Grateful for Dante by Rod Dreher

Grateful for Dante

How the Great-Souled Tuscan Saved My Life

On a warm October day in Ravenna, the ancient Roman imperial capital on the Adriatic, I walked down a street that runs by the Franciscan basilica and dead-ends at a small neoclassical monument topped with a dome. This is the Tomb of Dante, erected in the city where the fourteenth-century poet spent the final years of his life, and died. I entered the shaded portico quietly and stood to the side, waiting for German tourists to finish their inspection of the sarcophagus. Then, alone at the grave of the man whom God had used to deliver me from my own dark wood, I fell to my knees and prostrated myself in gratitude.

This is not the kind of place a middle-aged man from a small Louisiana town finds himself, nor is making a full prostration the normal thing that Dante admirers do at his tomb. But I needed to do this as an act of pietas. The wandering Tuscan had saved my life. He saved me from what the Welsh call hiraeth, defined as "homesickness for a home to which you cannot return; the nostalgia, the years, the grief for the lost places of your past."

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Rod Dreher is a contributing editor to Touchstone. He is a senior editor and blogger at the American Conservative and author of How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History’s Greatest Poem, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, and Live Not by Lies: A Survival Manual for Christian Dissidents. He is Eastern Orthodox and lives with his wife, Julie, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They have three children.


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