Questions for personal reflection: Who would you choose to be your guides through Hell and to Heaven? If you reflect on your life's journey, when have you been stuck and in denial (Hell), in the painful place of accountability, growth and transformation ( Purgatory) and in a place of feeling in harmony with all the world (Paradise)? Where are you now? Dante only became the poet we know, admire and cherish after a series of utter catastorphes. Without these, he may well have remained a family man, an involved citizen of Florence and member of the apothecary guild. He wrote the Comedy because he had to in order to make sense of his life and contain his grief and outrage. Would it change your view of yourself or others if you considered "Death, Disaster and Disgrace" the first step of the journey to become fully yourself and realize your latent potential?
There are two excellent choices if what you want is a scholarly approach with copious footnotes- these will be invaluable:
The Divine Comedy of Dante, translated by Allen Mandelbaum (Everyman Library) contains the evocative sketches of Botticelli .
The Divine Comedy translated by John Ciardimakes an attempt at a poetic rhyme scheme and has an excellent introduction and very helpful maps.
The version by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is a valiant poetic attempt at translation by one of our country's most loved poets. What I find priceless about this book, however, are the images by Gustav Dore.
Several online sites will give you access to summaries, historical background and many of the amazing images. My favorites are:
Dante's World: http://danteworlds.laits.utexas.edu/ Digital Dante: http://dante.ilt.columbia.edu/
For those who want a psychological approach to Dante, Helen Luke's Dark Wood to White Rose is the classic Jungian -oriented guide, while Day by Day Dante by Dennis Slattery is a thoughtful summary of the Divine Comedy, woven together with questions for personal reflection.
Below are two video versions of "Vide Cor Meum", the gorgeous aria by Patrick Cassidy that depicts Dante's love for Beatrice, with a text drawn from La Vita Nova. The first video is the song with images of Florence. The second is at it appeared in the movie Hannibal with Sir Anthony Hopkins as the erudite cannibal. If you have a strong stomach, you might want to watch the horror film after we have covered the Inferno to see how many allusions to Dante you can spot.