Bust of Dante, Northwestern State University of Louisiana (Natchitoches, LA)

Contributed by Robert Jones (Louisiana State University, Alexandria ’19)

UCLA’s Dante in the Americas

“The literary appropriation of Dante over the last century has been enormous. His influence has been front and center in all major modern literary traditions—from T.S. Eliot to William Butler Yeats, from Albert Camus to Jean-Paul Sartre, from Jorge Luis Borges to Derek Walcott, from Giorgio Bassani to Giuseppe Ungaretti. Why such fascination? What are the textual characteristics of Dante’s Commedia that make it an ideal vehicle for literary appropriation, thereby allowing it to enjoy a sustained cultural afterlife? What, moreover, are the more accidental factors (e.g., taste, world view, political agenda, religious, and mystical convictions) which account for the popularity of Dante—after 300 years of neglect during which the Florentine poet was relegated to the shadows of Petrarch and his works—among artists, novelists, poets, playwrights, and cinematographers? This symposium, co-organized by Professor Massimo Ciavolella (Italian, UCLA), Professor Efraín Kristal (Comparative Literature, UCLA), and Heather Sottong (Italian, UCLA), considers these questions, concentrating on Dante’s influence in North America and especially in Latin America.”   —UCLA Center for Medieval & Renaissance Studies, 2011

Donna Tartt, The Secret History (1992)

“On page 39, the Inferno is directly mentioned: ‘It’s the meter,’ said Francis, ‘Iambic trimeter. Those really hideous parts of Inferno, for instance, Pier de Medicina with his nose hacked off and talking though a bloody slit in his windpipe–‘ ‘ I can think of worse than that,’ Charles said. ‘So can I. But that passage is lovely and it’s because of the terza rima. The music of it. The trimeter tolls through that speech of Klytemnestra’s like a bell.’

“This was in reference to a quoted piece of the Oresteia in a classics class. The reference to the meter was to connect death and beauty, and ultimately make a statement pertinent to the subject of desire, specifically the desire to live forever. Earlier in the book, the professor teaching the classics class mentioned both Dante and Virgil by name when explaining subjects other than Greek that the students would be studying in his program.”  –Contributor Alex Lee

Contributed by Robert Alex Lee (Florida State University, ’21)

Akash Kumar, “A Dante Who Valorizes Difference” (2020)

“Teaching Dante’s Divine Comedy in 2020 is not without its challenges. In 2012, the UN-sanctioned human rights organization Gherush92 proclaimed that Dante’s poem was discriminatory, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, and should not be taught in classrooms. For some years now, I have taken this objection as my point of departure in crafting my Dante course and promoted a reading of the poem that interrogates issues of social justice with respect to the representation of religious and cultural difference, gender and sexuality, and social class. In the wake of a summer of protest, I felt all the more impelled to bring such considerations to bear in my Dante class this Fall. [. . .]”   –Akash Kumar, “A Dante Who Valorizes Difference,” The Medieval Studies Institute Blog, Indiana University

Akash Kumar is Visiting Assistant Professor of Italian at Indiana University. Read his full essay on teaching Dante through the lens of social justice here.

“Will Coronavirus Continue to Hold SEC Football Hostage?”

“A fall without college football sounds like the wickedest episode of the ‘The Twilight Zone’ or maybe even one of Dante’s nine circles of Hell.”    –Terry J. Wood, Fayetteville Flyer, July 28, 2020

“NSUI pays Tributes to Nasir Khan”

“NSUI and Congress state president Kuldeep Rathore paid tributes to student leader Nasir Khan on his 32nd death anniversary on Tuesday. The office-bearers and workers of the Congress, the Youth Congress and the NSUI wore black bands and observed a two-minute silence. Khan was assaulted in his hostel at Himachal Pradesh University, and was fatally injured. He died at the PGI on this day in 1988, and ever since the NSUI observes August 11 as ‘black day’.

[. . .]

A session on ‘The Writer’s Choice’ was organised by Belletristic, the literature society of the Department of English, at Shoolini University. Renowned Indian poet and author Keki Daruwalla spoke about Dante’s Divine Comedy, the Cantos of Inferno and also read out some of his own poems. He had imagined his recent Naishapur to Babylon, published in 2018, to be his last poetry book, but the pandemic-induced lockdown compelled him to write verse again. Prof Manju Jaidka, HoD, said this had helped re-discover the classics of literature, spread awareness and love for literature, particularly among youngsters, who have strayed away from books and authors because of many distractions.”    —The Tribune, August 12, 2020

“Students Enjoy the Nine Circles of Hell” at Knox College

“With screams emanating from the Q&A House and a long line waiting for their turn, 99 students traveled through the nine circles of hell on Saturday night.

Groups of up to three students traveled through the transformed living room, kitchen and basement, being scared by 12 student actors playing roles or helping behind the scenes in the Dante’s Inferno themed house.

‘The interesting thing from this year is usually you have a guide, a very creepy guide, that takes you through the haunted house. And this time you have the narrator telling you which circle you’re in, and it’s usually through a wall, and you have to follow a laid out path,’ senior Melissa Sher said.

Despite the cold weather, students waited for over an hour at times on Saturday, and in total almost 140 students traveled through the 10-15 minute haunted house on Saturday and Sunday, beating the previous year’s total.

‘[This year was] just as creepy,’ senior Katie Haynes said, ‘They hold themselves to a pretty high standard and doing this is just wonderful.’

While some students found parts scary, others enjoyed the house and even spurted out some laughs.”    –John Williams, The Knox Student, November 2, 2011

“7 Circles of Library Hell” at Northwestern University

“Periodicals: The most frigid and judgmental part of the library. If you even think of talking or breathing above a whisper, you will be violently shushed (and maybe shanked).”    –Caroline Brown, North by Northwestern, February 22, 2016

The Leeds Dante Podcast

The [Leeds] Centre for Dante Studies runs a podcast, which can be subscribed to freely from anywhere in the world. The podcast is designed both to enrich undergraduates’ study of Dante, and to be of interest to a broader audience.

“The Leeds Dante podcast offers regular short items on three major areas:

  • Key Moments in the Commedia: a series of brief commentaries on short passages selected from the Commedia;
  • Interviews with scholars about their recent work on Dante;
  • Reviews of recent publications of interest in Dante studies.

“Individual talks and lectures held in Leeds are also made available for download.

“The podcast is available in MP3 format, and is freely available to listen to on your PC or portable device. You can also subscribe using iTunes.”   — Leeds Dante Podcast Homepage

Episodes can also be downloaded directly from the homepage here.

Dante Today readers will be especially interested in the “Conversations on Dante” series, which features discussions with scholars doing original research on Dante’s reception beyond the Middle Ages, and especially in contemporary culture. Kudos to our colleague Matthew Treherne (Univ. of Leeds) for his wonderful interviews and insightful discussions!

Edward Smyth Jones, “Harvard Square” (1910)

“I would like to submit one last example of a writer of color who turns to Dante in a moment of personal crisis. Consider the case of Edward Smythe Jones, who ‘in his over-mastering desire to drink at the Harvard fountain of learning tramped out of the Southland up to Cambridge. Arriving travel-worn, friendless, moneyless, hungry, he was preparing to bivouac on the Harvard campus his first night in the University city, when, being misunderstood, and not believed, he was apprehended as a vagabond and thrown into jail. A poem, however, the poem which tells this story, delivered him. The judge was convinced by it… and set him free to return to the academic shades’ (Kerlin 163-64). The poem called ‘Harvard Square’ ends on this note: ‘Cell No. 40, East Cambridge Jail, Cambridge, Massachusetts, July 26, 1910.’ But the familiar scenario of a black man harassed by the police and thrown in jail for no discernible reason is transformed into a magical encounter with the muse. The divine goddess of inspiration comes to the poet’s aid with a brief lesson in literary history in which she compares his fate to Dante’s — ‘I placed great Dante in exile’ — suggesting that she has now done the same to Jones. Dante’s actual banishment from Florence sheds light on the figurative exile of Jones: the Negro in the white man’s world; the southerner in the North; the backwoodsman in the ‘University city’; the autodidact amidst the hypereducated; and the would-be Dante at the very center of Dante’s American home.”   — Dennis Looney, Freedom Readers: The African-American Reception of Dante Alighieri and the Divine Comedy (Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 2011), pp. 201-202

An excerpt of the poem “Harvard Square” is printed below. You can access the full poem, in Jones’s collection The Sylvan Cabin, on Project Gutenberg, as well as the volume by Kerlin cited above.

“Weep not, my son, thy way is hard,
Thy weary journey long—
But thus I choose my favorite bard
To sing my sweetest song.
I’ll strike the key-note of my art
And guide with tend’rest care,
And breathe a song into thy heart
To honor Harvard Square.

“I called old Homer long ago,
And made him beg his bread
Through seven cities, ye all know,
His body fought for, dead.
Spurn not oppression’s blighting sting,
Nor scorn thy lowly fare;
By them I’ll teach thy soul to sing
The songs of Harvard Square.

“I placed great Dante in exile,
And Byron had his turns;
Then Keats and Shelley smote the while,
And my immortal Burns!
But thee I’ll build a sacred shrine,
A store of all my ware;
By them I’ll teach thy soul to sing
A place in Harvard Square.”   — Edward Smyth Jones, “Harvard Square” (1910)