- It’s the closest you will ever get to being able to quite literally read a cathedral. Medieval cathedrals are gigantic assemblages of Christian theology, philosophy and apologetics in stone. Each surface, angle and cornice is drenched in sign and symbol, from the number of sides to the baptismal font to the number of windows in the nave. Everything works in threes and fours and aligns with the grand intersection of the Cross.
- It’s only way short of a Vulcan mind-meld you’ll be able to experience the point of view of one of the greatest of the high medieval intellectuals. Dante’s thought ranges from the apparently profound to the (from a modern perspective) shockingly bigoted and back again via arrogance, piety, humility, horror and every shading in between. And all of it in the most complicated rhyming scheme known to epic poetry. Or most other kinds, come to think of it.
- It’s one of the greatest works of speculative fiction known to man. Forget Cyrano de Bergerac or Jules Verne or any of the other pretenders to be the founding father of SF – Dante spun his web of invention on a rock solid (for 14th century Italy) foundation of natural philosophy, optics, astronomy and classical thought. Then took it literally beyond the boundaries of the Heavens.
- It’s a work that challenges our ideas of Christianity and makes us look beyond our regular feeble stereotypes of bigoted American baptists and milksop British Anglicans. What we find is full-blooded, ferocious and undeniably at the centre of whatever it is that we call a culture. And I speak as thoroughly heathen individual.
- It’s one of the most lovely books ever written. Dante claimed that words failed him as he tried to describe the impact of the most profound experiences death had to offer. Then he went ahead and wrote them down anyway.
You can read – or listen to – the whole thing here in a a quite wonderful translation by the Hollanders. Go on – take a walk on the really wild side for a change. Better than Twilight or your money back.