Friday, January 8, 2010

What have you read by Herman Melville? Dante? Cervantes?

I have been given to understand that Melville wrote quite a bit, although I have only read his most well-known work, Moby Dick.
My ever-fluctuating reading list incorporates a design to "hit the high spots" of so-called classic literature, world literature, science fiction classics, contemporary fiction, along with whatever else strikes my fancy.

It is funny that I mention the term contemporary fiction, because that's part of what makes Moby Dick so interesting to me. It was contemporary when it was written in the 1850s, but it is now anything but. I suppose the same holds true for so many "classics" but with Moby Dick I somehow felt the connection even stronger than usual. The time period was so very real. Melville had lived in this world of whaling and seafaring and American ideology, and the world he creates lives and breathes in a very powerful way.

Dante Alighieri wrote The Divine Comedy (or Commedia) in the 1300s. It is a work in three books. I have only yet read Dante's Inferno, the first part, which is understandably the most sensationalistic, having to do with hellfire and torment of the damned. It cannot really be classified "contemporary" at the time of writing because of the supernatural events and setting. This was written in Italian, and it quite steeped in cultural Roman Catholicism. In fact, it is quite steeped in pretty much everything about the author's world, despite the setting. Local Florentine politics, Italian geography, and Dante's personal grudges.

Miguel de Cervantes wrote Don Quixote in the 1600s. This was a book I set out intentionally to find and read almost immediately after college. I don't recall the reason. I think perhaps I just was aware of my literary defeciencies, and knew Don Quixote was a good place to start. It has been heralded as "the first modern novel in Western literature." (For a time it held the title of "first ever in the world" but that is now disputed by other works, such as the Tale of Genji.)

I read Moby Dick about 6 months ago now, and I need to approach some more of the "classics." I still have many to read that I have already purchased laying about, including Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Collected Works of Emerson.

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