One of the strangest and most disturbing poems ever published, The Divine Comedy continues to challenge readers and societies seven hundred years after the poet’s death. Although the book did not appear in print until 1472, it circulated in manuscripts to wide acclaim after Dante’s demise in 1321. His son Jacopo and other scholars wrote commentaries as early as 1324, and Boccaccio penned a draft of his Treatise in Praise of Dante in the 1350s. It was Boccaccio who first called the Commedia “Divine.” Dante had modestly named the work his “Comedy” because the hero begins his journey in Hell, advances to Purgatory, and arrives in Heaven.

But Dante’s story appears to have no end in sight. A few years ago an Italian human rights organization, which advises the United Nations,...


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