Dante Alighieri and the Divine Comedy in Nineteenth-Century America

Authored by: Dennis Looney

The Routledge History of Italian Americans

Print publication date:  October  2017
Online publication date:  September  2017

Print ISBN: 9780415835831
eBook ISBN: 9780203501856
Adobe ISBN:


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Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), the medieval Italian writer and political thinker, author of the Divine Comedy, was surprisingly present in nineteenth-century American culture. He emerged as a literary and political touchstone and even assumed an unexpected position as a catalyst for popular entertainment by the century’s end. Though the poet’s initial reception in the United States in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries depended primarily on how he was read in England and among English expatriates in Italy, 1 after the Civil War interest in Dante burgeoned in the United States independent of English literary tastes. Possibly it was a diminishing of the centrality of mainstream Protestant religion in daily life that encouraged interest in this very Italian and very Catholic (but highly unorthodox) writer. 2 Charles Eliot Norton, professor of art history at Harvard and himself an outstanding Dante scholar, made this point in 1894. 3

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