Not everyone is ready

One who was ready– Salvador Dalì’s Dante in Paradiso, where the laws of nature no longer hold sway. (1951-60)

Some books are written before people are really ready for them. Before they are understood. Long before their impact can fully fan out and strike the minds and touch the hearts of readers.

What has always drawn me to history is its focus on pivotal moments. The turns from which society doesn’t recover. You can negotiate a twist in the road, you may take it at full speed or as slowly as it can be, but one thing you can’t do, and that is take the turn back. There are many such moments in the history of the world, and understanding what the turns are and what lies on the other side is the duty, I think, of anyone who wants to understand their place in the world.

The West was never ready for Dante’s Divine Comedy. Historically, all the conditions were present for the masterpiece to emerge, for the artist to flesh it all out. But nothing prepared the readers for it. And for hundreds of years, nobody, as far as we can tell, understood the full extent of the storm it brought to European consciousness. That T.S. Eliot’s pronouncement that Shakespeare and Dante divide the world between them still scandalizes many readers is testament to the fact that 700 years later, the Comedy is yet to be fully acknowledged for what it is, a poem of radical beauty, anthropological truth and existential urgency.

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