French and Italian | Dante and His Times
M333 | 5618 | Prof. Julia Bondanella

M333 is joint-listed as an Honors College seminar (HON H303). This
course is an opportunity to study Dante IN ENGLISH. 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. BOOKS FOR THIS COURSE ARE