John Dante’s Inferno: A Playboy’s Life, by Anthony Valerio (2017)

“In A Playboy’s Life, Anthony Valerio tells the story of an ordinary man who, almost without effort, finds himself in an extraordinary situation. This lively and skillfully written biography takes as its subject John Aimola, a son of Italian immigrants who renames himself John Dante and begins an intense relationship with Hugh Hefner, founder of the Playboy brand. The fascinating part of this book is the way Valerio relates John’s life to the great epic poem of his literary idol, Dante Alighieri, whose Inferno is based on the concept that the punishment for sin would resemble the sin itself.” — anthonyvalerio.com

Michiko Kakutani Review: Books on Donald Trump

Donald-Trump-Books-Michiko-Kakutani-Dante-Hell

“To read a stack of new and reissued books about Mr. Trump, as well as a bunch of his own works, is to be plunged into a kind of Bizarro World version of Dante’s Inferno, where arrogance, acquisitiveness and the sowing of discord are not sins, but attributes of leadership; a place where lies, contradictions and outrageous remarks spring up in such thickets that the sort of moral exhaustion associated with bad soap operas quickly threatens to ensue.” — Michiko Kakutani, “In Books on Donald Trump, Consistent Portraits of a High-Decibel Narcissist,” The New York Times (August 25, 2016)

Marco Santagata, Come donna innamorata (2015)

Dante-Santagata-2015-come-donna-innamorataMarco Santagata’s 2015 novel Come donna innamorata — based on Dante’s biography, on which Santagata has also published — was a finalist for the Premio Strega. See the publisher’s description below:

“Come si può continuare a scrivere quando la morte ti ha sottratto la tua Musa? È questo l’interrogativo che, l’8 giugno 1290, tormenta Dante Alighieri, giovane poeta ancora alla ricerca di una sua voce, davanti alle spoglie di Beatrice Portinari. Da quel momento tutto cambierà: la sua vita come la sua poesia. Percorrendo le strade di Firenze, Dante rievoca le vicissitudini di un amore segnato dal destino, il primo incontro e l’ultimo sguardo, la malìa di una passione in virtù della quale ha avuto ispirazione e fama. È sgomento, il giovane poeta; e smarrito. Ma la sorte gli riserva altri strali. Mentre le trame della politica fiorentina minacciano dapprima i suoi affetti – dal rapporto con la moglie Gemma all’amicizia fraterna con Guido Cavalcanti –e poi la sua stessa vita, Dante Alighieri fa i conti con le tentazioni del potere e la ferita del tradimento, con l’aspirazione al successo e la paura di non riuscire a comporre il suo capolavoro…È un Dante intimo, rivelato anche nella sua fragilità, e nelle sue ambiguità, quello che Marco Santagata mette in scena in un romanzo che restituisce le atmosfere, le parole, le inquietudini di un Medioevo vivido e vicino. Il sommo poeta in tutta la sua umanità: lacerato dall’amore, tormentato dall’ambizione, ardentemente contemporaneo.” — Guanda

See Giuseppe Fantasia’s review in the Italian edition of Huffington Post here.

Gregory Bellow, “Crises of the Spirit: Dante and Bellow”

Greg-Bellow-Crises-of-the-Spirit-Dante-Saul-Bellow

In an essay entitled “Crises of the Spirit: Dante and Bellow,” Gregory Bellow, oldest son of Saul Bellow and author of Saul Bellow’s Heart: A Son’s Memoir, compares three of his father’s novels to Dante’s three canticles. “Crises of the Spirit” parallels the pilgrim’s psycho-spiritual crisis and recovery with those of Bellow’s characters, and with the novelist’s own biography. Using private anecdotes and personal recollections, Gregory Bellow traces his father’s mid-life “crisis of spirit” through the Dantean themes of evil, spiritual cleansing, and love.

A PDF copy of the essay is available here, with permission of the author.

Marco Santagata, Dante: The Story of His Life (2016)

“Unlike Shakespeare, whose corpus one searches in vain for insight into the author’s selfhood, we have abundant access to Dante’s psyche, thanks to the self-editorializing drive in all his major works, from the Vita Nuova to the Convivio to The Divine Comedy. Dante funneled everything—history, truth, cosmos, salvation—through his first-person singular, the famous “I” who finds himself “in the middle of our life’s way” as the poem opens. Yet despite his bold self-exposure, the writing of the Comedy remains a mystery. How did the vision come to him, and how much of it did he have inside his mind when he began writing?

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“Marco Santagata, a professor of Italian literature at the University of Pisa, has written an impressive new biography that takes into consideration every bit of reliable and semireliable information available to us about Dante’s life, from his birth in Florence in 1265 to his death in Ravenna in 1321, yet you reach the end of its 485 pages without getting one step closer to understanding how an electrician joined the ranks of Einstein and Fermi. That is because little in Dante’s life story helps us understand how he conceived, composed, and completed the Comedy, this despite the fact that much of what was going on around him at the time found its way into his poem.” — Robert Pogue Harrison, “Dante: He Went Mad in His Hell. Review of Marco Santagata, Dante: The Story of His Life,” New York Review of Books, Oct. 27, 2016

Contributed by Pamela Montanaro

A.N. Wilson, “Dante in Love” (2011)

an-wilson-dante-in-love-2011“Dante is considered the greatest of all European poets–yet his most famous work, The Divine Comedy, remains widely unread.
Fueled by a lifetime’s obsession with Dante Alighieri and his work, the distinguished historian A. N. Wilson tells the remarkable story of the poet’s life and passions during the extraordinary political turbulence of thirteenth-century Europe. An impoverished aristocrat born in Florence, then the wealthiest city in Europe, Dante was the most observant and articulate of writers and was as profoundly absorbed in his ambition to be a great poet as he was with the central political and social issues of his time. The emergence of independent nation-states, the establishment of a modern banking system and currency, and the rise of Arabic teachings and Greek philosophy were all momentous events that Dante lived through. Amid this shifting political terrain, Wilson sets Dante in context with his great contemporaries–Giotto, Aquinas, and Pope Boniface VIII–and explains the significance of Beatrice and the part she has played in all our Western attitudes toward love and sex.”    —Powells

Review of Susan Gubar, “Judas: A Biography” (2009)

review-of-susan-gubar-judas-a-biography-2009“In Judas: A Biography, Susan Gubar has amassed a long, grim and often nauseating catalog of the ways in which the Christian imagination has vented its wrath on the disciple who betrayed his master. . . The author of the medieval Golden Legend imagined Judas’s early life, which included killing his father and marrying his mother; an Arabic legend conjured an infant Judas obsessively biting himself. Medieval artists portrayed him as a slavering brute, deploying a racist arsenal of Jewish and African stereotypes to contrast him with the lily-white Jesus. No wonder that Dante placed Judas at the very bottom of the Inferno, where he is gnawed by Satan: ‘his head within and outside flails his legs.'” [. . .]    –Adam Kirsch, The New York Times, April 3, 2009

Kathryn Harrison, While They Slept: An Inquiry into the Murder of a Family (2008)

kathyrn-harrison-while-they-slept-an-inquiry-into-the-murder-of-a-family-2008“In the Inferno of Dante, Count Ugolino, forced to cannibalize his children’s corpses, is led to narrate the horror by Dante’s offer to retell the story up in the world above. Genesis 19 not only tells the story of incest between Lot and his daughters, but proceeds to name their offspring: Moab and Ben-ammi, and the Moabites and Ammonites descended from them. Abel’s blood ‘cries out’ with its story, and the fratricide Cain is marked.” [. . .]    –Robert Pinsky, New York Times, June 8, 2008

Barbara Reynolds, Dante: The Poet, the Political Thinker, the Man (2006)

barbara-reynolds-dante-the-poet-the-thinker-the-man-2006“. . .But the novelties come thick and fast, beginning (so far as I was concerned) with the suggestion on page 10 that Dante and other poets he associated with in Florence as a young man might have given their visionary and dreamlike imaginings a boost with the stimulus of love-potions. These herbal stimulants, cannabis perhaps, may, it turns out later, be what Dante is referring to in the comparison, near the start of Paradiso, between his own ‘trans-human’ experience and what Glaucus felt ‘on tasting of the herb’ (nel gustar dell’erba) which made him into a sea-god. As Reynolds explains at greater length when she comes to the final vision of the Godhead, mystics did often use drugs of one kind or another in conjunction with fasting and meditation in their pursuit of visionary illumination. There is no reason, she argues, why Dante should not have done so too. Dante as a substance abuser? It is not a key argument and Reynolds may be being provocative, even mischievous. She herself gives much more importance to her decoding of the two prophecies that have always been a problem for Dante commentators. . .”    –Peter Hainsworth, The Times Literary Supplement, October 18, 2006 (accessible only with a subscription)

Contributed by Jenny Davidson

Anne Isba, “Gladstone and Dante: Victorian Statesman, Medieval Poet” (2006)

anne-isba-gladstone-and-dante-victorian-statesman-medieval-poet-2006“From the point at which he first read the Commedia, at the age of twenty-four, William Gladstone was to consider Dante Alighieri one of the major influences in his life, on a par with Homer and St Augustine, and to identify himself strongly with the poet. Both were statesmen as well as scholars, for whom civic duty was more important than personal convenience. Both were serious theologians as well as simple spiritual pilgrims. Both idealised women. This book shows how Gladstone found in Dante an endorsement of his own beliefs as he negotiated a path through life. Isba traces the development of his enthusiasm against the background of a resurgent Italy in a new Europe, and in the context of the Victorian fashion for all things medieval. She also examines the parallels between the two men’s attitudes to sex and religion in particular, and closes by analysing the quality of Gladstone’s own writing on Dante (he was to become an internationally recognised Dante scholar).”    —Boydell & Brewer

Contributed by Michael Richards