Why you should read Dante

Dante’sDivine Comedy is one of CC 102’s most memorable reads towards the end of the semester. It follows a similar epic poetry format seen inThe OdysseyorThe Aeneid, but with a twist. The famous Italian poet creates his own world through his 14,000 line epic separated into three books. He brings in characters we might recognize and also completely makes up stories. In 1265, nothing like this had ever been done before and with the beautiful Tuscan rhyme, it should not be easily forgotten today despite its difficult reading.

Dante Alighieri was an Italian poet from Tuscany. He was most notable for his political strife and exile as well as his love for Beatrice which we meet in The Divine Comedy.

The Inferno is probably the most read book of The Divine Comedy and famous for giving the reader a glimpse of the souls in Hell. Something about demons ripping at bodies with grappling hooks, and sinners eating each other is entertaining. However, many people, especially in the United States, chose to read only the first book and normally it is for academic purposes. The poor English translation and many confusing allusions prove difficult to get through, but we should not give up. The best way to accept the challenge is to:

Start by treating The Divine Comedy not as a book, with a coherent, beginning, middle, and end, but rather as a collection of poetry that you can dip into wherever you like. A collection of 100 poems to be exact, one for each canto, some more sublime than others. Breaking the poem down to its parts, getting to know the characters one or two at a time, learning the themes and language of these individual elements, can give you the traction to begin enjoying Dante and eventually take on his whole poem.

The reader takes a literary journey just as Dante journeys through Heaven and Hell. One might ask why bother trying if it takes so long, but by reading the text closely, many of Dante’s insights are relevant today. No matter how many times it is read, something new can always be found woven in between the strange verses.

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