Author to explain ‘Divine’ influence of Dante’s epic

EPIC INFLUENCE Journalist and author Rod Dreher will speak at 4 p.m. today in the Alexander Reading Room in Alexander Residence Hall on the impact of Dante’s “Divine Comedy.”

Author and journalist Rod Dreher will come to Baylor to tell students how Dante’s “Divine Comedy” saved his life—and how he hopes it might save theirs, too.

Dreher is a noted writer and senior editor for “The American Conservative.” His most recent book, “How Dante Can Save Your Life,” How Dante Can Save Your Life,” will be the subject of today’s lecture, given at 4 p.m. today in the Alexander Reading Room.

Dreher came to the “Divine Comedy” during a period of physical and mental crisis. He said the vision of redemption Dante lays out in the “Inferno,” “Purgatorio” and “Paradiso” helped him face his own pride and relationship with God.

“I read it like a drowning man looking for a piece of driftwood that I could float on,” Dreher said. “It made me think about myself. The journey through Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise is really a journey through each person’s heart.”

Dante Alighieri wrote “The Divine Comedy” in the 14th century to trace his alter ego’s redemption from the lower reaches of hell to the heights of heaven. It has long been held as both a literary and theological masterpiece.

Dreher said he was initially intimidated to read the “Divine Comedy.” He managed to avoid it during high school and college, and only picked it up when he was browsing at a Barnes & Noble in Louisiana. From the very first lines, which describe Dante lost in a dark wood midway through the journey of his life, Dreher recognized a kindred spirit.

He blogged about his experiences reading Dante’s epic poem for The American Conservative. It was these blog entries that initially caught the attention of faculty at Baylor.

“A number of us read his work as an editorial writer,” said Dr. Douglas Henry, associate professor of philosophy, who helped to arrange the lecture. “We knew that he was reading Dante because he had blogged short snippets for more than a year as he had read the poem. We knew he was working on the book, and when the book came out late this last spring we began talking about the timeliness of bringing him to talk about the book.”

Dreher and Henry hope the lecture will renew students’ perspective on Dante. Rather than an outdated academic work, it is highly relevant to students’ personal experience, Henry said.

“I hope that Rod’s talk can help reignite our interest in not only reading again Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy,’ but in reading anew our own lives in light of it. What is our dark wood? Wherein are the ways in which our own willful neglect of things we know are right and true do we contribute to the misshaping of our everyday lives and live out the consequences of our sins? What possibilities of redemption are there for us?” Henry said.

Beavercreek, Ohio, sophomore Kaylie Page read The Divine Comedy in a freshmen Great Texts class, but she hopes that Dreher’s talk will highlight the work’s personal, and not just academic, relevance.

“I think it’s really cool how he’s bringing Dante from just a high-flung book to show it has an impact on people’s lives as well,” Page said. “The Great Texts program is kind of doing the same thing, so bringing in people like [Dreher] is helping with that mission.”

Dreher is particularly interested in presenting his book to an audience at a Christian university.

“It’s always a pleasure to talk to students at Christian universities. I feel that I can be more open about the [theological] aspect of the ‘Divine Comedy’ when talking to a Christian audience. Christian audiences can relate to it on a profound level,” Dreher said.

Copies of Dreher’s book will be available in the Alexander Reading Room after his lecture. Admission to the event is free and open to the public.