The Journey and the Pity: Revisiting Dante’s Inferno (LIT4597.01)

Devon Walker-Figueroa

T.S. Eliot famously said, “Dante and Shakespeare divide the world between them.” Agree or disagree, but the work of Dante Alighieri, the fourteenth century Florentine poet and statesman, remains vital to the study of poetry and its history—particularly as the lyric tradition intersects with long-form narrative and Christian allegory begins reconciling with pagan mythology in the lead-up to the Italian Renaissance.  Descending into that iconic and allegorical landscape shot through with the freezing exhalations of Lake Cocytus and populated by some of history’s most famous artists, thinkers, influencers, and bad actors, we will closely read and compare four different translations of the Inferno, the first section of Dante’s masterwork, the Divine Comedy. With great care, we will attempt to unravel the Inferno’s dense tapestry of symbols and literary allusions; parse its various themes, such as sacred and profane love, exile, suffering as purification, and radical empathy; and compare the translators’ respective approaches to the problems and opportunities of the original’s form (hendecasyllabic terza rima), diction, music, narrative apparatus, voice, and imagery.

Learning Outcomes:
-Develop the ability to closely read and to analyze and discuss with clarity the verse of Dante Alighieri (while also attending to the esoteric nature of his subject matter).
-Navigate with curiosity, diligence, and efficiency the teeming gyre-of-an-underworld that Dante authored.
-Engage earnestly with the complexities of Dante’s formal, idiomatic, and aesthetic choices as expressed in the Inferno and the Divine Comedy more broadly.
-Situate the Inferno within its historical, political, and cultural contexts (see: Guelph-Ghibelline Conflict; see medieval Italian guild culture; see: concentration of papal power).
-Gain a basic understanding of Dante Alighieri’s dense meshwork of influences—artistic, poetic, philosophical, political, and theological, among others.
-Conceptualize Dante’s influence on subsequent writers and artists (with particular emphasis on Romantic, English Renaissance Baroque, and Modernist treatments of Dante’s work, but also some Postmodernist ones as well).
-Trouble the definition and application of “translation,” and foray into translation studies in order to better understand the dilemmas and opportunities unique to translators approaching Dante’s masterwork (for example, if you cannot translate an idiom accurately while maintaining the rhyme scheme, which item gets prioritized? And what are the implications for prioritizing tone of voice over alliteration or image over end rhyme? etc.).
-Craft well-researched, literary-critical essays that engage with Dante’s Inferno on the levels of craft, translation, and/or literary history.
-Pay close attention to seemingly unimportant details (such as the fact that this list is comprised of nine objectives, an echo of the nine rings you will soon wander and descend through, under the expert guidance of Virgil).

Delivery Method: Fully in-person
Prerequisites: Interested students should submit a writing sample in the form of an academic paper (no specific page requirement) and a statement of interest via this form by Monday May 13, 2024. Please select Michael Dumanis' email address from the drop down menu. Student will be notified of their acceptance into the course by Wednesday, May 15, 2024.
Corequisites: Attendance at all evening Poetry at Bennington events and Literature Evenings required, most Wednesdays at 7pm.
Course Level: 4000-level
Credits: 4
T 2:10PM - 5:50PM (Full-term)
Maximum Enrollment: 15
Course Frequency: One time only

Categories: 4000 , All courses , Four Credit , Fully In-Person , Literature , New Courses , Updates