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Dante in Love

The World's Greatest Poem and How It Made History


Harriet Rubin (View Bio)
Hardcover: Simon & Schuster, 2004; Paperback: Simon & Schuster, 2005.

Dante in Love

Contained in a text that is 700 years old, in one of the greatest poems of Western literature, is a spiritual Prince. It's not a manual of manipulation, but a map to perfection. Rubin brings it to light, by translating Dante Alighieri's magnificent Divine Comedy not into another language, but into life. She follows Dante's path in exile, illuminating the great writer's journey from Hell to Paradise.

"In this assessment of THE DIVINE COMEDY, Rubin reconstructs Dante's love for Beatrice and his years of travel and exile, while also examining the impact that current events had on his writing.... Rubin is well-versed in Dante scholarship...and she skillfully draws on various translations of the COMEDY and an array of other academic works." — Library Journal

"In her interesting DANTE IN LOVE, Harriet Rubin talks about Beatrice and has a go, as all writers about Dante must, at explaining Guelf-Ghibelline rivalries in 1300 Florence. But her focus is more directly on the 19 years of exile and how Dante came to write his great poem and in the process created the Italian language out of its then-36 local dialects: ‘How did Dante become Dante?'... Her style is both lively and erudite, her references ecumenical.... Rubin has...a very fine gift of summation and clarification and an especially good eye for detail." — Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

"A thoughtful and enlightening analysis of the writing of THE DIVINE COMEDY that centers on the physical and spiritual journey of Dante Alighieri." — Seattle Post–Intelligencer

"A masterful little book about a great poem. And it reads like a house afire. If Dante and THE DIVINE COMEDY mean anything at all to you, read this book. They will mean even more by the time you finish. But more than anything else, you'll be fascinated by Dante the man, by his work, by what is really going on in that poem.... Here's a guarantee: By the time you finish reading DANTE IN LOVE, you'll want to read THE DIVINE COMEDY. All of it." — Statesman Journal (Salem, OR)

"A charmingly idiosyncratic guide to the poem, strewn with nuggets of scholarship and propelled by Rubin's gift for conveying insight with aphoristic swiftness.... Her sparkling commentary is an excellent springboard to both the poet and his poem." — National Post (Canada)

"[Rubin] is doing Dante differently.... It is by no means a 'DIVINE COMEDY for Idiots.' But in its own way it does take Dante off the pedestal of poetic sanctity and explain as simply as possible the immense tapestry of religion, art, architecture, cosmology, theology and history that provided the backdrop for the work.... The book explores everything and everybody who influenced Dante. Perhaps just as important, it explores the people — from poets such as T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, to rock stars such as Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith — who were influenced by him. What unites these seemingly unlikely bedfellows, is the journey of the soul." — Reuters

"The infectious blend of accessibility, erudition and practical wisdom that characterized Rubin's previous THE PRINCESSA: Machiavelli for Women is abundantly present in her DANTE IN LOVE. Acting as our Virgil, Rubin follows Dante not only through the realms of his COMMEDIA but through the worldly circumstances and ideas that have shaped it. Along the way we are given — in the form of brief but pungent digressions — deft thumbnail portraits of contemporaries like Guido Cavalcanti and Pope Boniface VIII as well as succinct explications of such crucial aspects of Dante's cosmology as Gothic architecture and the philosophy of Aquinas. One might single out Rubin's pages on 'memory theatre' and its role in medieval education as a model of insightful concision, but the book offers numerous other examples. That Rubin is able to interweave — without oversimplification — such occasionally arcane material into a compelling and fast-paced narrative speaks to an overall sense of great learning lightly worn and of a trust in the reader's intelligence not always evident in such popularizing accounts.... To say that she makes Dante's great poem 'relevant' to the concerns of today might make her work seem like a crude exercise in empty uplift. Rather, she recognizes the all-too-human pain of Dante's exile and slow progress toward authenticity produced a work whose hard-fought insights are more urgent than ever." — Publishers Weekly

"DANTE IN LOVE is a curious hybrid, inhabiting [a]...limbo between self-help and literary criticism, more reflective, intense and erudite than the average self-help guide.... DANTE IN LOVE is the product of great enthusiasm, and Rubin's ardor for her subject can be contagious. she plunges us into the thick of the politics and culture of Dante's era.... Not only has Rubin immersed herself in THE DIVINE COMEDY...she has also devoured a wide range of secondary material to light her way: literary criticism, medieval history, art history, not to mention all sorts of histories of culture, religion and aesthetics. She is also fully aware of the many illustrious artists, including T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and Osip Mandelstam, who have taken Dante to heart, and she quotes liberally from their writings.... Full of genuinely interesting ideas.... There's an energy, a sense of excitement, in her engagement with these ideas and in the way she brings them to bear on her reading of THE DIVINE COMEDY." — Los Angeles Times

"A pleasant, informative journey toward perfect love with Dante (and Virgil and Beatrice) through Italy, France, hell, purgatory, and heaven. Rubin, who has ventured previously into Italian history, this time moves into the Middle Agens and offers an almost ecstatic exegesis of THE DIVINE COMEDY, with breezy commentary on all three of its canticles. The author has a lot on her plate: she follows Dante around Italy (and into France and back again) as he is composing the poem; she sketches the cultural and religious history of age; she explains both the structure and the significance of the COMEDY; she shows how it has influenced other writers and how it resonates in contemporary life. And so throughout the text we find allusions to great Dante scholars and teachers, samples of translations from Ciardi, Mandelbaum, Pinsky, Merwin, Wickseed, and even a quick taste of the Binyon-Pound collaboration. Rubin sprinkles her text as well with references to Harry Potter and PUDD'N'HEAD WILSON, Freud and Fellini, People magazine and Matthew Pearl (and Longfellow!), Keats and Eliot, Joyce and Titian, Nijinsky and Jung. She includes details we won't forget.... Rubin's summary of the theory that Dante's view of Gothic cathedrals in France inspired the architecture of the comedy, her emphasis on the importance of memory in medieval societies, her unfettered enthusiasm for the poem — these are real attractions. As...is her felicitous prose. In the poem, Dante finds Love; in Rubin, a grateful lover." — Kirkus Reviews

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