First Year Seminar, P.

Filkins Paper 4 – Process Notes

I decided the original topic I had picked for my paper would be far too complicated and scary to do, and I wasn’t even sure exactly what I was trying to write about (it was a big shebang thing comparing the nature of sin and free will and the like amongst Abrahamic religions, and then I would have ended up doing something on numerology). I decided that, since you had put positive feedback on that journal I did on female representation in Dante, I would work on that. It was a topic that I could focus on, and it had the added benefit of making my advisor happy. Not entirely wishing to give up the cross-religion focus on Dante, I researched a little on women in Judaism and Islam. I wasn’t entirely sure how I could use it, but I figured it would probably be good to keep in the back of my mind if I did find some place where I could relate it. Which I didn’t really. Oh well. It was fun. I thought about what I was trying to say with this paper. One of the key elements, I decided, was the role that Beatrice played. She is, in many aspects, Dante’s own personal savior, setting him up with Virgil and all, and leading him through Paradise (though that’s another book). Then there were Saint Lucia and Rachel—who, along with Beatrice, are somewhat reminiscent of the Holy Trinity—who also added to this view of the female as the savior through pure love. While I do not include this in the paper, it is interesting to note that the daughterin-law of Rabbi Akiba (a well-noted Jewish theologian of the 1st and 2nd centuries, who was a main contributor to the Jewish oral tradition) was required by her marriage contract

to teach her husband the Torah. The women of the realm of the lustful (Dido, Helen, Cleopatra, and Francesca) represent a perversion of this ideal of the female as a divine creature, a guide to heaven. They focused on the body, rather than mind and soul, and thus got swept up in the sin of lust. I do not include Semiramis because I feel that her sin is not so much one of her own lust, but of using the lust of others. I suppose in that respect I disagree with Dante’s placement of Semiramis, which I will probably talk about in the Realm of the Seducers. Upon further research (i.e., beyond John Ciardi’s notes) I understand Dante’s sentencing, though I think a case can be made for placing Semiramis with the Wrathful. This stuff gets complicated, as are, I suspect, these notes. I also wanted to devote a passage to the feminine demons of hell. I hesitate to call them female, as God and the angels seem to possess a space that is somewhat gender neutral. However, many of the demons in Dante’s Hell are traditionally represented as being female, such as the Furies and Medusa, and the Harpies. These creatures are some of Hell’s cruelest denizens, and their perversion of the divine female makes them notable figures. My last subject of concentration was the Eighth Circle of Hell. This circle is notable for two reasons: 1) It contains the last named female sinner, and 2) It contains the seducers and the panderers. I find the latter very interesting, as in Dante’s time, women were thought to be the more libidinous sex, and were therefore blamed for any seductions that may have occurred. Also, prostitution, especially in Italy, was fairly common, and actually quite widely accepted. Most prostitutes were not forced into the trade by some pimp (or brother, as the case may be), but rather began procuring of their own accord.

Women who did become prostitutes usually did so out of financial necessity. I think the reason why Dante focuses on this group so much is because these people corrupt the image of the divine feminine. Dante wrote about this to make a statement, and one that contradicted the norms of his time. My next task, then, was to organize this in some comprehensible way, and also address the fact that Hell was quite devoid of women. I decided that my whole paper all stemmed from the idea of the divine feminine, and that the expressions of women in Hell were all perversions of this. Dante represents the female through Beatrice, and, as Hell is merely a twisted version of Heaven, then Dante’s representations of females in Hell would be women whose characteristics were diametrically opposite to Beatrice’s. So, as always, I went from there.