An Italian Studies professor narrates the physical afterlife of the writer who vividly imagined the spiritual afterlife. Like a saint's relics, Dante's bones have been stolen, exhumed, and worshiped, representing his evolving status from Renaissance to Italian nationalist hero.
Dante's Bones is a thorough study—exhaustive, even. Well-researched and quite well presented, it covers the history of the remains, and the battles over them, well. The twist, of the unexpected rediscovery (in 1865) of something that most hadn't realized had been lost, is amusing, of course, and Raffa structures much of the account around that—but it's impossible to get around the fact that not all that much happens to the remains themselves. This small disturbance is a good story—so also in Raffa's telling of how the Franciscans seem to have gone about it—but of course the rest of the time practically all of Dante's remains simply remained in one place or another, which isn't all that exciting. Some more interesting things did happen around them—not least in the role they played as part of the greater Dante-veneration, including why physical possession was considered symbolically important—and Raffa covers that quite well too, but with a focus on the remains Dante's Bones isn't (and doesn't mean to be) a larger study of all of Dante's legacy across the centuries ... a welcome addition to the large library of works on Dante, covering its territory very well.
... a fascinating study ... Raffa is meticulous in unearthing telling, and sometimes astonishing, details ... In tracing the history of Dante’s bones, Raffa also provides an illuminating exploration of Italian nationalism and political thought.