Canto 5 Inferno: Desire–courtly love

WIN_20170520_12_20_21_ProToday I went to the Baltimore Museum of Art on a whim. It was cloudy and I didn’t want to be home, isolated, tormented by thoughts. So I drove to Baltimore. I loved the museum. I wandered its halls looking upon American and European art. Paintings, sculptures, decorative art. Religious art from the 1400s. Mosaics from the 3rd century. I happened upon two famous sculptures: The Thinker and the Kiss by Rodin the French artist. What a great surprise.

What makes me laugh is that some mistakenly look upon the Kiss as a romantic sculpture. But it is far from that. It is the representation of Paolo and Francesca, adulteress lovers forever in Hell, whom Dante encounters and speaks to. Also, the Thinker is someone pondering the gates of Hell: “abandon all hope you who enter here.”

Virgil points out those in this realm of Hell: Guinevere, Tristan, Paris, Helen, Cleopatra, and others. But Dante speaks to Francesca and Paolo, who were slain by her husband out of jealous rage because of the affair. Why does Dante speak to these two out of all the others? Because Dante was obsessed with love, with courtly love. He wrote many poems on courtly love. The love of love, making it an idol. After speaking to them, Dante faints as though one dead. He comes to realize that this courtly love that he held so high, above God, could have brought him to total destruction.

The lustful, adulterous in Inferno are blown around by tornadoes essentially. Their desires make them restless and “never comforted by hope” or rest. Their reason ruled by desire. (I don’t think I need to go into it, many know its glorious and deceiving nature).

As I walked through the Baltimore Museum of Art, I contemplated the sculptures inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy. The paintings of the gods and their lustful desires. Some depictions of romantic love conquering all. Our culture, the world has been obsessed with romantic love as though it is the savior of all despite the jealousy, envy, heartache, pain, grief, loss, and so much more hurt it can cause–especially covetousness and adultery.

Eros is good. But in its right order. It cannot save. Only God’s love can save–make us whole. Aim for good. It is so easy to be blown around by our distorted desires, desire overcoming reason. Lord, send your grace that we may see well, know you and your love for us that our aim may be true.

(Some insights gleaned from Tony Esolen, Dr. Moser, Rod Dreher)


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