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Love and Death in Dante: Reading Inferno

Weekend All-Day Lecture/Seminar

Saturday, April 20, 2024 - 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. ET
Code: 1J0355
This online program is presented on Zoom.
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Illustration of Dante's Inferno, Canto 8 by Johannes Stradanus, 1587

What makes Dante’s Inferno essential reading today, even though it was written seven centuries ago? Why have so many readers rapturously praised its poetic majesty? Joseph Luzzi, professor of literature at Bard College, sheds light on the fascinating world of Dante’s epic poem in all its cultural and historical richness. He highlights Dante’s relationship to his beloved hometown of Florence, lacerating experience of exile, and lifelong devotion to his muse, Beatrice. Paying close attention to the originality and brilliance of Dante’s poetic vision, Luzzi examines how and why Inferno, the first canticle of The Divine Comedy, has become one of the most influential works in literary history.

10–11 a.m.  Dante’s Literary Revolution

The main issues and concerns in the life and literary world of Dante are introduced, with a focus on his writing before Inferno, especially his Vita Nuova (New Life). This autobiographical work centers on his love for Beatrice and his accompanying desire to give Florence a literary tradition that rivaled the great authors of ancient Rome, including his beloved guide, Virgil.

11:15 a.m.–12:15 p.m. In the Dark Wood: Inferno 1–10

Special attention is paid to Dante’s entrance into the “dark wood” in Inferno 1 and how the early cantos of the poem set up its major themes, including the relationship between the medieval and ancient world, the dangers of earthly love, and the role of exile in Dante’s journey toward salvation.

12:15–12:45 p.m.  Break

12:45–1:45 p.m.  Dante’s Divine Education: Inferno 11–22

The analysis of these middle cantos of the Inferno emphasizes the importance of Dante’s spiritual education, as he learns to balance his religious faith with issues involving free will, justice, and the role of art and literature in society.

2–3 p.m.  Seeing Stars: Inferno 23–34

After discussing the final cantos, especially the role of hope in Dante’s divine journey, Luzzi offers insights into Dante’s legacy and why his work remains so influential. He also explains how Dante broke new literary ground with Inferno and discusses its ongoing afterlife in culture.

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