Dante and Beatrice by Henry Holiday
“Everything I understand, I understand only because I love.”
“To love is to receive a glimpse of heaven.”
In every single city and town in Italy, you will find a street named “Via Dante”.
At first it seems puzzling. Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) was not a king or ruler of any kind. He didn’t fight in any major battles, and he was a miserable failure at politics (he even got kicked out of his beloved Florence for it). Dante was nothing more nor less than a writer.
But Dante is arguably the most famous man Italy has produced (and the one Italians are most proud to call their own). He is often called by us English speakers the “Italian Shakespeare”, but as a writer and poet, Dante has no equal and no parallel.
By far his most famous and enduring work is his Divine Comedy (La Divina Commedia), a work made up of three parts chronicling Dante’s mystical tour of Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio), and ultimately – Heaven (Paradiso).
There are many reasons why his magnum opus is considered great – it was written in Tuscan Italian instead of latin (the common literary language), which laid the foundations for modern Italian. It’s a grand collection and embellishment of all the Catholic Church’s teachings concerning the afterlife. It’s the Who’s-Who of the medieval world, with Dante placing all VIPs, friends, enemies, courtiers, nobles, and even men of the church where he saw fit (spoiler: most end up in hell). It was an instant bestseller when it was published, and rocked Europe with its originality.
But what would push Dante to write such a work?
It was the love of a woman. Continue reading