Ideas

Dante: Poet of the Impossible, Part 1

Dante Alighieri was a poet and civic leader in Florence. His enemies had him exiled, hoping he'd disappear from history. But instead he wrote a masterpiece, The Divine Comedy. In an unprecedented move, he made himself the hero of his own epic poem and attained literary immortality. On the 750th anniversary of his birth, we feature this encore presentation of our three-part series.
Dante Alighieri (1265 - 1321) the Italian poet, circa 1300. ( (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images))
Listen to the full episode53:59

Dante Alighieri was a poet and civic leader in Florence. His enemies had him exiled, hoping he'd disappear from history. But instead he wrote a masterpiece, The Divine Comedy. In an unprecedented move, he made himself the hero of his own epic poem and attained literary immortality. On the 750th anniversary of his birth, we feature this encore presentation of our three-part series.   
  

Poetry is trying to do the impossible. It is trying to say what cannot be said.  It is trying to express what cannot be expressed. Dante goes past the possibility of language. And that's what makes it poetry. -- W.S Merwin

 
Dante Alighieri has been called the single, greatest poetic consciousness in human history. He was born in Florence in 1265, and came of age during a politically volatile and bloody period. He soon established himself as both a poet and civic leader. But when he fell afoul of papal and city authorities, he was exiled -- a fate only slightly better than death. Alone, dispossessed and completely cut off from friends and family, he re-imagined the cosmos -- and his place in it. His enemies had hoped he'd disappear from history. But instead he wrote a masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, composed of three books: Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso

Dante did something no other poet had done ever before: he made himself the hero of his own epic poem -- and in so doing, attained literary immortality. This series was originally produced in 2000. We're airing a slightly updated version now, on the 750th anniversary of Dante's birth. As one scholar says: with The Divine Comedy, Dante made a bet with history. And he won.
 

Participants in the programs: 

Robert Pinsky  U.S. Poet Laureate, Professor, Boston University

W.S. Merwin, U.S. Poet Laureate

Harold Bloom, American literary critic, Sterling Professor of Humanities, Yale University

Giuseppe Mazzotta, Sterling Professor of Humanities for Italian at Yale University

John Freccero, Professor of Italian , Comparative Literature New York University

Joan Ferrante,  Professor Emerita of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University

Rachel Jacoff,  Margaret E. Deffenbaugh and LeRoy T. Carlson Professor Emerita of Comparative Literature and Italian Studies,Wellesley College

Amilcare Iannucci, (d. 2007), Professor of Comparative Literature, University of Toronto

Robert Hollander, Professor of European Literature and French and Italian, Emeritus, Princeton University

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