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Unit information: Dante's Inferno (TB2) in 2020/21

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Unit name Dante's Inferno (TB2)
Unit code ITAL20035
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
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 – a vivid, beautiful and provocative poem that offers a panoramic view of late medieval culture and thought. 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.

The Inferno, the first of the poem’s three cantiche, describes the character Dante’s descent into Hell. Guided by the classical poet Virgil, he gains an understanding of sin and evil through a series of encounters with complex and memorable characters, many drawn from Dante’s contemporary world, whose stories continue to resonate with readers, writers and artists in the twenty-first century.

This unit will acquaint students with the Inferno and its historical and cultural context. Central themes and concepts in our readings will include: justice and free will, crime and punishment, desire, politics, authority, and exile. Successful completion of this unit will enable students to assess Dante’s contribution to European culture 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 essays and oral presentation.

A formative Assessment

This unit carries a formative task in addition to the summative assessment.

A contribution to online discussion board throughout the term (up to 100 words)

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of this unit, students will be able to:

1. demonstrate a detailed understanding of a significant aspect of Italian cultural history;

2. identify and analyse relevant material from a significant body of source material in both English and Italian;

3. select and synthesise relevant critical thinking to enhance this analysis;

4. formulate independent judgements and research topics in response to debates raised by the material;

5. collaborate effectively and develop presentation skills as part of a group on a joint project.

Teaching details

Teaching will be delivered through a combination of synchronous sessions and asynchronous activities, including seminars, lectures, and collaborative as well as self-directed learning opportunities supported by tutor consultation

Assessment Details

1 x 15-minute group presentation (25%). Testing ILOs 1-5.

1 x 2500-word essay (75%), to be devised by the student in consultation with the Unit Tutor. Testing ILOs 1-4.

Reading and References

Recommended editions of Dante’s Inferno:

Dante Alighieri, Inferno, translated and with a commentary by Robert Durling and Ronald Martinez (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1997)

Dante Alighieri, Inferno, with a commentary by Robert Hollander, translated by Robert and Jean Hollander (New York: Doubleday, 2000)

Recommended preparatory reading:

Peter Hainsworth and David Robey, Dante: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015)

Peter Hawkins, Dante: A Brief History (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006)

Rachel Jacoff (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Dante, 2nd edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)