Astronaut Reads The Divine Comedy on the International Space Station on Dante’s 750th Birthday

“On April 24th,” writes The New York­er’s John Klein­er, “Saman­tha Cristo­fore­t­ti, Italy’s first female astro­naut, took time off from her reg­u­lar duties in the Inter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion to read from the Divine Com­e­dy.” You can watch a clip of that read­ing of the first can­to of the Par­adiso above. “As Cristo­fore­t­ti spun around the globe at the rate of sev­en­teen thou­sand miles an hour, her read­ing was beamed back to earth and shown in a movie the­ater in Flo­rence.”

While that stands alone as a neat event in and of itself, more cel­e­bra­tion of the epic Ital­ian poem fol­lowed. “Ten days lat­er,” Klein­er con­tin­ues, “the actor Rober­to Benig­ni recit­ed the last can­to of Par­adiso in the Ital­ian Sen­ate” to a stand­ing ova­tion. Benig­ni, one of world cin­e­ma’s best-known rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Ital­ian cul­ture, seems to have a par­tic­u­lar­ly strong appre­ci­a­tion for Dante Alighieri, the best-known rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Ital­ian lit­er­a­ture; you can see him recite the first can­to of the Infer­no just above.

The occa­sion? Dan­te’s 750th birth­day. Though you’ll find no unsuit­able occa­sion to cel­e­brate the Divine Com­e­dy (find it in our col­lec­tion of 700 Free eBooks), this past month has proven a par­tic­u­lar­ly rich one. Today we’ve gath­ered a few more pieces of Dan­teiana so you can con­duct your own per­son­al appre­ci­a­tion. You might con­sid­er as a first stop the Prince­ton Dante Project, which “com­bines a tra­di­tion­al approach to the study of Dan­te’s Com­e­dy with new tech­niques of com­pil­ing and con­sult­ing data, images, and sound,” fea­tur­ing a search­able new verse trans­la­tion, texts of Dan­te’s minor works (with trans­la­tions), his­tor­i­cal and inter­pre­tive lec­tures, more than sev­en­ty com­men­taries, and links to Dante sites from all over the world.

“When Dante began work on the Com­e­dy [cir­ca 1308], none of the dif­fer­ent dialects spo­ken in Italy’s many city-states had any par­tic­u­lar claim to pre­em­i­nence,” writes Klein­er for The New York­er. “Such was the force and influ­ence of the Com­e­dy that the Tus­can dialect became Italy’s lit­er­ary lan­guage and, even­tu­al­ly, its nation­al one.” But if you don’t speak Ital­ian (as much as the lin­guis­tic impor­tance of the Divine Com­e­dy might inspire you to learn it), you might pre­fer an Eng­lish read­ing, which you’ll find here.

Dante has, for so many of us, shaped our very notions of heav­en and hell, but per­haps more impres­sive­ly, as the poet­’s 750th birth­day pass­es, his major work shows no signs of falling into irrel­e­vance. No mat­ter how many of us now have dif­fer­ent visions of the after­life than he did, and no mat­ter how many of us have no visions of it at all, we keep read­ing Dante — whether in Ital­ian or Eng­lish, whether in the Sen­ate or on the inter­net, whether on Earth or in space.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Free Course on Dante’s Divine Com­e­dy from Yale Uni­ver­si­ty

Artists Illus­trate Dante’s Divine Com­e­dy Through the Ages: Doré, Dalí, Blake, Bot­ti­cel­li, Mœbius & More

The Death Masks of Great Authors: Dante, Goethe, Tol­stoy, Joyce & More

Physics from Hell: How Dante’s Infer­no Inspired Galileo’s Physics

Col­in Mar­shall writes on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, and the video series The City in Cin­e­maFol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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