Alighieri, Dante (1265–1321). Medieval poet. He has inspired millions with his epic poem, the Comedia (“Comedy”; later commentators appended the adjective “Divine”), comprising the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. One of the world’s great poems, the Comedia was aptly described by Dante translator Dorothy L. Sayers [qv] as “the drama of the soul’s choice.” In it, Dante himself journeys through hell, purgatory, and heaven, seeing the eternal results of the choices made by hundreds of historical figures (and a few mythical ones)—all in graphic physical detail. The poem draws from Augustine and Thomas Aquinas as well as classical literature to address important spiritual themes. These include salvation (Dante’s own and the reader’s), ecumenism and dialectic theology (opposing theologians appear in harmony in Dante’s “circle of the sun”), theology and the arts (the poem contains apologia for poetry, sculpture, and other arts in the service of the faith), philosophy (excurses especially in the Paradiso explain the nature of the cosmos), leadership (especially bad leadership: at least one pope shows up in hell!), and romantic love not as an end in itself (the illicit love of Paulo and Francesca land them in hell) but as a means to salvation (Dante’s beloved, Beatrice, sends him on his redemptive voyage and guides and disciplines him at crucial junctures). It is well worth getting beyond the gruesome Inferno to read the other two books.
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