Exile to Exile 

We live in a state of constant strife; the truths we relied on no longer seem certain; we are unsettled, shaken, adrift. Even those of us lucky enough to retain our health, homes, families, and jobs feel exiled from the lives we once knew. The bonds of friendship and community that secured us have loosened, and we are cut off in time as well: the past is more remote, the future unimaginable. In crisis, we face a world of danger: war, plague, apocalypse, discord, violence. How odd that the work of literature which most fully describes our state, our emergency, was not written recently, but over seven hundred years ago. The evils and the fears that troubled Dante in his Divine Comedy are uncannily like the ones that threaten us; his world is our world, so much so that the monsters of cruelty and lust that fill his pages are instantly recognizable — one only need change the names to see them as the figures of today’s miserable news. The ever-present relevance of the The Divine Comedy has long been noted. Almost one hundred years ago, Osip Mandelstam, who experienced some of modernity’s worst darkness, observed that “it is inconceivable to read Dante’s cantos without directing them toward contemporaneity. They were created for that purpose. They are missiles for capturing the future…His contemporaneity is continuous, incalculable and inexhaustible.” This immediacy is no accident. Although he was writing in the early fourteenth century, the poet composed his poem to speak to us. All serious artists hope their work will endure, but Dante, as almost no writer before him, sought to address the future, not just the readers of his day. We know this because he says so. At the end of the Paradiso, he states that the Divine Comedy is for

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