And We're Off! My First Book Review of 2021 

This year marks the 700th anniversary of Dante Alighieri’s death. So what better way to begin the year’s reading than with a pilgrimage through The Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso?

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
(Flame Tree Publishing, 2018)

Translation by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Illustrations by French artist Gustave Doré.

The Divine Comedy (La Divina Commedia) is a 14th-century narrative poem made up of one hundred cantos separated into three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso.

The epic begins “Midway upon the journey of our life” as Dante finds himself lost and alone “within a forest dark”. At the behest of a “fair, saintly Lady” named Beatrice, the ghost of Virgil (a Roman poet from the Augustan period) guides Dante through the nine grotesque circles of hell to the ascension of the seven terraces of Mount Purgatory. Once at the summit, Virgil departs and Dante is greeted by Beatrice. She leads him through the nine celestial spheres of paradise to the revelation of the divine light where he is, for a fleeting moment, granted a glimpse at God’s glory.

The Divine Comedy (a comedy seen through an Aristotelian lens) is one of the greatest works of western literature, packed with symbolism, important political, philosophical, and theological themes, as well as allusions to classical literature and mythology.

Originally written in the Tuscan dialect, the poem helped establish this dialect as the standardized Italian language. It takes the reader from the vile

“Forthwith I comprehended, and was certain,
That this the sect was of the caitiff wretches
Hateful to God and his enemies.
These miscreants, who never were alive,
Were naked, and were stung exceedingly
By gadflies and hornets that were there.
These did their faces irrigate with blood,
Which, with their tears
commingled, at their feet
By the disgusting worms was gathered up.”

to the sublime

“As the geometrician, who endeavours
To square the circle, and discover not,
By taking thought, the principle he wants
Even such was I at that new apparition;
I wished to see how the image to the circle
Conformed itself, and how
it there finds place;
But my own wings were not enough for this,
Had it not been then that my
mind there smote
A flash of lightning, wherein came its wish.
Here vigour failed the lofty fantasy:
But now was turning my desire and will,
Even as a wheel that equally is moved,
The love which moves the sun
and the other stars.”

Read this epic poem closely, and treat it as Dante treated his pilgrimage, one step at a time.