Dante: Poet of the Impossible


Dante: Poet of the Impossible
The Divine Comedy, a 1465 fresco by Domenico di Michelino DeAgostini/Getty

I enjoyed a little family vacation last week, and the drive gave me a chance to catch up on my own podcast listening. Believe it or not, I actually don't listen to that many podcasts on a weekly basis. I don't even have time to keep up with all the purely musical DJ shows I used to mainline.*

So my wife and I caught up on a little Radiolab, This American Life and the ever thought-provoking Ideas with Paul Kennedy. I'm sure you're familiar with the two NPR mainstays, but many of you non-Canadians might not know the wonders of CBC Radio One's long-running documentary series. The topics on range from such scientific fare (such as their recent "Science Under Siege" series) to arts, culture, history and literature. I don't dig into every episode they publish, but they hit my curiosity sweet spot far more often than not.

Recently, they republished their three-part series "Dante: Poet of the Impossible," and it's a must-listen for Divina Commedia fans and newbies alike. If you've listened to Stuff to Blow Your Mind long enough, I'm sure you've heard me reference the work from time to time. It's a work near and dear to my heart, stuffed with horror, wonder, humor, tragedy and -- above all -- elegance. Plus, it's a general crash-course in 14th-century European culture, from kings, popes and heretics to Dante's personal friends and enemies.

In each part, "Dante: Poet of the Impossible" examines the three books of the Commedia alongside the life, character, world and audacity of Dante Alighieri in entertaining and accessible detail. So if the man's works enthrall you, or you just want to know what the fuss is really all about, do yourself a favor and venture into the underworld of Part 1.

* I do still make time for the excellent RA Podcast and Solid Steel.