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Dante, Love and the Afterlife

ENGL 430.940


In his famous medieval epic, the Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri recounts the tale of his journey to the bottom of Hell, up to the top of the mountain of Purgatory, and finally through Heaven to the very presence of God. During his journey he encounters dozens of famous (and not so famous) mythological, biblical, and historical figures, who help him describe our place in the universe. It’s a murderers’ row of advisors: Dante gets political tutoring from the emperor Justinian, theological lessons from Thomas Aquinas, lectures on love from his beloved Beatrice, and answers about the meaning of life from the poet Virgil. In this sense, the Commedia (as Dante called it) doesn’t just describe the universe; it contains the most important figures of the ancient and medieval world. We’ll study not just Dante’s poetry and world, but also our own through his uncanny ability to anticipate modern political and philosophical questions: “What is love, and will it hurt me”?  “Do all lawyers go to hell”?  Does political independence produce liberty?  What constitutes a law and are we obligated to follow it? and What is torture and what does it do to people?   With this in mind, we’ll read Dante’s minor works alongside the Divine Comedy, as well as short selections from key works that influenced him.  We will also examine a few selected critical works, as well as some of the art and cinema inspired by the Divine Comedy.