Dante and the Divine Comedy: Recommended Resources
In a 1993 lecture on the authenticity of Dante's letter to Can Grande della Scala (see "A Polysemantic Country Song?), Princeton Danteist Robert Hollander noted, "As far as Dante studies are concerned, a debated issue that has only a 174-year history is, relatively speaking, barely out of its adolescence." He wasn't kidding.
People have been examining Dante and his work from nearly every imaginable angle for centuries—and producing a mountain of books to support their theories. The following short list mainly includes resources we used for this issue.
Obviously an investigation of this topic must begin with the Divine Comedy, but which translation? That depends. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's is a classic. Dorothy Sayers's has the best notes. Robert Pinsky's (Inferno only) is probably the most accessible to a modern reader.
Vita Nuova, Dante's combination of poetry, autobiography, and writer's workshop, brings the author to life. Il Convivio ("The Banquet") and De Monarchia ("On Universal Monarchy") explore his philosophical and political ideas. These are all readily available in print and online.
On the Comedy
Robert Royal's Dante Alighieri: Divine Comedy, Divine Spirituality (Crossroad, 1999) serves as a basic guide to the complicated poem. Kathryn Lindskoog leads readers through Dante's Divine Comedy: Purgatory (Mercer, 1997) by retelling the story in her own words. Rodney J. Payton also aims for accessibility in A Modern Reader's Guide to Dante's Inferno (Lang, 1992).
Geoffrey F. Nuttall takes the Comedy as the basis for warm, almost devotional, commentary in The Faith of Dante Alighieri (SPCK, 1969). From Hell to Paradise (Washington Square, 1996), by Olof Lagercrantz, offers a breezy walk-through of the poem but questions ...