Abandon hope all ye who want to dislike Dante

Dante

If you've ever had a devil of a time attempting to make head or tail of the works of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri because of his obscure language and historical themes, this book will set you back on the right path.

Reading Dante: from here to eternity by Prue Shaw (Liveright Publishing Corporation)

- Review by The Tablet

You might expect an introduction to The Divine Comedy written by one of the world’s foremost Dante scholars, an Australian-born, much admired academic in British universities for several decades, who has spent many a year working in the dark corners of libraries decoding manuscript after manuscript, to be astute and accomplished, perhaps even definitive.

But you would not necessarily expect it to be completely enthralling, even – perhaps especially – for the non-specialist reader. But Prue Shaw’s remarkable Reading Dante succeeds on both scores. It is a virtuoso performance. 

The appeal of the Commedia is universal, yet there can be no such thing as an objective approach to Dante’s poetry. Perhaps Shaw’s greatest achievement is to show that we each have to find our own personal route into it.

Rather than taking us through the poem from beginning to end, her seven chapters are “Friendship”, “Power”, “Life”, “Love”, “Time”, “Numbers” and “Words”. It’s an inspired idea. The Commedia becomes our own adventure, our own voyage of self-discovery. 

Reading Dante is undoubtedly one of the best introductions to Dante’s Commedia available. It is accurate, informative but never dull or patronising. All the important topics are covered, while steering clear of academic jargon.

Shaw has transformed long hours of painstaking research into something accessible and alluring, as she did in her critical edition of Dante’s political treatise, the Monarchia, and in her more recent project on the early manuscripts of Dante’s poem. Somehow, she seems to remove the burdens and the obstacles between us and the text, leaving only the pleasures and the delights. 

If you have been put off reading Dante because of the difficult language and the obscure historical context, you will find Shaw a friendly but irresistible adversary. She opens up linguistic and metaphysical issues in a way that will engage the beginner while also enticing those who want to venture deeper. 

Read full review: Reading Dante: from here to eternity (The Tablet)

RELATED:

A divine guide to Dante (The Spectator)

Why Dante Is Relevant Today by Prue Shaw (The Huffington Post)

The Ultimate Self-Help Book: Dante's 'Divine Comedy' (The Wall Street Journal)

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