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The Renaissance: a Platonist revolution

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Eleusinian gods on Dr John Dunn. Eleusinian gods. Detail from an Athenian red-figure clay vase, about 335-325 BC

At the climax to the Comedy, Dante conjured a vision of Eleusinian light, epoptika! - a participative union with the ‘glory of Him who moves all things’, capax Dei.

...my mind was struck by a flash
In which what it desired came to it.
The power of man’s imagination, and the creative freedom from servitude to sense perception were central, literally central, to the participative nature of man’s relationship to God explored in the Comedy.

With the imagination, man is of all animals uniquely endowed to look forward,contemplate new futures and, above all, hope. As such man has an active rather than a passive relationship to God. Man’s creativity, expressed through art, was the hallmark of the Renaissance, a movement that had its seeds in Dante’s imagination.

Dante’s experience of the One is Eleusinian, it revives Plato’s own employment of the Eleusis metaphor of philosophical enlightenment. Jesus is absent from Dante’s great Christian work, despite the incarnation, ‘our effigy’, being prominent.

Being platonic in metaphor, Dante's devotional epic was out of a tradition that was firmly rooted in the Hellenist origins of Christianity. Dante was consciously reviving that tradition from under the accretions of Judaism.

The Renaissance can thus be seen as a Platonist revolution, with an aim to restore the Hellenic tradition in religion, as well as in culture more generally.

© John Dunn.







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