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Unit information: Dante: Purgatorio and Paradiso in 2017/18

Unit name Dante: Purgatorio and Paradiso
Unit code ITAL30049
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Kay
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Italian
Faculty Faculty of Arts


Dante’s Commedia, written in the early fourteenth century, is one of the masterpieces of world literature – an extraordinarily vivid, beautiful and provocative poem that provides a panoramic view of the culture and thought of the later Middle Ages. The poem, written in Dante’s Florentine vernacular, helped to establish the Tuscan dialect as the standardized Italian language and represented a landmark in the history of the conceptualization and representation of the Christian afterlife. This unit will consider the second and third cantiche of Dante’s poem: Purgatorio and Paradiso. The former relates the character Dante’s journey through Purgatory: a realm of transformation and penance, nostalgia and anticipation, friendship and forgiveness. The latter is a daring attempt to describe the indescribable, as the poet probes the very limits of language and human understanding in approaching (and experiencing) union with the divine. Each realm features some of the most memorable characters in European literature, ranging from Dante’s ancestors and boyhood friends to famous poets, politicians and theologians. Integral to both cantiche, meanwhile, is the complex and intriguing figure of Beatrice, the Florentine woman, formerly Dante’s poetic muse, who now becomes his heavenly guide. Central topics in our readings will include: language, knowledge, love and desire, exile, poetry, and justice. The poem will be situated within the context of medieval history, philosophy and literature and will be related to Dante’s other works. Successful completion of this unit will enable students to assess Dante’s contribution to European literature and to the development of the Italian language. Students will also consider diverse critical approaches to Dante’s work and will apply these constructively to their own analysis in both essays and oral presentations.

Intended learning outcomes

Successful students will: • Become confident, sophisticated, and critical readers of Dante’s Commedia; • Gain an understanding of the literary and historical context of the poem; • Engage with contemporary critical literature and debates on Dante; • Communicate effectively, both orally and in writing; • Develop broader skills of cultural inquiry, analysis and criticism.

Teaching details

Two seminar hours per week across one teaching block (22 contact hours).

Assessment Details

One oral presentation (25%) plus one written assignment of 1500 words (25%) plus one written assignment of 3000 words (50%)

Reading and References

Set texts: An Italian or bilingual edition of the Commedia is required. The Italian edition by Chiavacci Leonardi and the bilingual editions by Hollander/Hollander and Durling/Martinez are recommended. The Cambridge Companion to Dante (Jacoff), with essays by leading scholars on central themes and concepts in Dante’s works, is an especially helpful secondary resource. Recommended Italian editions: La Divina Commedia, with a commentary by Umberto Bosco and Giovanni Reggio, 3 vols (Florence: Le Monnier, 1979) Divina Commedia, with a commentary by Anna Maria Chiavacci Leonardi, 3 vols (Milan: Mondadori, 1991-97) Recommended English translations (all with facing Italian text): Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio and Paradiso, both translated and with a commentary by Robert Durling & Ronald Martinez (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2003 and 2011) Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio and Paradiso, both with a commentary by Robert Hollander, translated by Robert and Jean Hollander (New York: Doubleday, 2003 and 2007) The Divine Comedy, translated and with a commentary by Charles Singleton (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970)

Reference Works and Online Resources:

The Dante Encyclopedia, ed. by Richard Lansing (New York: Garland, 2000) Enciclopedia Dantesca, ed. Umberto Bosco, 6 vols (Roma: Istituto dell’Enciclopedia Italiana, 1970-78) The Princeton Dante Project: Danteworlds: World of Dante: Recommended Preparatory Reading: Erich Auerbach, Dante: Poet of the Secular World, trans. by Ralph Manheim (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961) Michele Barbi, Vita di Dante (Florence: Sansoni, 1961) Peter Hawkins, Dante: A Brief History (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006) Rachel Jacoff (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Dante, 2nd edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007) John Scott, Understanding Dante (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004)