Dante brings the legendary author—and the medieval Italy of his era— to vivid life, describing the political intrigue, battles, culture, and society that shaped his writing.
Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy has defined how people imagine and depict heaven and hell for over seven centuries.
However, outside of Italy, his other works are not well known, and less still is generally known about the context he wrote them in. In Dante, Barbero brings the legendary author’s Italy to life, describing the political intrigue, battles, city and society that shaped his life and work. The son of a shylock who dreams of belonging to the world of writers and nobles, we follow Dante into the dark corridors of politics where ideals are shattered by rampant corruption, and then into exile as he travels Italy and discovers the extraordinary color and variety of the countryside, the metropolises, and the knightly courts.
This is a book by a serious scholar with real popular appeal, as evidenced by its bestseller ranking in Italy. It is a remarkable piece of forensic investigation into medieval Italian life.
Novelist and historian Barbero makes a tedious English-language debut with this account of Dante and the world in which he lived. Barbero first explores "the fundamental question of social position" and leaps into his subject's thoughts on nobility and knighthood, explicating in detail the fighting style of the 13th-century Florentine army in which Dante served. This is followed by laborious scrutiny of Dante's potential nobility and a detailed accounting of his genealogical line and his forebears' professions. Barbero covers Dante's birth and life, offering speculation about his schooling, his "mysterious marriage," and the business dealings that allowed him to live "in considerable affluence before exile." Dante's political career gets a look, too, with Barbero breaking down the White Guelph and Black Guelph factions that divided Florence, and detailing Dante's exile from the city after his White Guelphs were overthrown. Barbero brings up questions about dissension among Dante scholars they "are in complete disagreement about the period in which De Monarchia was written" but has an unfortunate and frequent tendency to get lost in the weeds. Dante scholars may find new paths to roam in all of the esoteric detail, but the general reader looking to get acquainted with the great writer will most likely hit a wall.