Dante's ‘Two Suns’: Reflections on the psychological sources of the Divine Comedy

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Abstract

Translations of summary

The power of Dante's Divine Comedy is unmistakable, but surprising in view of its theological structure and assumptions that are no longer current among most modern readers. This paper suggests that its power derives from the deep psychological truthfulness with which Dante deals with the painful personal crisis that underlies the poem and is his starting point. It attempts to clarify what may have constituted that crisis, and why the structure of the Comedy, and in particular its use of two guides, Virgil and Beatrice, who might be thought a somewhat incompatible pairing, point significantly to the nature of the solution Dante arrived at. In particular it suggests that the puzzling fictions to do with Statius in the Purgatorio are a clue to Dante's own difficulties in bridging the classical and Christian traditions, and that his highly original solution to these difficulties, by no means conforming to conventional Christian orthodoxy in the 13th/14th century, was needed with special urgency in a time of pervasive civil conflict.

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