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Dante: A Brief History

ISBN: 978-1-4051-3052-3
224 pages
September 2006, Wiley-Blackwell
Dante: A Brief History (1405130520) cover image


For over seven centuries, Dante and his masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, have held a special place in Western culture. The poem is at once a vivid journey through hell to heaven, a poignant love story, and a picture of humanity’s relationship to God. It is so richly imaginative that a first reading can be bewildering. In response, Peter Hawkins has written an inspiring introduction to the poet, his greatest work, and its abiding influence. His knowledge of Dante and enthusiasm for his vision make him an expert guide for the willing reader.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations.


List of Abbreviations.

Prologue: Invitation to a Reader.

1 Dante’s Life and Works.

The Life Story.

The Figure of Beatrice.

Political Life.

The Work of Exile.

On Vernacular Eloquence and Philosophy for All.

Universal Empire.

The Birth of the Commedia.

Vision or Brainstorm?.

Textual Inspiration for the Poem.

Early Circulation of the Poem.

2 Dante’s Journey to God.




3 Dante’s Beatrice.

The Advent of Beatrice.

The Problem of Beatrice.

The Novelty of Beatrice.

Bidding Adieu.

Eros and Sex in the Commedia.

Paolo and Francesca, Dante and Beatrice.

Dante’s Sexuality.

A Beloved in the Flesh.

4 Dante’s Religion.

Dante’s Core Beliefs.

Christian Florence.

A Personal Faith Story.

But Where is Christ?.

The Christ of the Theologians.

Mediations of Christ in the Commedia.

Mary as Christ’s Flesh.

Daughter of Her Son.

The Beatific Smile.

5 Dante’s Afterlife.

Dante in English.

From Beyond the Pale to Cultural Centrality.

Twentieth-Century Dante.

The Artist’s Dante.

The Commedia in Performance: Drama, Film, Television.

Postmodern Dante.

Commedia in Comics.

What Next?.




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Author Information

Peter S. Hawkins is Professor of Religion at Boston University, where he directs the Luce Program in Scripture and Literary Arts. His publications include Dante’s Testaments: Essays on Scriptural Imagination (1999), The Poets’ Dante: Twentieth-Century Reflections (edited with Rachel Jacoff, 2000), and The Language of Grace (2005).
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The Wiley Advantage

  • A lively and appealing profile of the great Italian writer, Dante Alighieri.
  • The author draws on 30 years of teaching and writing about Dante in order to bring the poet to life.
  • Introduces readers to Dante’s great masterpiece, the Commedia, and traces it reception over the centuries.
  • Probes Dante’s idiosyncratic interpretation of Christian theology.
  • Will inspire newcomers to Dante to read his work and view it in religious and cultural context.
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?Hawkins? book has been written with students and teachers in mind, and having used it in the classroom, I can say that in this it succeeds signally.? ( Theology, September 2009)

?Peter Hawkins offers us a learned but highly original study, unapologetically personal in perspective, that soars beyond the ?brief, accessible, and lively accounts? enjoined by the Blackwell series.? (Religion and the Arts, November 2008)

?The medieval Italian poet Dante is one of those literary ?greats? that many believe only really clever, highly-educated people can access and enjoy. Fortunately, self-confessed Dante lover, Peter Hawkins, has written a little gem of a book which gives us less scholarly types a glimpse ? [It] represents his effort to transition a lifetime?s passion and scholarship into a highly readable, most satisfying encounter with this master artist/theologian. Anyone who has ever contemplated life, death and beyond, will find treasures and wisdom for life?s journey in this slim, 194 pages volume.? (Methodist Recorder)

"An accessible writing style, small format and attractive contemporary art will make the book appealing to readers new to Dante. Those already proficient will delight in the many new perspectives and insights the author provides." (America: The National Catholic Weekly)

"Peter Hawkins unveils Dante the writer and the person. He does so not only with impeccable scholarship but also with emotion, common sense, and empathy - all expressed in beautifully clear prose. Moreover, Hawkins reminds us that Dante does not belong exclusively to scholars and specialists: here, new 'pilgrims' are welcomed aboard. Those who revisit the Commedia under his guidance will be reminded anew why the poet remains prominently on our shelves, and will place this volume right alongside it."
Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Club

"Peter Hawkins’ knowledge of and passion for Dante shines through every page of this elegantly written book. He writes, moreover, with passion and precision. This is not only a superb introduction to Dante, but a work which will move and enlighten those thoroughly steeped in a poet who remains, seven centuries after his death, still very much our contemporary."
Gabriel Josipovici, University of Sussex

"A wonderful book for the awe and wonder that the author brings to his personal reading of the poem and which he also inspires in the reader. His perceptions convey the 'aliveness' not only of Dante's poem but equally of his own critical imagination."
Richard Lansing, Brandeis University 

"Anyone who makes Dante and his genius more available to modern readers deserves our thanks. Peter Hawkins’ careful reading and meticulous scholarship not only brings Dante to life but also shows how he has touched and enlivened readers throughout the ages. Dante’s vision never ceases to challenge and deepen us and the Commedia speaks to our age as much as it did to his. The great thing about this book is that it makes one want to go out and read or re-read the original story. Readers tend to project their own prejudices and longings onto the poet. But Dante is always ahead of us, as if to say with Beatrice, 'Look and look well,' you will never get to the bottom of things. A timely message in a dangerous age of raucous certainties."
–Alan Jones, Dean of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco and author of The Soul’s Journey: The Three Passages of the Spiritual Life with Dante as Guide

"A tour-de-force of compression, offering passionate engagement with Dante in all aspects of the Divine Comedy. It is absolutely freshly imagined and moving."
–Alison Milbank, University of Nottingham

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