The spring equinox has just passed and a shadowy figure rests at the foot of the Baptistery of Saint John in Florence. He is invisible to all, with less substance than a sliver of fog, but this being can still see, hear, and smell. Together with these three sensations, he also conserves a large number of memories and human sentiments. This is the shadow of Dante Alighieri, the great poet of the Divine Comedy. After accepting him into Paradise, God sends Dante back to earth for one night each year, as atonement for his excessive love for poetry and for earthly beauty. This atonement includes an apt punishment, which is that he, Dante, who journeyed as a flesh and blood person among the shades in the land beyond, must now be present only as a shade among the flesh and blood humans living on the earth. He will be able to return to Paradise when God decides that he can, or when he falls in love with a woman who loves him completely in return. Dante, in a delicate balance between feeling punished and at the same time rewarded by the chance of participating in real life, continues in this position, year after year, century after century, as he follows the progress of humanity.
Giuseppe Conte (1945) is a writer, poet and essayist. Among his novels are Il terzo ufficiale (Premio Hemingway; translated into French), La casa delle onde (2005 Premio Strega finalist; translated into French), L’adultera (2009 Premio Manzoni; translated into French), and Il male veniva dal mare (2013). Conte is also a translator of W. Blake, P.B. Shelley, W. Whitman and D.H. Lawrence.