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After Dante

ENGL 795.402

This necessarily experimental course will consider engagement with Dante by poets and artistes coming after him, particularly writers in English (but with openings to Comp Lit). The syllabus will be tailored to meet the needs and interests of folks attending the first class, or who express desiderata in anticipo. Experts in related fields may attend: Stuart Curran (Romantics) and Jean-Michel Rabaté (modernism) have already agreed to make guest appearances. We need not envisage a chronological trudge through the centuries, but topics and authors might include:

Chaucer, House of Fame; Troilus and Criseyde, Books I-III; “De Hugelino.”


slimmer pickings here, but a host of incidental references that could be pursued via Toynbee, and Boswell (see below), from Foxe, Actes and Monuments, to Milton, Paradise Lost.

Eighteenth century:

how Dante gets folded into anti-Catholic discourses post 1707; Voltaire’s anti-Dantism; Thomas Warton, Poet Laureate, on Dante’s “disgusting fooleries”; Dante as “A Methodist parson in Bedlam” (Horace Walpole).



early part-Englishings of the Commedia, and in 1802 the first full translation, by Irishman Henry Boyd. The first line-by-line translation by H.F.Cary (1814), endorsed by Coleridge and then Wordsworth, and carried by Keats in his knapsack.

Shelley, a brilliant Dantist: Triumph of Life (terza rima); A Defence of Poetry (1821)

Blake (as illustrator, more than as poet)



fondness for embellishing “scenes from Dante,” rather than grappling with the Commedia tout court. Tennyson, “Ulysses”; Arthur Hallam; Thomas Carlyle and the Brownings.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti: a turn to the Vita nuova and the cult of Beatrice.


Nineteenth-Century Americans:

Lorenzo da Ponte (1749-1838), born in a ghetto, Mozart’s librettist, later Professor of Italian at Columbia.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, complete translation (1867), with support of Charles Eliot Norton and James Russell Lowell, and the Harvard “Dante Club”; Fanny Appleton.

H. Cordelia Ray (Oxford-Schomburg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women Writers)



Ezra Pound (distantly related to Longfellow, devotee of Rossetti), Cantos.

T.S. Eliot: “Dante” (1929); Waste Land; “Little Gidding” (1942), etc.


Irish Dantes:

Yeats, a little (Pound served him as secretary, on and off, 1913-16).

Joyce, from Stephen Hero to Finnegans Wake; acquired a Vita nuova at Trieste.

Beckett, More Pricks than Kicks (1934); Happy Days?

Heaney, Field Work (“Lough Beg”), Station Island (“Lough Derg”), critical writings.


20th c.Caribbean and African-American Dantes:

Derek Walcott, Epitaph for the Young (1949); Omeros (1990)

Amiri Baraka, The System of Dante’s Hell (1965)

Gloria Naylor, Linden Hills (1985)

Eternal Kool Project, hiphop Inferno


Filmic and TV Dantes:

William B. Ramous, Francesca da Rimini (1907)

Henry Otto, Dante’s Inferno (1924)

Spencer Williams, Go Down, Death (1944, incorporating a 1911 Italian silent)

Peter Greenaway and Tom Phillips, TV Dante (1988/90)


Contemporary Dantes:

To include Caroline Bergvall, 48 Dante Variations


Participants will write one long essay, will have the opportunity to preview their work during the last two weeks of class, and may give class reports on their areas of expertise. This will be a collaborative effort; none of us can pretend to know all fields.



Class will be taught through parallel Italian-English texts, and it’s not utterly crucial we all follow the same edition (because the Italian text of the Commedia is remarkably stable; because variants in translating are themselves part of the interest).

There are many excellent translations to choose from. For a first investment, however, I would recommend Allan Mandelbaum in 3 vols, Bantam Classics, because: 1) he engages in a real poetic agon, but knows the Italian; 2) notes are helpful but not overpowering; 3) very cheap.

Also recommended:

Durling and Martinez (Oxford UP): excellent translating, super-scholarly notes

Robin Kirkpatrick (Penguin): brilliant, deeply-insider translating

Charles S. Singleton (Princeton UP): prose translation, the 6 vol Daddy of English Dantes


Very likely a required text:

Eric Griffiths and Matthew Reynolds, Dante in English (Penguin), anthology

Recklessly Select Bibliography:

Boswell, J.C., Dante’s Fame in England… 1477-1640 (1999)

Burwick and Douglas (eds), Dante and Italy in British Romanticism (2011)

Havely, N.R., ed., Dante’s Modern Afterlife (1998); Dante in the Nineteenth Century (2011)

Iannucci, I.A. (ed.), Dante, Cinema and Television (2004)

Looney, Dennis, Freedom Readers: the African-American Reception of Dante (2011)

Toynbee, Dante in English Literature… c. 1380-1844, 2 vols (1909)

Wallace, David, “Dante in English,” in Jacoff (ed.), Cambridge Companion to Dante

fulfills requirements