Admirers of Dante as a supreme religious poet will delight to discover yet another facet of his genius: how he created a picture of earthly life so detailed and original that it laid the foundations for the modern secular novel. As Michael Dirda notes in the introduction to this edition, Auerbach recognized in Dante 'our first great realist author, and perhaps our greatest.' Written in 1929 as the precursor to Mimesis (Auerbach's ground-breaking work on the history of realism), Dante: Poet of the Secular World reveals how The Divine Comedy stands apart from literary predecessors such as the Odyssey in style, structure, and the human dimension of its drama. Dante's characters laugh and conspire, love and hate, sin and triumph over sin - even in the disembodied afterlife, they are distinct, fully human individuals. Choosing an otherworldly setting 'removed from earthly time and temporal destiny,' Dante 'opened up wholly new possibilities of expression to him and him alone.' Auerbach's brilliant, provocative essay remains as fresh and exhilarating as when it first appeared eight decades ago.
An Eighth Day View:
Erich Auerbach's "Dante: Poet of the Secular World" is an inspiring introduction to one of 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.
I. Historical Introduction; The Idea of Man in Literature
II. Dante's Early Poetry
III. The Subject of the "Comedy"
IV. The Structure of the "Comedy"
V. The Presentation
VI. The Survival and Transformation of Dante's Vision of Reality