Dante’s Divine Comedy

The plan:

To read together one of the deepest, richest, and most enjoyable epic stories in the history of European civilization.


Weekly, 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Meeting times and schedule:

Saturday afternoons, 2:30 - 3:45 Eastern, beginning Jan. 6 (with Purgatorio).
A two-week spring break (March 23 & 30) will separate the two canticles; Paradiso begins April 6.

Meeting venue:

Online (via Zoom), with the possibility of in-person (hybrid) participation for those in or around Roanoke, Virginia.

Amount of reading:

Three “cantos” most weeks (about 11 pages); a few times we’ll take only two.

Recommended text:

Allen Mandelbaum’s translation; the paperback Bantam Classic edition costs about $8 new for each “canticle” (that is, Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso). You can buy them one at a time as we go along.

Mandelbaum stays closer to the original Italian than most other verse translations, and he manages some fine poetic writing. However, if you already have another translation and would prefer to use it, please write your convener to ask. Many others will work well, but there are a few that aren’t suitable for the kind of reading we’ll do.


For the fullest impact of Dante’s epic, travel with us for his entire journey - descending into the depths of hell in order to be drawn later through the celestial heights! But, as with all our groups, you are welcome to come to as many, or as few, meetings as desired.

That means, for example, that you could come for just one or two of the poem’s three canticles, or just to attend as often as you can (and read along with the group when you can’t). Many participants in past years have done each of these, and it’s worked out fine.

And on the spellbinding contents of these texts:

Nearly everyone has come across Dante's Inferno in one way or another - by reading it directly, seeing a film, playing a video game, or catching references in other literature. It is a great pity that so few get the chance to encounter the other two parts of Dante's masterpiece. Dante matured, both as a Christian thinker and a poet, across the fourteen or so years he took to write the Divine Comedy, and the improvement can be felt in every canto of Parts Two and Three. The Purgatorio serves as a kind of medieval self-help book, a guide to moral life ultimately rooted in the ancient Stoicism that is receiving so much interest today; the poem both gives a sympathetic view of ancient ethical philosophy and suggests ways in which it falls short. And the Paradiso, far from being populated by vacuously blissful harp-strumming angels, features a three-page tirade against the corruption of the Church by an enraged St. Peter; a stern admonition, in the mouth of Thomas Aquinas, not to rely too much on the power of reason; and a lengthy consideration of the gut-wrenching ethical problem that haunts the entire Commedia, namely, if people live good lives but happen to be Hindus, say, or Roman pagans, how can it be fair to exclude them from God's presence?