Archive for the ‘Dante Meet-Up’ category

Orpheus, Cerberus, Dante, Gaiman, Indovina, and Offenbach Go To the Beach

August 31, 2009

Daily Draw August 31st, 2009

Today is a special birthday for someone close to me so I hope I get a good card! This is from the remarkably interesting Silenus Tarot:



Vigilance, be prepared to ward off adversity. Good old Orpheus and his lyre in hell with Cerberus. I’ve heard the overture from Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld many times. If you aren’t familiar with it there is a 9.5-minute audio version at YouTube. Catch the excitement:
In a comment someone says “Of course the part everyone loves and knows is at 7:36 . . .” so listen for that can-can bit. Yeah, we all know that bit.

Funny thing, I was thinking before I shuffled the cards that if I drew a card with Cerberus from the Silenus Tarot, I could copy depictions of Cerberus from William Blake, John Flaxman, Gustave Doré, and Sandro Botticelli and do a comparison of them. I was chuffed when I did draw Cerberus after hesitating over the backs of two other cards, so I have attached that comparison for interest’s sake. These images are illustrations from various editions of Dante’s Divine Comedy, specifically Inferno. Dante uses the three-headed dog Cerberus as the guardian/tormenter of the gluttons in the third circle of hell, Canto VI. Virgil feeds the dog heads with handfuls of dirt while Dante observes those condemned because of their gluttony.

The Botticelli drawing of Cerberus has been lost, alas, but my book reproduces the relevant section from Botticelli’s fully painted Chart of Hell. I’ve reduced it further but you can see the blobs of snow, rain and hail and Cerberus growling and being fed by Virgil. Blake is Blake and has his own vision but his friend Flaxman’s depiction seems to derive much of the style from Blake.


Orpheus (the son of Apollo), went to the Underworld to reclaim his bride Eurydice, who had died on their wedding day. The unfortunate fellow was told not to look back as he was leading Eurydice out of the Underworld, but he forgot, so he lost her forever.

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that my view of Orpheus is forever touched, or tainted as you will, by Neil Gaiman’s version of his story in the Sandman comics, Fables and Reflections collection, and also the Brief Lives collection. In those stories he was the son of the Sandman, and became headless and sang beautifully. I guess he couldn’t play his lyre without arms so he sang, thus Gaiman was able to perpetuate the myth of Orpheus’s lovely music. There is one illustration of Orpheus’s lone head in the sea while the Sandman, Morpheus, stands on the beach, that completely obliterates the Greek myth for me. Oh well, such is life and imagery. Neil Gaiman and Bullwinkle have done much to carry the torch of literature and history.


The lesson for today is not to be a glutton, don’t look back, and be vigilant going forward; beware of dogs.

I dread to admit how long this took me, but that’s what I like about waking up with a daily card, I can meander a bit with books and art. I knew when I ordered the Silenus Tarot that it was exactly the kind of deck I use and enjoy.


Dante’s Mood Board

September 27, 2008

Daily Draw September 27th, 2008

Tao Te Ching Card:


The cycle of returning to the stillness of your roots is to return to life. A return to life means constancy. This constancy allows enlightenment, tolerance, impartiality, and skillful exercise of kingship. Kingship is Heaven, Heaven is Tao, Tao is eternity. One will never meet danger until the end of one’s life.

From 365 Tao:


Every day, in all generations many worshipers and monks have left gifts and incense in the temple when they come to pray. They carry dirt on their shoes and rain and mud. All shrines are swept daily to keep them clean and consecrated for worship. Yet how many realize that this simple task is what makes it possible for them to come and pray? Those who prepare the way should be truly honoured.

From the Dante Tarot:

0 NECESSITY (The Fool)

Need and recklessness or eccentric behaviour, and perhaps material of psychological problems. Berti connects this Card to Book I, Chapter I in Convivio.

Humans all wish for knowledge, but sometimes physical problems like deafness and blindness can interfere, or the human spirit is conquered by evil and vicious pleasures and turns away from knowledge. Some people find that their duty in civic and domestic responsibility leaves no time for contemplation, and other people are born in places where there is no education, and they live too far from educational institutions, and thus are deprived of knowledge and become idle.

Dante, in his Convivio, which means “The Banquet”, is freely offering communal education and knowledge to humans who have not been able to partake because of the circumstances outlined in Chapter I.

People are Fools for different reasons, yet we all wish for knowledge, even if we can’t put a name to this feeling of yearning. Dante understands that Fools are in a State of Necessity, they need knowledge, and he is offering meat and bead and light, and the time to digest it.

The stillness of your roots allows enlightenment. Dante prepares the way for people to come and return to life and partake of his generosity in sharing knowledge. You may not notice, but he swept the floor.

Here is his mood board, it’s part of the cycle.

Tie Your Shoelace

September 26, 2008

Daily Draw September 26th, 2008

I was thinking about Dante being banished from Florence in disgrace for his political leanings, and how Florentines clamoured after his death to have his body back so they could build a proper monument to a favourite son! It reminds me of that hotbed of inanity, the Aeclectic Tarot Forum, which most definitely Jumped The Shark years ago.

Today’s Tao Te Ching Card:


Without going outside or looking outside of the window you can know the whole world and see the Tao of Heaven. The further one goes, the less one knows. Without walking, you know everything; without seeing, you identify everything; without doing, you accomplish everything.

From 365 Tao:


When confronted with difficulty the Tao approach is to modestly conform to the situation. Like bending down to tie your shoelace, modesty allows one to bend down and find guidance. To take it too far is to become insecure and self-defeated by humility, so that you can’t realize your potential. Modesty works, but like everything else it needs to be applied in the right manner, however, it does work.

From the Dante Tarot:

XV – AUTHORITY (The Devil)

I love that The Devil is called Authority in this deck. Ambiguous charm, magnetism, charisma, and the ability to convince. I was just reading something about Bernard Berenson, who was a highly respected art critic and writer in the 20th century, but seems to have treated the people around him badly. He was quite self-involved and mean and yet had the charisma to attract people who bowed to his personal and academic authority. Why do people do this? Why hang around someone who makes you either feel bad or do bad things?

Giordano Berti connected this card to Convivio II, XIII and II, IV-V “The Hierarchy of Power Angels”

Okay Book II Chapter XIII is the First Canzone – The Spheres and Sciences I

This explains why heaven and science are similar and what the Third Heaven is. I admit to finding this largely incomprehensible.

Note–Dante is writing this using very clear logic, based on ancient philosophy, the bible, and the teachings of the Catholic Church. In his day, he was being quite reasonable, although today we would speculate that his logic was based on faith and fairy tales and not logical at all if even understandable. There is an allure though to his firmness of belief in the order of the world and heaven.

Book II Chapters IV and V deal with Angels and their order in the hierarchy. The Intelligences (angels) are the beings that move the Third Heaven. Plato and Aristotle thought about angels and how many there were, Plato called them Ideas, pagans called them Gods and Goddesses, Dante concludes that there are many more of these beings than we might think observing the effects they have had. We can’t perceive them or reason their existence yet some light from them shines in our intellect, even though our eyes are closed.

He goes on to say that these beings are uncountable, legion, as referred to in the bible. Holy Church divides them into 3 Hierarchies with 3 Orders in each hierarchy, and they reflect the Trinity. The 9 Orders of spiritual creatures are as follows:

First Hierarchy (Father)
– Angels
– Archangels
– Thrones

Second Hierarchy (Son)
– Dominations
– Virtues
– Principalities

Third Hierarchy (Holy Spirit)
– Seraphim
– Cherubim
– Powers

Or is it the other way around? Dante’s Convivio is a bit confusing.

He says a certain number of these orders fell soon after they were created, which I suppose is where The Devil comes in, a being not finding Authority and hierarchy acceptable. He looks sorry for his lot in this card, because he missed seeing the Tao of Heaven. He’s bending down to tie his shoelace now, but it’s too late.

If he had realized that the further one goes the less one knows, modesty might have prevented his fall.

The Natural Knave; Ulysses Was a Fink

September 25, 2008

Daily Draw September 25th, 2008

Alas, my time with that beauteous and informative tome The Book of Silk has ended. I did 20 draws with this book and every one was insightful and challenging.

My new study is going to be of the Tao Te Ching using:

Tao Te Ching Cards by Chao-Hsiu Chen
365 Tao by Deng Ming-Dao (book)
Dante Tarot by Giordano Berti; artwork by Andrea Serio
Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (translation by Allen Mandelbaum; book)
Convivio by Dante Alighieri (translation by A.S. Kline; PDF file available at the author’s web site.)

The numbers and characters in 365 Tao do not correspond to the Tao Cards, so I am picking a meditation using the author’s correspondence of seasonal dates for the Northern Hemisphere. The Dante Tarot references the Divine Comedy as well as events in Dante’s life and his philosophical book (unfinished) called the Convivio.

When in doubt, get lost in Dante, you can’t go wrong.


If you are wise you will avoid opposing the rule of Nature because it can’t be done. There is always a naturally occurring opposite in Nature, and if you make yourself warm, there will always be something to make you cold. To use force to perform your duty is something you can’t avoid, but to try to hold something by force and control it cannot be done because it is against your duty and the rule of Nature.

268 – NATURE

The works of humanity cannot compare to those of Nature, our civilization lacks balance and refinement and our accomplishments are tainted by impure motives like greed or desire for fame. We learn and learn and invent, but in nature we can see another order of beauty and intelligence in this life.

From the Dante Tarot:

KNAVE OF FLAMES (Page of Swords)

This card depicts Ulysses and Diomedes inside their flaming trap in the eighth circle of hell in Inferno Canto XXVI, and represents dangerous friendships and disloyal and dishonest servants.

I was entrenched in all things Trojan over the summer and I have never looked upon Ulysses as a hero. He was a tricky wretch who lied a lot. Diomedes was his partner in deception and use and abuse of the intellect during the Trojan War. So in eternity they shared the space in a fireball of flame for their guile. The two lines Berti used as impetus for the card are lines 119-20 where Ulysses addressed the men on his ship during the Odyssey when they were all old but he wanted them to journey on, and go beyond the divine boundaries of the world.

“you were not made to live your lives as brutes,
but to be followers of worth and knowledge.”

It depends on the deceiver you follow and their definition of worth and knowledge. Human nature is potentially limitless, but in actuality there are moral dangers and limits to learning that are not wise for us to disregard. Pick your friends wisely, or your very soul might end up in a flaming bubble floating around hell for eternity.

In the Tao our tainted accomplishments mean nothing and we cannot oppose the rule of Nature. Maybe it’s best sometimes to end the journey and return home and sit under a tree. People aren’t as smart as they think; Nature contains another order of worth and knowledge.

The River Eunoë

September 19, 2008

Daily Draw September 19th, 2008

I went to grab a card deck to use today and my eye fell on a book: Flaxman’s Illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy. John Flaxman was a contemporary of William Blake and they both created artwork pertaining to the Comedy, but Flaxman’s were line drawings in the classical style favoured in the late eighteenth and early 19th century when they were drawn, and they look very much like Blake’s style, as well as somewhat reminiscent of the silverpoint drawings for Dante’s book that Botticelli did in the 15th century.

So I picked the book up and opened to a random illustration from Purgatory (with translation by Longfellow):

Canto XXXIII, lines 124-129

“And Beatrice: ‘Perhaps a greater care,
Which oftentimes our memory takes away,
Has made the vision of his mind obscure.
Lead him to it, and, as thou art accustomed,
Revive again the half-dead virtue in him.'”

I also like the modern translation by Mandelbaum which I copy for comparison:

“And Beatrice: ‘Perhaps some greater care,
Which often weakens memory, has made
his mind, in things regarding sight, grow dark.
But see Eunoe as it flows from there:
lead him to it and, as you’re used to doing,
revive the power that is faint in him.'”

I haven’t read Purgatory as closely as Inferno, but “greater care” refers to the incident where Matilda,a lady introduced earlier who represents Wisdom or earthly wisdom, tells Dante about the functions of the streams Lethe and Eunoe. The first is the river of forgetfulness, and the latter is its twin, the memory of good. So drinking from the first stream makes you forget everything and drinking from the second stream makes you remember the good. These streams are a cleansing, healing aspect of Purgatory, and restoration and revitalization of the soul.

After this part of the Canto where Beatrice tells Matilda to lead him to it, Matilda leads Dante to Eunoe where he takes the sweet draft of the river, and thus is purified and renewed, ready for the journey through Paradise.

It’s a famous and lovely part of the Comedy, for what human wouldn’t like to forget the bad and remember the good of life, and feel healed and cleansed?

Today’s passage from The Book of Silk:

“Pile carpet weaving was first introduced to India at this time, and some of the most breathtaking examples were woven in silk, or fine pashmina wool knotted on silk warps. In some cases these are so finely knotted that they have been mistaken for velvets.”

The warp and weft of carpet weaving remind me of the two streams in Purgatory and their uses. You need both to build the whole, you need to forget the bad and remember the good, and become a breathtaking example of a human on a journey to Paradise. We are all finely knotted and might appear flawlessly smooth, but it isn’t quite so.

Forgetting, doesn’t mean forgetting completely, to be balanced you must remember the good. That winnowing aspect again of a previous draw of mine, and also the reiteration that forgetting completely is not ideal because we forget the good as well.

See Dante sipping from the river; he thirsted to remember the good.