In Uncategorized on December 9, 2010 at 12:00 pm

I read Dante’s Inferno in college, and found Dante to be repellently egotistical. Early in the work, he insists to the reader that his own genius puts him on equal footing with the great classical poets; later, he comes upon a former political enemy suffering in Hell, and delights in betraying him. Why, I wondered, would anyone want to read what Dante had to say? If the fevered imaginings of an egomaniac are great literature, who needs literature?

I recently had an argument about Dante with a friend who loves the Divine Comedy. He pointed me to a section of the Paradiso where Dante sees God, and is completely absorbed in “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.” I found Dante’s imagination of such a universal love incredibly moving—perhaps more so because Dante himself is so flawed and partial.

After my conversation with my friend, I concluded that I’ve been asking literature for the wrong things. Literature isn’t the portrait of sanity that I had hoped for, but a portrait of the beauty of the human condition, including its imperfections. Which is well and good, but where do we get our sanity from?


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