments for a renaissance woman or man.