Reading Dante as a Feminist

“Classical literature has numerous inherent values and should still be extensively read by today’s readers. Still, despite my love for Dante, I would argue that it also essential to read classical literature with a critical eye, especially as our concepts of human rights and equality have greatly transformed since these works were written.

“Metamorphosis is traditionally typically about erotic, passionate love. Eros, this type of sinful love, is a subject that Dante explores extensively in the Divine Comedy. Dante studied Ovid extensively and engages with Ovid’s works in La Commedia. In his epic poem, Dante challenges Ovid and transfigures this process of transformation — often shaping metamorphoses into a perverted punishment of sin. Dante explicitly uses metamorphosis as a cruel, twisted form of punishment. Thieves transform into snakes and those who committed suicide are perversely turned into bushes and trees. Further parallels to Ovid can be drawn in Dante’s hell. Daphne was rendered a tree for all eternity — just as those in the circle of suicide were cruelly revoked from their human form.

“In the Inferno, the circle of Lust is predominantly full of women, including Cleopatra, Dido, Helen of Troy and Francesca. Though Dante engages with a few famous male literary characters — such as Paris and Achilles — in this circle, Francesca gives the longest soliloquy. Francesca is one of the few women in La Commedia to be given so many lines, and yet her identity and actions are tied to two male figures. Francesca was killed by her husband when he caught her having an affair with her brother. Dante portrays Francesca as a beautiful, gentle seductress–even the poet temporarily succumbs to her enchanting words. Although Francesca’s story provides interesting commentary on the constraints of love and society, it is unfortunate that Francesca is one of the only dominant female voices in the Inferno. Dante’s work would be more nuanced if he developed other female characters whose roles were not tied to lust and sexual temptation. ” […]    –Sophie Stuber, The Stanford Daily, June 4, 2018