Dante Alighieri: Dante was one of the most important founders of the vernacular Italian Language, and people around the world know that he wrote the Inferno, which is one of the books of his Divine Comedy trilogy. The Divine Comedy is, however, one of those works that everyone knows about but almost nobody has actually read. But now you have an opportunity to remedy that situation and read it free on line -- or at least sample it, if you don't want all of it. Many translations are available at numerous internet sites, but the easiest place to access it, in several forms, is at Paul Halsall's Internet Medieval Sorcebook site, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/sbook2.html#ren2. There you can find full text versions in English and Italian. The other Italian greats are also there: Boccaccio, Machiavelli, Pico della Mirandola, Castiglione, Ariosto, Vasari, and Tasso).

So what's so funny about Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. Dante explains what he means by "Comedy" and gives his version of what the Divine Comedyreally is about at gopher://ccat.sas.upenn.edu:70/00/journals/Recentiores/Dante/Cangrande.English.

Other folks, who think the know more about what Dante meant than he did, have also contributed analyses -- a useful portal for much of this Dante scholarship is on the Internet at http://www.princeton.edu/~dante/.

P.S. Even those who have read all or part of his Divine Comedy usually are not aware that Dante was also a serious contender for Florentine political power 700 years ago. He was an important member of the "white" Guelf faction that struggled with the "black" Guelfs for control of Florence. The "whites" were middle class democratizers, and the "blacks" had the support of the nobility and the Pope (and often of the rabble -- they were easily bought and the "blacks" had most of the money.) When the "blacks" finally won control of Florence in 1302, with the help of Papal troops under Charles of Valois, Dante was banished from the city and was eventually condemned to be burned at the stake. That's how Dante, a Florentine, came to write his famous works in Sienna, Verona, and Ravenna -- places of exile from which he and his friends actively plotted with the enemies of Florence for the return of the "whites" to power. Dante never made it back to Florence and died in Ravenna in 1321. For a chronology of Dante's life and a short biography, with literary criticism, go to http://www.italnet.nd.edu/Dante/text/Chronology.html, and http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04628a.htm.