“The artistic aspirations of the Divine Comedy were, of course, more profound than a mere settling of scores with people Dante didn’t like. His great work, completed in 1320, helped structure the theological imagination of the Catholic world. But as this year’s anniversary celebrations begin, it is the poet’s reflections on politics that strike a particular chord. He was as preoccupied with the consequences of factionalism and tribalism as we are.
“The explanation for that lies in Dante’s own turbulent biography. Prominent in the ferocious power struggles of medieval Florence, he at various points took up arms, held high office, was double-crossed by Pope Boniface VIII and subsequently died in exile. Writing the Divine Comedy, the author deals ruthlessly with those who engineered and profited from the poet’s banishment. Boniface’s card is marked in Canto XIX of Inferno. Filippo Argenti, a political rival, is placed in the fifth circle of hell, reserved for the wrathful, where he bites lumps out of himself for all eternity.” [. . .] —The Guardian, January 14, 2021.