Domenico Peteerlini, Dante in Exile, 1860, Oil on canvas, Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Florence.

Good history requires responsible speculation. Marco Santagata’s most recent book on Dante hints that it will engage in some speculation in its very title, Dante. Il romanzo della sua vita, literally “Dante: The Novel of His Life” (Dante: The Story of His Life, as Richard Dixon’s new translation has it). The book reconstructs Dante’s activity chronologically while also dividing it geographically into two parts: half a life climbing the social and political ladder of medieval Florentine society...

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