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Durham University

School of Modern Languages and Cultures: Italian Studies

The World of Dante

Academic year 2020-21

The aim of this module is to introduce students to the life, works and culture of Dante Alighieri (c. 1265-1321), Italy’s most iconic poet. The main point of reference will be the Divine Comedy, a poem in three parts (Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso) which describes the poet’s travel through the realms of afterlife, from the deep and dark recesses of Hell to the purifying waters of Purgatory and the ecstatic vision of God at the sum of Paradise. Far from being just an account of an alleged outworldly experience, the Divine Comedy is very much rooted in Dante’s real world, and it provides a wide panorama over the language, literature, politics, morality, philosophical and scientific belief of the Middle Ages (within and beyond Italy).

The module will explore a range of themes and issues within Dante’s works in order to acquaint students with the literature and the culture of a crucial moment in Italian history. Through selected readings from The Divine Comedy, and Dante’s other works, students will look at Dante’s biography, the effects of his exile from Florence on his political ideas, his philosophical education, the rediscovery of ancient writers and philosophers, the conception of afterlife and the hierarchical arrangement of sinners and saved. In addition, the module will study Dante’s literary culture and his poetic love affair with Beatrice. In fact, the Divine Comedy can also be interpreted as a monument to Dante’s eternal love for the woman he briefly met in his youth, as he himself describes in the early work Vita Nuova, and whose death will lead him first to embrace philosophy as a form of consolation (from which Dante’s Convivio derives) and then to return to poetry with a whole new scope and sense. Finally, the module will also provide an overview of the impact Dante’s work had on Italian art and literature. Particular attention will be paid to how Dante draw from the contemporary visual arts as well as how visual arts have represented Dante’s Divine Comedy from the thirteenth century onwards.

Reference texts studied will include:

  • Any modern edition and translation of Dante’s Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. Recommended are those by R Kirkpatrick (Penguin) and R. Hollander (Random House).
  • The Cambridge Companion to Dante, ed. By R. Jacoff (second edition, Cambridge UP 2007).

Additional course materials, such as journal articles and chapters of books will be posted on duo over the course of the year, including relevant primary materials such as cantos from Purgatorio and Paradiso.

Co-ordinator(s):

Term 1: Dr Annalisa Cipollone, Room A52, Elvet Riverside I

Term 2: Dr Oscar Schiavone, Room A35, Elvet Riverside I

Further details of pre-requisites, co-requisites, aims, contact hours and assessment.