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

Guy Raffa, “Longfellow’s Great Liberators: Abraham Lincoln and Dante Alighieri” (2016)




“Living with Dante’s vision of the afterlife also gave Longfellow some perspective on the war. On May 8, 1862, soon after translating Paradiso, he reflected, ‘Of the civil war I say only this. It is not a revolution, but a Catalinian conspiracy. It is Slavery against Freedom; the north against the southern pestilence.’ The reality of this moral disease hit home when he visited a local jeweler’s shop. There he saw ‘a slave’s collar of iron, with an iron tongue as large as a spoon, to go into the mouth.’  ‘Every drop of blood in me quivered,’ he wrote, ‘the world forgets what Slavery really is!’ ”

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Guy Raffa, Not Even Past, January 18, 2016