Paideia Today is a podcast in which Dr. Scott Masson and Dr. Bill Friesen, professors of English, discuss the great works of western literature. We do so from a now largely lost classical perspective, attempting to illustrate why 2800 years of the greatest thinkers valued these works above all others as keys to understanding the human condition.
Paideia Today: Season Two, Episode Seven - Dante II
In today's episode, we begin by looking at cosmology and the medieval synthesis of science with Christian truth in Dante's Divine Comedy. We do so by looking at some pictorial representations of Dante's cosmology in order to be able to visualize Dante's integration of small and, to the modern mind, discrete fields of knowledge. We make it clear that this must be understood allegorically. We conclude this episode by discussing that it is love that moves what appears in the visual portrait to be a static thing. Love is the organizing principle of the whole of the Divine Comedy, and Primal Love, Dante explains, is what organizes the various layers of Dante's portrait of Hell. It is the perversion of God's charitable love (charity) that results in variations of lust (cupidity), which are thereafter justly punished in Hell.
Paideia Today: Season Two, Episode Six, Dante I
This week's episode begins a series of episodes on the extraordinary work composed at the outset of the fourteenth century by the great Italian poet Dante Alighieri. With his Christian understanding of the soul, Dante's epic poem is an imaginative and moral vision of this earthly life in the light of what will happen after death.
The narrative takes as its literal subject the state of souls after death and presents an image of divine justice meted out as due punishment or reward, and describes Dante's travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise or Heaven, while allegorically the poem represents the soul's journey towards God, beginning with the recognition and rejection of sin (Inferno), followed by the penitent Christian life (Purgatorio), which is then followed by the soul's ascent to God (Paradiso).
The first episode is a general overview of the verbal architecture of the poem, looking at some of the many extraordinarily well-wrought poetics and its basic motifs. As a humanist, we will emphasize how different Dante's theological and philosophical premises are from a poet who believes that poetry is first and foremost a mode of self-expression rather than an engagement with ultimate reality.
Paideia Today: Season Two, Episode Five, Andreas
This episode looks at a little-read but fascinating Anglo-Saxon poem called Andreas, named after St. Andrew. Andreas is plainly patterned after Beowulf, but is more explicitly Christian in its literary features, particularly its symbolism. In the tale, Andreas is a missionary to a cannibalistic tribe called the Myrmidonians, who are so savage that they violate the xenia taboo and even eat their guests. Andreas is sent by God to rescue Matthew, who has been thrown into prison and is soon to be eaten. The text is in many ways typological and engaging richly with various Biblical texts, as well as Beowulf. The most important feature of this poem is the way in which Andreas is marked by liturgical elements that demonstrate that its poet is clearly seeking to make his culture Christian, not just his civilization.
Paideia Today: Season Two, Episode Four, Beowulf II
This week we discuss monsters and dragons! We begin by examining the qualities of Beowulf as an epic poem before going on to focus upon the three monsters that Beowulf faces. Each represents an aspect of evil more perilous than the last.
Paideia Today: Season Two, Episode Three, Beowulf I
The great Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf is the subject of today's episode. We look at the strange history of the document, and its status as an epic. While it is very different than the Greco-Roman epics, we argue that it nonetheless deserves its status as an epic not only because of the magnificent heroism of the character Beowulf, but its sad, elegiac, majestic sweep that engages with notions of monstrosity. It largely owes its rise to fame thanks to the scholarship of the great Medievalist J.R.R. Tolkien. We look at the characteristic features of Anglo-Saxon culture that infuse the epic, and in particular the value of loyalty and a heartfelt patriotic affection for their leader.
Paideia Today: Season Two, Episode Two, The Dark Ages
A common presentation of the period extending from the fall of Rome until the Renaissance is that of the 'dark ages'. But were the entire Middle Ages actually characterized by oppression, ignorance, and backwardness in areas like human rights, science, health, and the arts? We take issue with the popular misrepresentation of the era. While we do see a dark age following the destruction of the Western Roman Empire, what light remained in it was salvaged by Christians in the monastic movement, which eventually led to the establishment of the university, a medieval Christian institution.