Dante’s Divine Comedy: Hell, Purgatory and Paradise


A close reading of Dante’s whole Divine Comedy (Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise) in its  philosophical (Plato, Aristotle), theological (Augustine, Aquinas), historical (Papacy vs. Empire, Florentine factionalism), and literary (Virgil, Ovid, Arthurian romance) contexts, as well as an exploration of its influence on later thinkers, artists, poets, and popular culture (Machiavelli, Botticelli, Borges, Beckett, Eliot, Rodin, Dalì, ‘Se7en’).

Each class requires the close reading of one to six canti of Dante’s poem, along with a complementary reading in a literary, theological, or historical source or analogue. These readings may provide contextual information about medieval culture and society or bring into focus a particular interpretive problem. These secondary readings consider the poem from a variety of perspectives: as an historical document produced at a specific space and time; an aesthetic object which uses particular narrative strategies to produce meaning; and an ethical and political treatise that both problematizes and prioritizes a certain set of values.

Course Work: Four Short Papers (55%). Three brief assignments should help you to reflect on the poem in a variety of ways: by comparing translations (10%), examining Dante’s transformation of classical and Biblical sources (15%), and analyzing how a single part of Purgatorio has been interpreted over time (20%). In a fourth paper, you will propose one passage from the Paradiso that could be part of a Dante exhibit and explain your reasons (10%). Guides to these assignments will be posted to Sakai. Due dates are listed in the course calendar. Two Examinations (45%). The Midterm (20%) and Final Exam (25%) will give you an opportunity to explore in a comprehensive way what you have learned through (a) factual questions about Dante’s poem and world and (b) identification and explication of several key passages from Dante’s works.

Instructor: Eisner, MW 11:45-1:00, Course Study Area: Language & Literature, Philosophy & Religion
Divine Comedy with an image of Satan

Crosslisting Numbers: 

Italian 481
Religion 262
Literature 245
History 253

Curriculum Codes: 


Course Study Areas: 

Medieval Cultures, Language and Literature, Philosophy and Religion, Featured Course