Read The Great Books

A Curated Guide for Autodidacts

Vita Nuova, The Divine Comedy

by Dante Alighieri

Written by Dante Alighieri, Vita Nuova combined poetics and prose as s partial autobiography and log of his emotions.

Mostly written in this book is Dante’s love, especially his love towards Beatrice Portinari a woman he had met briefly during his life, but was enthralled with. She also appears in his Divine Comedy series as well, such was his draw to her. The text stays unfinished as Beatrice died sometime during Dante’s writing.

Hands down, the best version of this text you can currently grab on the market is from the Oxford World Classic’s series. Translated by Mark Musa who’s focus at Indiana University is ancient Italian literature, Vita Nuova shines in this copy. The translation is not only clear, but it allows much of the poetics of Dante to still be appreciated. It contains quite a few notations as well for those interested in context or translation.

The Divine Comedy encapsules his trilogy Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso.

The trilogy is a literary piece set up in poetic cantos. It follows Dante as the main character as he travels through the three settings of the afterlife guided by the poet Virgil and his love interest Beatrice. Regarded as a classic for its mix of literary and poetics as well as it’s opinionated narrative of historical figures and religion.

With a text as widely known at this there’s a lot of options for someone interested to think about. There are two that stand above the rest. The first of which is Reading Dante from Yale University. This text is quite unique compared to others up for grabs. It is actually transcribed lectures from Yale’s leading professor on Dante Giuseppe Mazzotta. This is an interesting deep dive into the Divine Comedy and Dante as a whole but may not be the right type of thing, especially if you want the text uninterrupted. The better option to this would be the edition from Berkley. It offers the translated text as a whole. On top of this, is a wealth of knowledge through notations. Also included are a series of beautiful images that help the reader envision Dante’s complicated scenery.