Why Dante’s Inferno Stays Relevant After 700 Years

“The 14th-century Italian poet Dante Alighieri couldn’t have foreseen contemporary forms of hideous, malicious behavior—the Holocaust, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, genocide committed by ISIS.

“Yet, Dante’s nearly 700-year-old, three-part epic poem, the Divine Comedy—of which Inferno is the initial part—remains an influential piece of literature in exploring the origins of evil.

“Dante’s work has influenced or inspired music, novels, films, mobile apps, and even video games. Medieval manuscript illuminators and artists, including Sandro Botticelli and Salvador Dalí, have produced paintings mirroring stories Dante told. Most recently, Dante’s work was adapted for the crime and mystery film Inferno, starring Tom Hanks.

“When you have an actor like Tom Hanks starring in a movie adapted from best-selling novelist Dan Brown, you’re bound to get more questions about Dante than usual,” says Fabian Alfie, a professor in the University of Arizona department of French and Italian.

“But interest in Dante has never waned in the 700 years since he died,” Alfie says. “There is an unbroken tradition of Dante’s influence in Western culture since the 14th century. Dante has never stopped being popular because his poem deals with questions that are always relevant.”

“Ultimately, Alfie says, Dante was attempting to address the “big questions” associated with being: “What is evil? What is human nature? What is redemption, goodness, sanctity?” […]   –Monica Everett-Haynes, University of Arizona, Futurity, November 17, 2016

Jacob Landau, “The Holocaust Suite and Dante’s Inferno”


“My work has been obsessed by the figure… not only an object, but also and principally as a symbol expressive of our common predicament, of the beauty and horror of existence…. I am interested in art as advocacy of the human, as revelation of the tragic, as hope of transcendence.”    –Jacob Landau, Kean Galleries

On loan from the Jacob Landau Collection at Monmouth University

See also “Art Transcends Consciousness at the Human Rights Institute” (Kean Xchange)

Primo Levi, Se questo è un uomo (1947)

primo-levi-if-this-is-a-man-1947Primo Levi’s harrowing account of life in Auschwitz includes many references to Dante’s Commedia, most noticeably in the chapter called “Canto di Ulisse.” In the chapter, Levi recounts a scene where he and a French prisoner discuss books from their respective homes. The canto of Ulysses (Inferno 26) comes to his mind and he recites several lines from it.

The memoir Se questo è un uomo (If This is a Man) appeared in English translation as Survival in Auschwitz. The chapter “Canto di Ulisse” is but one of many references to Dante not only in Se questo è un uomo but also across the rest of Levi’s corpus; we recommend consulting the works on the bibliography for more on Levi’s relationship to Dante’s works.