I have been perusing the Divine Comedy for years, own two translations—Longfellow and Esolen—and finally, this wonderful article from The Catholic Thing is so good that I am going to immediately begin reading it straight through using Esolen’s translation; and what better than to start on Dante’s anniversary.
An excerpt from the article by Robert Royal.
If you believe the scholars – and sometimes there’s no reason not to – today or maybe tomorrow or at any rate one of these days under the sign of Gemini, is the 750th anniversary of the greatest Catholic poet, probably the very greatest poet of all human history, Dante Alighieri.
We’re pretty certain of this because Dante himself tells us about his astrological sign and we can be confident about his dates (1265-1321). There’s a lot we don’t know about him, though we know far more about him than, say, a figure like Shakespeare, thanks to the relatively high degree of literacy in Dante’s medieval Florence.
Indeed, you could say that he’s one of the early transition figures between the middle ages and the Renaissance, which makes him both a singular representative of the great medieval theological, philosophical, and cultural synthesis, and a remarkable exponent of how that high Christianity has to be actually lived by individual human beings.
In Italy, there are events of various kinds commemorating his life. In Florence, first of all, which exiled Dante, even though he had occupied the highest political office in the city before he had turned thirty-five, and towards which he, therefore, ever after had a love-hate relationship (including pure hate towards Pope Boniface VIII, who helped engineer his exile).
The Italian actor Roberto Benigni (“Life is Beautiful”), who memorized and recorded the whole of The Divine Comedy a few years ago (though he is Jewish), has been giving live readings. The Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti recently recited the first canto of Dante’s Paradiso from the International Space Station, which speaks of,
The glory of Him who moves all things
Pervades the universe and shines
In one part more and in another less.
Dante’s constant theme is love, “The love that moves the sun and other stars,” as he came to put it, famously, in the very last line of his vast (though not particularly long) poem, The Divine Comedy. But he arrived at that summit of divine love – having traversed everything the middle ages knew of earth, hell, purgatory, heaven, before the final Beatific vision – starting out from the quite ordinary human love of a man, Dante, for a woman, Beatrice. There’s nothing even remotely comparable in all of literature, theology, or philosophy to his treatment of the whole spectrum of our loves.
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