I first read Dante in Dr. Anderson’s class at OSU. I fell in love. I loved the story of a confused man having a mid-life-crisis descending into Hell with a poet guide and seeing all the levels of punishment so orderly and precise. I don’t know… It somehow just spoke to me at the time. I read the Commedia as a literal journey, not just the metaphorical journey that Dante intended. It was much more fascinating to actually picture Dante the poet (not just Dante the character) on the journey. Dr. Anderson didn’t quite agree with me on this, but allowed me to argue my point in the final essay (on which I earned an A, thank you very much).
In The Commedia, Dante attempts to answer the basic human question of what happens after we die. I think part of why I fell so deeply into Dante was that I was dealing with death whilst reading it – my great aunt and uncle both died during my Dante classes. It was somehow a comfort to me to picture them joyfully working their way up the mountain of Purgatory.
If you want to read Dante, I highly recommend the John Ciardi translation. It’s well worth the journey!