The Blessings

The Angelic Boatman approaches the Island of Purgatory. Ill: Gustave Doré.

“Fall to your knees, fall to your knees!
Behold the angel of the Divine! And fold your hands.
Expect to see more ministers like him.”

After the Pilgrim has girded his waist with a soft reed, as a symbol of the necessary humility to gain deeper insights into the world and the Heavens, he sees the Angelic Boatman approaching over the waters. The Boatman in some ways representing the first blessing on the journey of purgation. The rewards and affermations are immediate once an approach of openness is adopted. And with the promise, of many more blessings to come.

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The Greek and Roman Epics, and the Personal Journey. w/Sean Eckmann.

A new conversation with Sean Eckmann from Mythos & Logos, where we’re looking at the role of emotion, passion, and the intervention of metaphorical Gods in the Ancient Epics of the Iliad, Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid.

Sean’s youtube channel is here: – and the first of his three videos on these great epics is coming out by the end of this month, in June.



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Dante’s Inferno – Emotions and Rationality

A new series!

We’ll look at the first book in Dante’s Divine Comedy, with brief overviews and highlights – and how this work is relevant for understanding and navigating the world better. In this episode we’ll look at the opening, in Chapter 1.

Thanks for listening!

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Sordello’s Poem “Blacatz”, and its echo in The Valley of Princes.

A look at the Sordello’s most famous Provençal Poem “Blacatz” (c. 1240), and how Dante draws inspiration from this poem in his description of the Valley of Princes in Canto VII of the Purgatory.

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Some highlights from the Aeneid

Here’s a 20 minute Introduction to the “Aeneid Series” on the Ancient World Podcast – with a brief overview and the final battle scenes with Turnus.

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The Aeneid – A Podcast Series

The Flight from Troy, by Federico Barocci.

We’ve just finished reading (and recording) the Aeneid by Virgil – and the last episodes will be up from April 1st – April 6th on the subscription podcast! Four episodes covering the second part of the Epic Poem, with the Wars in Latium and the founding of Lavininum. Which later leads to the founding of Alba Longa, and then of Rome itself, 300 years after that.

So this has been most of the month of March – a deep dive into the Roman Epic of Virgil, and exploring the cosmology and pagan world of Aeneas. It’s already shedding an interesting new light on Dante’s Divine Comedy and the role of Virgil as the guide, at first close to all-knowing and confident, and then gradually on his own exploration and learning, with amazement, through the book of Purgatory.

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Meeting Sordello, in Canto 6

In the slow anticipation of Ante-Purgatory, Virgil and the Pilgrim meet Sordello, an Italian poet and fellow Mantuan of Virgil.

“But see that spirit stationed over there,
all by himself, the one who looks at us;
he will show us the quickest way to go.”

We made our way toward him. (0 Lombard soul,
how stately and disdainful you appeared,
what majesty was in your steady gaze!)

And with one little line, “watching like a couchant lion on guard”, Dante connects Sordello to Judah in Genesis, and the anticipation of King David, building up the expectation of the real Gate of Purgatory. The Italian is: “sguardando a guisa di leon quando si posa.”

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Focus, and Climbing the Mountain of Virtue

Here are the words from Virgil (as Reason) as they’ve started the climb, but the Pilgrim is too distracted by what the other souls might be whispering:

“Keep up with me and let the people talk!
Be like a solid tower whose brave height
remains unmoved by all the winds that blow;

the man who lets his thoughts be turned aside
by one thing or another, will lose sight
of his true goal, his mind sapped of its strength.”

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Robert Pirsig, and a blended Frame of Mind

We’ve just finished the cult-philosophy-classic novel “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig, an excellent read, and one of the big thoughts standing out afterward is this: that without a larger philosophical, metaphysical or spiritual frame of mind supported by or mostly based in the right brain hemisphere, the left hemisphere will gradually try to construct something on its own premises – which it is in no way capable of doing – and in Pirsig’s case this led to obsessions, mental illness and eventually years of hospitalized madness and electroshocks.

It’s somewhat unsettling to follow Pirsig’s mind journey into his deeper probing of the transcendent value questions but seemingly slowly drawn into a linguistic trap of using the LH’s compulsion for analysis and precise definitions in the process. It creates an inwards spin that consumes him. And by habit or perhaps long term cultural conditioning and pressures, even when he briefly discovers that an idea of “Quality” should not be defined, it soon glides over into the LH and becomes literalised and loses its depth, even as he is fully conscious of this process and tries to resist this change. Which might suggest an involuntary strength of his LH, that has over time grown and become beyond his control. But this is where a balanced culture might have helped with overall structures, stories, little reminders in our environment, norms, an ethos that promotes RH conditions and apprehensions of the world, and a more balanced understanding of one self and one’s mind. To some extent the ZMM sounds like a cry out of a culture where the LH has already too much control, and where this is reflected in Pirsig’s own journey and struggles through life.

This also points to a much larger historical scale, about modernity in the last 500 years, and arguably from the roots of the LH’s march towards control and dominance in the old Nominalist debates at the University of Paris in the 11- and 12-hundreds. When an insistence on literalism gradually eroded a part of the world of the RH, where concepts and ideas and intimations of the mystery and the Beyond had been referred to with metaphors and allegorical words. When this was gradually blocked through a LH dominance over words, something deep and valuable and important, if not essential, might have been lost for centuries to come.

Pirsig’s quest and endeavour for balance and unity of the two worlds of technology and humanities, or the “classic” and “romantic” worlds, seems to partly become blocked by this lack of framework or ability to include both a part that is certain and firm, and a part that is uncertain, unknown and ambiguous. Which is something that the RH is naturally very comfortable with. And the RH could also easily unite the three areas he is expressing a wish to unify: that of the Arts, the Sciences and Religion. This was already done in historical periods when the LH was not dominant. It was there before Nominalism, and it is there in an endless abundance in earlier poetic works like the Divine Comedy by Dante. But it will not be accessible through a literal LH reading of it. And it could take years to change the mind and the brain, to gradually rebalance the hemispheres and rediscover the wealth and beauty of the knowledge and wisdom we have to some degree lost, but which is still there, all along.

Pirsig’s book is a fascinating story but could also be seen as a warning about the limitations of the LH, and at the same time point to our natural inclination to try to establish a deeper understanding of the world, but in the domain of the RH. And for that, we need to elevate and learn to use the RH more. Reading Dante or learning from Iain McGilchrist could be an excellent start in that journey – both for oneself, and for the wider culture as well. It’s how a rebirth can happen.

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Pirsig, The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and The Sacred

We’re half way through the cult-philosophy-classic novel “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig now, and it’s a fascinating read, especially through the lens of the brain hemispheres and the work and research of Iain McGilchrist.

The main character in the book recounts much of his earlier life story and how there is a constant tension between the “classic” and “romantic” ways of apprehending and experiencing the world, largely corresponding to the old cultures of sciences and the humanities in the Universities.

But what makes it especially fascinating is how Pirsig by intuition and introspection also discovers the battle between his own hemispheres, and increasingly understands the natures of the two. And then we see how his aspiration becomes to try to create a balance and unification of the two worlds.

Being on page 220, Pirsig is starting to find his way into the right hemisphere by relating to concepts that can be shown to exist, but cannot be clearly defined, focussing on the word “Quality”. And in some ways this beautifully parallels so many sacred traditions where the Divine cannot be named without diminishing it. What is experienced and understood intuitively, spiritually and emotionally with the RH, cannot be grasped by the words and language of the left hemisphere, without changing it into a linguistic representation, which is something else. And arguably the way to unite and unify the worlds will go through the RH, but necessitates to some extent a relation to something Sacred, the ineffable Beyond, or at least an openness to the Mystery of existence or something Divine.

In ancient wisdom the key to true enlightenment comes through intellectual humility, as a starting point for new learning and for receiving deeper insights. And then the process of unifying could gradually start melding together the two worlds of the hemispheres and create a new whole, in something that might at times resemble the nature, of a new rebirth.

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