A New Nonlinear Way to Read Dante Alighieri.
You can get at the nonlinear and visual construction of Dante's Commedia can be got at by the mind by just reading from start to finish, if you want, passing through Inferno to Purgatorio to Paradiso.
But what tends to happen as the reader traverses Inferno is that they stop short somewhere. Perhaps they pause at the gates of Purgatory to watch Venus rise. Or perhaps they stop half way up the mountain at Vergil's second lecture of free will. The mind falls short of the passion of Dante's design. Failing to grasp the beating heart that is the whole piece, intellect grows cold at the foot of the mountain where it ought to fall silent in the transcendent presence of Beatrice at the crown of the summit.
The answer is the failure to invoke the vegetative soul in the recitation: or, in less Aristotelian terms, the failure to extract the juice and excitement that comes from getting the whole work in a single hit of image, light and song.
Here's the problem: Dante's Commedia is nonlinear. The book unfolds in an acausal structure: Inferno mirrors Purgatorio illuminates Paradiso and back again. And that is on the most gross level of the plot: at the deeper level every image calls to image, like three friends chanting at one another from three mountain peaks in perfect harmony and consonance.
So the Commedia of Dante forms a single field of inspirational power, a matrix of image and idea that must be sensed whole in order to be "read" in any realistic way. In a word, you only begin to read Dante once you have read the whole poem from start to finish and have closed the book and started reflecting.
With that in mind, here's a fresh new nonlinear way to read Dante Alighieri's Commedia:
Start with the three books of the poem in front of you.
Read through Canto One of Paradise, then Canto One of Purgatory, then pass through Canto One of Inferno.
Stop, reflect; then repeat.
Continue moving DOWN from Paradise to Purgatory to Inferno, canto by canto, until you get to Canto 15 of Inferno.
This is the pivotal point in each of the three books. In Canto 15 Inferno Dante is about to ride Geryon into the Abyss to meet those who are actively vicious and aggressive against God. In each book at this point we move into the zone of heightened aliveness after this point.
Now there's a small hitch: the same pivotal point I point to in Inferno 15 occurs in Purgatory in Canto Sixteen and in Paradise in Canto Seventeen. In Purgatory Sixteen Dante ascents on an Eagle's back to the midway gate of the actively virtuous and pure. In Paradise Seventeen Dante attains the vision of the Heaven of Mars, of the warriors for God.
So the suggested nonlinear path is as follows:
Read up to Paradise 15, Purgatory 15, Hell 15.
THEN, reverse the order of readings to put Paradise last instead of first, thusly:
Read Purgatory 16, Paradise 16, Paradise 17.
Read Hell 16, Purgatory 17, Paradise 18.
At this point you will be able to compare the three pivotal points (Hell 15-16, Purgatory 16-17, Paradise 17-18) in the plot. All the threads will come together in the martial action of the midpoint of all three books.
Reflecting on the midpoints, note that Dante deals respectively with vengeance, anger, and courage - the vices and virtues of Mars, and the uses and misuse of the vital energy of the vegetative soul. Notice your gut level reaction to the images and feelings. And notice especially how much Dante has grown as a person from the start of the book to the midpoint.
These are also the points in the poem where the personal psyche ends and the transpersonal realm of begins. From these three midpoints in the poem, Dante the man becomes less important than Dante the Everyman. The universal Dante shines forth.
These pivotal points are a great place to pause and check in, get an overview of the poem, and really stir up a bit of passionate motivation to finish the adventure by taking it all the way to the finish. The Mars archetype acts as a spur to motivation to complete the recitation of the poem.
So, to summarize: we read from Paradise DOWN to Hell through the personal realm, correlating all the expressions together of Dante's individual psyche as it expresses in all three realms, then at the midpoint of each realm we reverse the order of the books and begin the ascent into the transpersonal:
Read Hell 17, Purgatory 18, Paradise 19.
Continue until the end:
Read Hell 34, Purgatory 33, Paradise 33.
The latter half of the three books gives a sort of transcendent play of image and idea that, to my mind, best resembles the leisure of the Olympian gods.
I firmly assert that only readers who have first grasped Dante the man are equipped to make sense of Dante the visionary poet-prophet. In my opinion, we meet Dante the man himself in the first half of each of the three books and Dante the poet in the last halves of the poem.
By reading the first half of each poem to become acquainted with Dante, we motivate ourselves to read the entire poem and discover the entire "good of the human", as Dante puts it.