Books: A Man for the Ages

The mother of Dante Alighieri, not long before his birth, had a dream in which her son, having eaten the berries of a laurel tree, grew up and was miraculously transformed into a shimmering peacock.

The portent was fulfilled in a blaze of genius for which the bird of the sun is no intemperate metaphor. For seven centuries La Commedia, which in 14,233 lines of lordly language describes the poet's descent into hell and ascent into heaven through the refining fires of purgatory, has been widely considered the greatest poem ever composed; and its...

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