The great thing about the great works of literature is that they are never what they appear to be. A good book always escapes definitive answers and easy pronouncements. The more we think about a book, the more the book becomes something else. That is also the reason why many of us go back to books they’ve already read. And that is the reason why the greatest works of our literatures are still around, sometimes thousands of years later.
If you’ve visited this blog long enough, you will have seen that I have a soft spot for Dante Alighieri. One of the reasons of my deep affection for the Italian poet is related to his works’ ability to present themselves in a different light each time I revisit them, to offer new insights with each new reading, to baffle and confuse me in ways which make them even harder to resist (going back to).
It’s been said countless times that the Divine Comedy, Dante’s magnum opus, is the best incapsulation of the medieval culture ever made. And that Dante is the last medieval poet and the distant ancestor of the Renaissance.
And it seems to me that the Dantean universe is a protest supernova. Everything in the Comedy breathes and exudes opposition. Inferno and Purgatorio are all struggle and they manage the threat and effects of destruction. There are no flatlands in Dante’s landscape. One either goes up or down, full speed or handbrake on.
But the remarkable fact is that the spirit of protest reaches the farthest corners of the heavens. If you think Paradiso is a yoga session with celestial music on, you’re greatly mistaken. Dante’s Paradise may be advertised as the locus of order and tranquility in total opposition to Hell and Purgatory, but the heavens are also filled with protestation.
In Dante’s heavenly spheres, even the angels complain. This is, I think, Dante’s fundamental take on the world – a constant state of dissatisfaction, always not good enough, always missing the target. A suboptimal world in constant need of change. His is a march against complacence, but it is not really his. As the last poet of the medieval West, he is also the greatest analyst of his world. And not only his, but also our own.