Dante, a serious rival to Shakespeare as the world’s greatest literary genius, was born in Florence, Italy, 750 years ago.
Italy properly celebrated the birthday of its national poet (indeed he who virtually invented the modern Italian language) on May 4 and Pope Francis has encouraged Dante to be read as a “prophet of hope” and spiritual guide. And so he should be. Just as he has for three-quarters of a millennium.
Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” written at the beginning of the 14th century during his permanent exile from Florence, is at once the crowning literary achievement of the Middle Ages, as well as the announcing angel of the Renaissance.
Every true epic poem offers a totalizing vision of its age — its philosophy, science, theology, and history are all distilled to dramatize how humanity, the world and the divine struggle together.
In Dante’s epic allegorical dream vision of a journey through the afterlife that devotes equal sections to Hell (“Inferno”), Purgatory (“Purgatorio”) and Heaven (“Paradiso”) one sees all that was thought and felt by Saints Augustine and Aquinas, but never so well expressed.
Thus, Dante is the utmost medieval philosopher, theologian and poet.