05 January 2011

Life of Dante

I just finished reading a delightful little book called The Life of Dante by Giovanni Boccaccio. Boccaccio, who is best known for his Decameron, was a fellow Florentine and was 10 years old when Dante died. In this book Boccaccio shares anecdotes he has gathered about Dante from people who knew him, most notably Dante’s sister and nephew. Boccaccio seems to have some sort of ADHD issues as he is constantly going off onto rabbit trails and diversions. For example, he spends an entire chapter railing against women in the most humorously misogynistic way imaginable after telling of Dante’s wedding. Then, after spending several pages beating up wives and women in general, he adds shortly that he doesn’t really know anything about Dante’s relationship with his wife. A more notable rabbit trail comes later in the book when he details the beginnings of poetry from pagan mythology. Though it has absolutely nothing to do with Dante, this was my favorite chapter of the book because it provides one of the best arguments I’ve ever seen on why Christians should read works of pagan literature.


Despite the fun, anecdotal nature of the biography however, the reader is left without a real framework of Dante’s life. We learn about how Dante sat on a public bench reading while a huge parade went by and was so engrossed in his book that he didn’t even notice. However, we are not told why Dante was expelled from Florence, how he died, or other essential pieces of information about his life. Fortunately the edition I read appended a 12 page supplement to Boccaccio written by Leonardo Bruni during Boccaccio’s lifetime in order to provide all the details that were passed over in Boccaccio’s wild romp.


Overall, I recommend this book for anyone who is a fan of Dante’s writings and interesting in getting a personal view of Dante from people who lived in and around his time period.

5/5 stars

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