Erich Auerbach’s Dante: Poet of the Secular World is an inspiring introduction to one of the world’s greatest poets as well as a brilliantly argued and still provocative essay in the history of ideas. Here Auerbach, thought by many to be the greatest of twentieth-century scholar-critics, makes the seemingly paradoxical claim that it is in the poetry of Dante, supreme among religious poets, and above all in the stanzas of his Divine Comedy, that the secular world of the modern novel first took imaginative form. Auerbach’s study of Dante, a precursor and necessary complement to Mimesis, his magisterial overview of realism in Western literature, illuminates both the overall structure and the individual detail of Dante’s work, showing it to be an extraordinary synthesis of the sensuous and the conceptual, the particular and the universal, that redefined notions of human character and fate and opened the way into modernity.
Auerbach offers the thought that for all its investment in the eternal and immutable, the Divine Comedy is even more successful in representing reality as basically human…The refinement of Auerbach’s own writing about Dante is truly exhilarating to read, not just because of his complex, paradox-filled insights, but because of their Nietzschean audacity.
— Edward Said
A well-woven garland of luminous details…It is good to welcome back Auerbach’s Dante.
It is arguably the best, if not the easiest, short introduction to Dante and his artistry.
— Michael Dirda, from the Introduction
This is a book with all the freshness and excitement of a new discovery. The account of Dante’s poetry possesses a validity which no other book, past and present, can diminish.
— Theodore Silverstein, University of Chicago