A vertical reading of the Commedia exposes Dante's practice of continually revising his text, such that it looks back on itself as it moves forward. The poet accomplishes this in part through dramatic contrasts and reversals. One way to follow these “repetitions-with-difference” is to observe their relationship with a theme that Dante explores throughout his career: loss. The loss of Beatrice in the Vita Nuova becomes the loss of Florence in Dante's works written in exile. It then becomes the spiritual desolation explored among those in the Inferno who have lost “the good of the intellect.” Looking back from the end of the Commedia, however, reveals that what has been lost is eventually found in a new form. In the beatific “white rose” of Paradise we recall the “dark wood” of the poem's opening; when Beatrice is no longer by the pilgrim's side in the Empyrean we remember the tragic disappearance of Virgil on the top of Mount Purgatory; anticipating the joys of the City of God not only mitigates the pain of Dante's Florentine exile but also gives the poet a foretaste of true citizenship.
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Peter S. Hawkins; “In My End Is My Beginning”: Teaching Dante Retrospectively. Pedagogy 1 October 2017; 17 (3): 465–474. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/15314200-3975527
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