Honors | Dante and His Times
H303 | 0023 | J. Bondanella

M333/H303  Dante and His Times
Dr. Julia Bondanella
Spring 2004, TR at 1:00-2:15


M333 is crosslisted as an honors seminar (H303). This course is an
opportunity to study Dante IN ENGLISH. It is possible to earn
intensive writing credit for this course (M333 and H303). M333
fulfills your College Humanities and Culture Study requirements. IF
BONDANELLA (bondane@indiana.edu).

Do you want to put yourself through Hell (and Purgatory and Paradise)?
Why did the great Italian political theorist and writer Niccolò
Machiavelli reportedly say on his deathbed that he would prefer to go
to Hell, so that he would not spend eternity in the boredom of Heaven?

From the beginning great poets and writers have speculated about a
life that exists after this one--Homer, Virgil, Plato and others, but
no one provides a more graphic vision of the hereafter than Dante. He
tells the tale of a mythical quester on an heroic journey over the
tortuous paths of hell and purgatory to the ultimate experience of
seeing God. Dante's Divine Comedy offers meaning and pleasure to his
readers. He offers the sights, sounds, smells of the otherworld; he
depicts art and artists, music and musicians, poetry and poets. He
shows us how hell freezes over; he shows us the road to heaven.

No one is immune from personal responsibility and judgment in Dante's
afterlife. Dante sends friends and enemies, poets and popes, princes
and thieves, mythical and historical figures to hell; he does what we
all think and talk about. Others with the right stuff he sends to
purgatory and heaven. We will try to determine the nature of eternal
bliss and just what makes a person worthy of it.

Dante's Divine Comedy depicts and explains all the vices and virtues;
it explores sex and love, murder and mercy, stinginess and generosity,
pride and humility, poverty and wealth, strength and despair, belief
and heresy, treason and loyalty, good and evil. In this exploration of
the full range of sin and goodness, he also gives insight into the
chief philosophical, historical, literary and political questions of
his age.

The course will consist primarily of class discussion. Some historical
materials will be furnished, and several brief lectures will focus on
the history and politics of Dante's time as well as on the history of
hell, purgatory and heaven. We will consider some of the different
critical perspectives that help to unfold the meanings of the poem,
including the ways in which Dante influences other writers, poets,
artists, and composers (such as, Chaucer, Michelangelo, Botticelli,
Blake, Doré, Tennyson, Rachmaninoff, Guttuso, Pound, Eliot, and so on.
We may read some selections from Deadly Sins (Quill/Morrow) to examine
the reactions of several modern American writers to the traditional
several deadly sins. We will attempt to assess what meaning a poem
like the Divine Comedy can have in our own world.  The writing
assignments will include 2-3 short in-class essays (topics announced
beforehand) and 3-4 formal essays, the final one of which will deal
with some aspect of Dante's influence.  All the formal papers may be
revised for an improved grade. Class attendance is important.