A petition for a public reading of Dante

When’s the last time a group of local residents petitioned the government to arrange for a public reading of Dante’s Commedia? The answer to that question is: the summer of 1373. In the summer of that year, a petition was presented to the Signoria of Florence, on behalf of a number of Florentine citizens, askingContinue reading “A petition for a public reading of Dante”

Dante on the beach (and the migrants)

One of the most beautiful expressions of mankind’s common condition and destiny is in the second canto of Dante’s Purgatorio. It also represents Dante’s criticism of xenophobia and nativism, themes which resonate, most loudly, with us today. Canto 2 of Purgatorio is set on the beach between the funneled Hell and the conical Purgatory. ItContinue reading “Dante on the beach (and the migrants)”

Dante’s windmills

The final canto of Inferno opens, ex abrupto, with one of the most powerful images in the whole of the canticle: a mockery of the 6th-century hymn ‘Vexilla regis’: ‘Vexilla regis prodeunt inferni verso di noi; però dinanzi mira», disse ’l maestro mio, «se tu ’l discerni». “Vexilla regis prodeunt inferni toward us; and therefore keepContinue reading “Dante’s windmills”

Giovanni de Serravalle’s Latin translation of the Divine Comedy

The reversal of Dante’s popularity at the end of the medieval period starts with an apparently popular move: translating the Divine Comedy into Latin. Meant to boost interest in the poet’s magnum opus, it signed its decline for at least 200 years. Humanism was about Latin, not the vernacular, about antiquity, not medieval science andContinue reading “Giovanni de Serravalle’s Latin translation of the Divine Comedy”

A tale of two whores: Dante, Luther and the Pope

I am preparing an introductory talk on Dante’s radicalism and I thought I would seize on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation to offer a brief reflection on one of the hot issues in both Dante’s work and Luther’s ministry: the Papacy as the whore of Babylon, the prostitute enslaving the Church. Luther’s vituperation againstContinue reading “A tale of two whores: Dante, Luther and the Pope”

Dante’s Big Bang

Un punto vidi che raggiava lume… One of my favourite scenes in the Commedia is that of Paradiso 28 where Dante, arriving in the proto-heaven of the Primum Mobile, describes his experience of reaching the engine of the universe, a place of strong ontological instability, thus pushing the envelope of poetic expression to the limit. Dante’sContinue reading “Dante’s Big Bang”

Everything is code, everything is number. And the medievals knew this, of course.

Modern biology has been telling us that all living matter may be reduced to code stored in the DNA. Physics may be reduced to mathematical formulae, which in turn can be distilled down to numbers, the most elusive of all our objects of thought. This sounds advanced and modern enough, but, as a classical scholarContinue reading “Everything is code, everything is number. And the medievals knew this, of course.”

Dante, Virgil, Minos and the hall of mirrors

My developing interest in Dante led a few weeks ago to a reflection on his narrative powers of expression and the way he breaks the canons of storytelling in order to bring out new possibilities and new narrative angles of attack. This is noticeable in the way he programs (or better yet engineers) his own projection in theContinue reading “Dante, Virgil, Minos and the hall of mirrors”

When Dante’s Commedia became divine

Dante may have been the most imaginative and transgressive medieval poet, but he was also one of the most immodest authors since Antiquity. It is well known that what we came to call ‘The Divine Comedy’ (“La Divina Commedia“) was initially known simply as ‘La Commedia di Dante Alaghieri di Fiorenze‘. It was Boccaccio who laterContinue reading “When Dante’s Commedia became divine”

Dante in Inferno: the devil is in the detail (of perspective)

One of my favourite parts of Dante’s Commedia is the end of Inferno, canto 34. Having surveyed all nine circles, the two poets reached the abode of Lucifer, lo ’mperador del doloroso regno. They went down Satan’s fur and out of Hell, but, as Dante soon learned, they crossed the centre of the Earth and experienced aContinue reading “Dante in Inferno: the devil is in the detail (of perspective)”