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Lives: Dante [Paperback]

R.W.B. Lewis

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Book Description

10 Jan 2002 Lives
Dante Alighieri was born in Florence in 1265. In 1309 he was banished from his birthplace for political reasons, and sentenced to death in his absence. From then on he led a wanderer's life in Verona and Tuscany, eventually settling in Ravenna where he was buried on his death in 1321. His most celebrated work is the DIVINA COMMEDIA which he began in 1307. It is his spiritual odyssey through Hell and Purgatory, guided by Virgil, and finally to Paradise, guided by Beatrice. It gives an encyclopaedic knowledge of the age, all expressed in the most exquisite poetry. The DIVINA COMMEDIA, which Dante began in Latin, established Italian as a literary language. Dante also completed other important canzoni or short poems, eclogues, and an unfinished work, DE VULGARI ELOQUENTIA, discussing the origin of the language, the divisions of language and the dialect of Italian in particular.

Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix; New edition edition (10 Jan 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 075381319X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753813195
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 13 x 1.8 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,289,588 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

R. W. B. Lewis is a professor in the University of Texas at San Antonio. He is the author of Edith Wharton, which won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography, and of the James family, among other books. He lives much of the year in Florence, and the rest in Bethany, Connecticut.

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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  23 reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Elusive 13 Mar 2002
By Kerry Walters - Published on Amazon.com
Lewis's short biography of Dante is a pleasure to read. But at the end of it, one discovers that the book's subject is still elusive.
Lewis shines in setting the background against which Dante lived and wrote, helping those who aren't specialists in the tortured politics of 13th and 14th century Florence orient themselves in that whirlwind world. He also does a good job of describing the passion young Dante acquired for Beatrice and how his love influenced his ambitions as a poet. Finally, Lewis provides a pretty good walkthrough of Dante's poetic journey through hell, purgatory and paradise.
But in all fairness, most people who read this book will probably be more or less familiar with all three of these topics. My guess is that what they'll yearn for is a better understanding of who Dante the man was, an understanding that plumbs more deeply than the usual stories about Beatrice and Florentine feuds do.
Lewis's book won't help there. Dante the man remains elusive, hidden behind his poetry and the images. This isn't necessarily a criticism of Lewis's book. Dante is something of an enigma, even more so than many other poets. It may well be that no biographer can reveal Dante as he was to us of us who live today, half a millenium later.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compact and Graceful, Lucid and Generous Writing 17 Sep 2001
By C. Ebeling - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
DANTE by RWB Lewis is my introduction to the Penguin Lives series and if this is representative of the full series, I'm reading every volume. In 205 pages, in graceful prose that never flags, Lewis deftly sketches the life of Dante Alighieri and the times in which he lived, and, very important, offers a reading of his greatest works. The early Florentine Renaissance was a period fraught with political turmoil and Lewis does a good job of sorting out the factions and turns of events and their impact on Dante's life. His rereading of Dante's works is generous--no need to have read the masterpieces recently or perhaps at all to learn from this and gain an appreciation. In fact, this book would make a fine introduction to a study of THE DIVINE COMEDY. Lewis shares his own wonder and pleasure in Dante's work, and when he cites the original Italian lines, to provide an idea of their flavor, he always provides a translation.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pleasurable biography from beginning to end. 30 July 2001
By FinancialNeedsdotcom - Published on Amazon.com
A pleasurable biography from beginning to end. The book interweaves literature, love and religion all together in an intelligent understanding of the complexities that shaped this great artist. The book manages to illuminate the known facts of Dante's life and capture key moments in his life. Details vividly his wanderings through Tuscan hills and splendid churches to his days as a young soldier fighting for democracy to his civic leadership and years of exile from the city that would reclaim him a century later. It truly is a masterpiece of self-discovery describing the life and work of one of the world's greatest medieval poets.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dazzling Spirituality 7 Jan 2003
By Robert Morris - Published on Amazon.com
This is one of several volumes in the Penguin Lives Series, each of which written by a distinguished author in her or his own right. Each provides a concise but remarkably comprehensive biography of its subject in combination with a penetrating analysis of the significance of that subject's life and career. I think this is a brilliant concept. My only regret is that even an abbreviated index is not provided. Those who wish to learn more about the given subject are directed to other sources.
When preparing to review various volumes in this series, I have struggled with determining what would be of greatest interest and assistance to those who read my reviews. Finally I decided that a few brief excerpts and then some concluding comments of my own would be appropriate.
On Dante's masterpiece: "The Commedia, to which the adjective Divina was affixed two centuries afterward, is, all things considered, the greatest single poem ever written; and in one perspective, as has been said, it is autobiographical: the journey of a man to find himself and make himself after having been cruelly mistreated in his homeland. It is also a rhythmic exploration of the entire cultural world Dante had inherited: classical, pre-Christian, Christian, medieval, Tuscan, and emphatically Florentine. And it is the long poetic tribute to Beatrice Portinari which Dante promised, at the end of the Vita Nuova." (pages 12 and 13)
On Dante's response to Beatrice's death: He "did more than write an occasional poem of memorial grief; he put together the work to which he gave the title La Vita Nuova di Dante Alighieri. It was essentially an act of compilation, probably begun in 1293 and finished two years later. Dante drew up[ a narrative account of his relationship with Beatrice Portinari, from his first sight of her at the May Day party in 1274 to her death sixteen years later, sprinkling through it the poems -- canzones, sonnets, a ballad -- written to enshrine each successive moment." (page 59)
On progression in the Paradiso: In it, "Dante ascends; he does not climb, as in the Purgatorio, but, as he is constantly remarking, is propelled upward with the speed of an arrow. He is swept up through the lower planets -- the Moon, Mercury, Venus, and Saturn; into the Fixed Stars; then upwards to the Primum Mobile, when come all distinctions of space and time, of 'where' and 'when,' through itself beyond space and time; to the Empyrean, the actual and eternal dwelling-place of the Three-in-One God, of the angels and the saints, of the community of the blessed." (page 170)
In the concluding portion of his biography, Lewis briefly but eloquently suggests the ubiquitous and energizing presence of Dante in English and American literature, notably in the works of Shelley, Byron, Robert Browning, Rossetti, Emerson, Pound, Eliot, and Warren. According to Lewis, that presence "sparkles and sings and smiles like one of the spirits in Paradise." The same can be said of Lewis' writing style which, in combination with his erudition, enables the modern reader to gain a greater appreciation of someone who lived more than 600 years ago but whose Comedy is as contemporary as tomorrow's sunrise.
As is also true of the other volumes in the "Penguin Lives" series, this one provides all of the essential historical and biographical information but its greatest strength lies in the extended commentary, in this instance by R.W.B. Lewis. He also includes a brief but sufficient "Bibliographical Notes" section for those who wish to learn more about Dante. I hope these brief excerpts encourage those who read this review to read Lewis' biography. It is indeed a brilliant achievement.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Tuscan Sun 29 Dec 2004
By Arch Llewellyn - Published on Amazon.com
The Peguin Lives series thrives on its clever and sometimes surprising pairings of subjects and writers, often non-specialists with a more personal take on the life. Giving Dante to a Yale English professor isn't the most inspired choice, though Lewis's expertise is mainly American lit. The book shows the marks of several pleasant vacations in Tuscany, with brief pen portraits of the various sites and geographical features that shaped Dante's world providing most of the color in an otherwise dry march through the facts of his life. Lewis often circles back to people or scenes described earlier in the work, which is either a tribute to Dante's own narrative style or a sign of slack editing. If you don't know something about Dante already, this isn't the book to convince you he's one of the world's great writers, or to help explain why. But for a quick tourist map of a complex place and time, it's a short, effective read.
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