by Alessandro Barbero
New York: Pegasus Books, 2022. Pp. x, 304.
Gloss., noted, biblio., index. $28.95. ISBN: 1643139134
The Great Poet within his Times
Not as well known in the U.S. as in Europe, Italian historian, novelist, and essayist Barbero, who has written on Waterloo, Charlemagne, and many other subjects, gives us a look at Dante which is different from most books about the master poet; Barbero concentrates on Dante’s life within his times, rather than on his works.
Barbero gives us a look into Dante’s family background, which tells us much about social life and class in thirteenth and fourteenth century Italy, the man’s role as a citizen and White Guelph in the complex politics of Florence in his times, his exile, his unrequited love for Beatrice, and says much about Dante the soldier, an often overlooked aspect of the poet’s life.
Barbero actually opens the book with a chapter on the Battle of Campaldino (June 11, 1289), in which Dante fought as a man-at-arms in an elite squadron. Usually noted in passing in works about Dante, this tells us much about the man’s social status, while also giving us some insights into military practice in the Italian city-state cosmos of the times.
Of course Barbero does discuss Dante’s works, which often throw light on various aspects of the poet’s life, the politics of the age, and contemporary history (after all, Dante populated Inferno with many people he didn’t like).
A very easy read, Barbero has provided a glossary that helps the reader better understand some of the institutions of the day, though he might have provided a map or two as well, since many rather obscure places are mentioned. But overall, Dante is an excellent read for those interested in the poet and his times, and a good introduction to these subjects for the novice.
Note: Dante, A Life is also available in e-editions.
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