The poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) is a most difficult subject for a biography as nearly every factual assertion about him is disputed. He may have had five children, perhaps six, maybe seven or even just three. Who was Beatrice, his poetic inspiration? Was she the daughter of Folco Portinari, or did she exist solely in Dante's imagination? Reynolds (Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul), a retired Italianist at Cambridge University, has her work cut out for her. She succeeds, however, in marshaling all the known facts of Dante's life, and slots them into perspective by explaining his era's tumultuous events and issues. Reynolds demolishes previous theories that Dante was an aloof genius concerned only with creating beautiful parables, and instead highlights the personal, public and very political agenda of the Commedia and other works. Along the way, she raises a few intriguing possibilities: that Dante's magnificent religious visions in Paradiso were induced by psychedelic drugs, for instance. Readers should be warned that this is neither a straightforward biography nor a light read for the airplane. Though provocative and fascinating in many places, it requires a solid grounding in the master's works to fully comprehend its sweep. Illus. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Reynolds (Italian, emerita, Cambridge Univ.; Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul) brings a lifetime of study to a new understanding of 13th-century Italian poet and philosopher Dante Alighieri. Noting that there are few undisputed facts about Dante's life, she organizes the biography around his works. She is particularly interested in the oral qualities of Dante's writings and the personality in his text, arguing that most of the minor works were meant as lectures and that Dante performed or publicly read the Commedia as he composed it, altering directions in response to audience reception. Reynolds is well versed in the scholarship, but keeps this largely in the background. Her writing is always refreshing and fluent and, though it is accessible to the general reader, it is also of value to the specialist. Highly recommended. T.L. Cooksey, Armstrong Atlantic State Univ., Savannah Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.