Dante’s Evocative Night Vision

Dante Alighieri lived seven hundred years ago, and there’s not much point in casting him as a contemporary writer without proper consideration; on the contrary, the ideas in his work differ sharply from modern conceptions of man, society and literature. Add to that his fervent Catholic beliefs, and he seems to be incompatible with the Puritan modernity that, ever since the 1500s, has come to characterise the history of western and northern Europe; it is just that – his incorrigible otherness – which makes him instructive for us.

When I take on the task of saying anything about Dante, it depends on two things; the first is – was – that he was a writer who cannot be reduced to being a spokesman for his contemporaries. Indeed, the British 17th century writer Thomas Carlyle argued that Dante was a vote for ”ten silent centuries”, but this kind of statement is no longer reliable. In modern medieval research, there a...

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