The Timelessness of Dante

Considering the basis of his most famous works, it has always seemed particularly apt that the death of Dante Alighieri is so widely acknowledged in Italy. It is perhaps even more fitting this year that the 700th anniversary of his death, and the many events celebrating Dante, coincides with the second year of a pandemic that has upended much of our normal lives.

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Asia Guerreschi | Italics Magazine

In a time that has so profoundly transformed us that even our everyday words have come to mean different things, it seems right to embrace the man known as the father of the Italian language. After all, if the scholars are to be believed, roughly 1,600 of the 2,000 words that make their way into our daily lexicon come from Dante’s works.

But those words weren’t just for the mundane tasks of everyday life. His most famous text, The Divine Comedy, is a narrative in poetic form that traces the path through the afterlife, stopping over in hell, purgatory, and heaven. It has been described as an allegory for the soul’s journey towards God recognizing and rejecting sin, among countless other interpretations, and has become a canonical text for linguistics, literature, and religious scholars. But it’s not just a matter for professors and pundits: Dante’s words also remind us that language has power and the use of it is never neutral whether in matters of science or faith. In an age where we’re forced to figure out where fact ends and fiction begins, it is worth remembering why Dante still matters, now more than ever.

Indeed, I have often found myself referring to Dante throughout this past year, in ways that only occur to me as I watched Roberto Benigni reading the 25th canto of Paradise in front of Sergio Mattarella. I wondered if the President of the Republic has also thought of Dante in these past months, and whether he ever compares current machinations to those of so many centuries ago.

Limbo, or how I learned to ignore the Italian government

The first part of The Divine Comedy describes Dante’s walk through the afterlife, guided as he was by the Roman poet Virgil through the nine circles of hell. Each circle contains different categories of sinners: limbo, lust, gluttony, greed, wrath, heresy, violence, fraud, and treachery. Taken together, they formed the Inferno.

According to Dante, limbo was reserved for the unbaptized and the undecided. In 2021, the indecisive and vacillating Italian government has come to symbolize in-between state, with subterfuge and political maneuvering taking precedence over the greatest emergency the country has faced in generations. We watched as a popular Prime Minister was unceremoniously shown the door and another was appointed with the promise that everything would work out just fine. Promises are another thing with a short shelf life in limbo: newly appointed Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, is down by 1.7% in the polls, in one week alone.

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In a time that has so profoundly transformed us that even our everyday words have come to mean different things, it seems right to embrace the man known as the father of the Italian language. After all, if the scholars are to be believed, roughly 1,600 of the 2,000 words that make their way into our daily lexicon come from Dante’s works

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