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Unit information: Dante: Purgatorio and Paradiso in 2020/21

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Unit name Dante: Purgatorio and Paradiso
Unit code ITAL30059
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
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 – an extraordinarily vivid, beautiful and provocative poem that provides a panoramic view of the culture and thought of the later Middle Ages. 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. This unit will consider the second and third cantiche of Dante’s poem: Purgatorio and Paradiso. The former relates the character Dante’s journey through Purgatory: a realm of transformation and penance, nostalgia and anticipation, friendship and forgiveness. The latter is a daring attempt to describe the indescribable, as the poet probes the very limits of language and human understanding in approaching (and experiencing) union with the divine. Each realm features some of the most memorable characters in European literature, ranging from Dante’s ancestors and boyhood friends to famous poets, politicians and theologians. Integral to both cantiche, meanwhile, is the complex and intriguing figure of Beatrice, the Florentine woman, formerly Dante’s poetic muse, who now becomes his heavenly guide. Central topics in our readings will include: language, knowledge, love and desire, exile, poetry, and justice. The poem will be situated within the context of medieval history, philosophy and literature and will be related to Dante’s other works. Successful completion of this unit will enable students to assess Dante’s contribution to European literature 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 both essays and oral presentations.

This unit carries a formative piece of assessment; 1 x reflective online post (max 500 words).

Intended learning outcomes

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

  1. develop a detailed understanding of Dante’s Commedia;
  2. assess the significance of the poem for literary history in Italy and beyond;
  3. select and synthesise relevant material from a range of critical sources to conduct formal and thematic analysis of the poem;
  4. formulate sophisticated written arguments;
  5. collaborate effectively 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 20-minute group presentation (30%). Testing ILOs 1-3 and 5.

1 x 3000-word essay (70%). Testing ILOs 1-4.

Reading and References

Set texts:

An Italian or bilingual edition of the Commedia is required. The Italian edition by Chiavacci Leonardi and the bilingual editions by Hollander/Hollander and Durling/Martinez are recommended.

The Cambridge Companion to Dante (Jacoff), with essays by leading scholars on central themes and concepts in Dante’s works, is an especially helpful secondary resource.

Recommended Italian editions:

La Divina Commedia, with a commentary by Umberto Bosco and Giovanni Reggio, 3 vols (Florence: Le Monnier, 1979);

Divina Commedia, with a commentary by Anna Maria Chiavacci Leonardi, 3 vols (Milan: Mondadori, 1991-97)

Recommended English translations (all with facing Italian text):

Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio and Paradiso, both translated and with a commentary by Robert Durling & Ronald Martinez (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2003 and 2011);

Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio and Paradiso, both with a commentary by Robert Hollander, translated by Robert and Jean Hollander (New York: Doubleday, 2003 and 2007);

The Divine Comedy, translated and with a commentary by Charles Singleton (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970)