Thursday, November 8, 2012

Why travel

“Ma tu perché vai?”
“Per tornar altra volta la dov’io son.”

“Why are you traveling?”
“So I may return to where I am.”

-          Dante, Purgatorio II 90-92

In my travels around the world, I often find myself thinking of this exchange in Dante’s Purgatorio. Wherever I go, I try to be fully present, to the people, the culture, to the physical landscape and the mythic fundament. I get lost at times, in more than one sense, and that is a special moment of opportunity since in order to find ourselves, we may first need to fall off our maps and our certainties.
     Dante's adventures begin when, at the mid-point of the road of life, he finds he is lost in a dark wood. He must journey through all the cycles of Hell until he at last ascends to the gate of Purgatory and - after knocking on his heart - is at last able to meet the beloved of his soul face to face. The guide takes the form of Beatrice, a beautiful young woman he loved and lost, but in her eyes he sees reflected the beauty and terror of the griffin. The guide is more than human: she is animal, and she is divine.
    What are her first words for the soul traveler? She reproaches him for losing years of time and his soul's direction because he failed to hear her when she called him in dreams, again and again.

Dante and Beatrice (14th century illumination in the Libreria Marciana, Venice)

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