NYRB Classics, $32.99 pb, 483 pp
In Italy, Dante is known as il sommo poeta (‘the supreme poet’). Ironically, such reverence obscures the creative personality. We know Dante responded to the shock of being exiled from Florence in 1302 by writing a visionary poem of hell, purgatory, and paradise, in which his tormented life and feuding world were set right – but why did he do it? With little biographical evidence and no original manuscripts of the Commedia surviving, most translators and commentators prefer to concentrate on Dante’s myriad historical and theological sources. It takes a simple shift of logic to search them for the missing psychological evidence.