Course description:

Dante’s Divine Comedy has been interpreted as a compendium of medieval culture. It incorporates all disciplines known at the time, such as philosophy, theology, art, history, mythology, spirituality, mysticism, and theatrics. While being the foundational masterpiece of Italian language, the Comedy reaches out to numerous other cultures in the Mediterranean area and beyond, to create what we (with our modern sensibility) could easily name an international epic. Among the topics it covers are Jewish tradition, Islam, Provençal poetry, as well as Scholastic philosophy from the University of Paris. Through a close reading of the text this course will investigate all the interactions of these cultures and traditions within Dante’s poetry. We will investigate the rhetorical concept of allegory and show how Dante’s journey is intended to be read at different levels of signification. We will analyze the new type of rhyming scheme Dante created for the Comedy as an effective tool for this experimental poetic endeavor. As narration of an afterlife experience, the poem closely scrutinizes moral issues and their consequences, which are applicable to any era and any place. Students will be required to “translate” such concepts into the contemporary world. Taught in English. No knowledge of Italian is required.

Learning Goals:

At the end of the course students will be able to account for the development of ideas from the middle ages to early modernity and understand the intricate dynamics of humanistic and scientific disciplines. As part of the investigation of the moral issues connected to the material, they will learn to locate human actions in a historical and philosophical context. They will, moreover, become familiar with the theoretical infrastructure originating cultural production and human experience. This will allow them to view literature in the context of medieval culture(s) and values, and understand the complex interactions of critical interpretation and the creative process.

Departmental Goal II and III: Cultural Proficiency and Professional Preparation

This course satisfies the Core Curriculum Learning Goal: AH (o and p).

Area of Inquiry C: Arts and Humanities

Goals o and p:

o. Examine critically theoretical issues concerning the nature of reality, human experience, knowledge, value, and the cultural production related to the topics addressed.

p. Analyze arts and literatures in themselves and in relation to specific histories, values, languages, cultures, and technologies.

Required Texts:

The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri. Inferno. A Verse Translation by Allen Mandelbaum. New York: Bantam Books ISBN 055321344X

The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri. Purgatorio. A Verse Translation by Allen Mandelbaum. New York: Bantam Books

The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri. Paradiso. A Verse Translation by Allen Mandelbaum. New York: Bantam Books


Although the class is too large (90 students) to have oral presentations, class participation in the form of questions and comments is encouraged during the last 15 minutes of class time. Written activities include: two papers (20% each), one midterm, and one final examination (30% each).