books Essays

Journeying with Dante

From Florence and Back Again: Alessandro Barbero’s “Dante: A Life”

Alessandro Barbero. Dante: A Life. Translated by Allan Cameron. New York: Pegasus Books, 2022.

Dante Alighieri is the most famous Italian of all time. He is the author of the Divine Comedy, the grandest Christian epic poem ever written. He is also a poet of love, having written many sonnets, but most famous for his love poem to Beatrice—La Vita Nuova. We know Dante the poet. But do we know Dante the man?

Alessandro Barbero writes that T.S. Eliot’s declaration that ‘Dante is at least as great as Shakespeare’” is “self-evident for an Italian” but not necessarily self-evident to everyone else. Barbero’s new biography of Dante, translated by Allan Cameron, is yet another book introducing to English-speaking audiences the poet that we probably know from a video game or from literary and religious studies. When at Yale, for instance, our medieval theology professor had us read The Inferno. Given my background in philosophy and Saint Augustine from undergraduate work, I ended up tutoring half a dozen students so that they could “understand” Dante’s poetic masterpiece (one-third of it, at least). But few of us know Dante the human being, the man born in Florence, exiled from his home, dying in Ravenna…

My review of Alessandro Barbero’s new biography can be read at VoegelinView: From Florence and Back Again, Alessandro Barbero’s Dante: A Life.

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