French and Italian | Dante and His Times
M333 | 10500 | Bondanella, Julia M

M333 is crosslisted as an honors seminar (H303). This course is an
opportunity to study Dante IN ENGLISH. These courses will also
fulfill your College Humanities and Culture Study (A) requirements.
ARTS 120). If you have questions about the course, please email
Professor Bondanella (

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
ecstatic 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 explores the way in which events
on earth affect a soul’s path in the afterlife. He shows us how hell
freezes over; he shows us the uphill road to heaven, which,
paradoxically becomes easier the higher one goes.

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 depicts and explains all the vices and virtues, adding a few
of his own to the traditional lists: he 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 exposé 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 consists of class discussion and lecture. Historical
materials will be furnished, and 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 poets, artists,
and composers (such as Chaucer, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Blake,
Doré, Tennyson, Rachmaninoff, Guttuso, Pound, Eliot, and so on). We
will attempt to assess what meaning a poem like The Divine
Comedy can have in our own world. The writing assignments will
include two short essays (topics announced beforehand) and two exams
(midterm and final). The essays may be revised for an improved
grade. Class attendance is important and expected.