Dante’s World

This looks likes a wondrous exhibition. It’s exciting to see the level of engagement and re-elaboration of Dante’s work across media at the moment.

The exhibition of Rachel Owen’s new illustrations of the Inferno at Pembroke College, Oxford, represents another rich addition to this tradition.


Part of this must certainly be to do with this particular temporal sweet spot, between the 750th anniversary of Dante’s birth (which we celebrated in 2015) and the 700th anniversary of his death (to come in 2021), but this isn’t the only explanation.

Dante’s have been a source texts for visual, musical and new literary art for centuries, something I’ve written about elsewhere, and it’s rewarding, as a researcher, to see the everliving and developing nature of his artistic legacy.

Ordered Universe

A new exhibition opens in Durham this week, at the Palace Green Library Galleries. Curated by Annalisa Cipollone Dante: Hell, Heaven and Hope – A Journey through Life and the After-Life with Danteopens on Saturday 2nd December 2017, and runs until early March 2018. Following Dante’s poem The Divine Comedy with its tour through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise, the exhibition features rare manuscripts of Dante’s work, printed copies and artistic responses to one of the greatest imaginative achievements of the Middle Ages. 

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A Divine Comedy: adaptations & new (in)versions

I’ve been a bit quiet on here lately, except for a fair few reblogs from the Women and the Canon Conference blog. In my defence, I’ve been writing those too, but it doesn’t quite feel the same!

So, as the dust settles from the Edinburgh fringe, I just wanted to nod to an interesting adaptation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, Mike Maran’s A Divine Comedy, which BroadwayBaby gave ★★★ – one for each realm?

“Dante Alighieri. Lost love. A load of puppets. Whilst that might all seem an odd combination, Mike Maran brings it all together admirably in A Divine Comedy: a stand-up storytelling parody of the immortal works of Dante Alighieri.”

Maran’s sounds like a far more apt adaptation than the forthcoming movie scripted by Dwain Worrell, which, Warner Brothers tell us, sees “Dante [descending] through the nine circles of hell tosave the woman he loves” – a grimly chauvanist inversion of the narrative that I’ve ranted about before, when it formed the crux of a 2010 videogame adaptation of the poem.

Maran’s approach, which I hope he takes on tour, so I get a chance to see it, sounds like its based on a love for the source and a genuine desire to adapt rather than misogynise the text. This approach, along with some of the reporting of the new movie happily demonstrate that at least not everyone is buying into this revisionist claptrap.

Of course, there’s something quite appropriate about revisionist adaptation, as that was one of Dante’s specialties and I talk about one such example in this article on the episode of the Siren in canto XIX on Purgatorio. The gist of the article is that the Siren represents Dante’s past errors of writing and reading which he attempts to revise through the figure of the hag who becomes a siren and then is revealed once more to be hideous. OK, so perhaps the text isn’t entirely non-misogynist itself… In fact, the Comedy buys into plenty of the misogynistic tropes of its day, but it does also do some rather radical things in terms of ascribing full rational agency to its female characters (not a trifling thing for a text of its period to do) and, of course, placing an authoritative women, Beatrice, at the heart of its narrative. Beatrice who teaches Dante about the ways of grace and the heavens, Beatrice who saves Dante, NOT the other way around.

Source: A Divine Comedy: Broadway Baby, Brighter Coverage.

St. Francis Manuscripts Headed to U.S., in First Trip Out of Italy in 700 Years – NYTimes.com

This exhibition is definitely filed under ‘times I wish I lived in New York’…

Not only does it engage my general manuscript nerdery, but it also ticks the ‘birth of the Italian language’ and ‘roots of Italian poetry’ boxes to make a trifecta of medievalist joy.

St. Francis Manuscripts Headed to U.S., in First Trip Out of Italy in 700 Years – NYTimes.com.

In Dante’s Paradiso (XI, 55-57), Francis gets this glowing write-up:

‘Non era ancor molto lontan da l’orto, / ch’el cominciò a far sentir la terra / de la sua gran virtute alcun conforto.’

‘Not much time as yet had passed / when he first lent his comfort to the earth / by the greatness of his virtuous power.’

For Dante, Francis may have been a model of exile and of the humility of which Dante himself keenly felt the lack. In this episode in the Divine Comedy, Dante gives us a biography of Francis that hinges on the image of Francis in love with an oft-scorned lady, who is a symbol for poverty. The importance of the poverty of priests to Dante’s view of the ideal church is paramount and the cause of much ranting in both the Divine Comedy and in the Monarchia in particular.

To see the early manuscripts of such a significant figure as Francis would be truly exciting.

Oh well, here’s hoping they bring it on tour, or indeed, that I get the chance to visit the archives at some point! (If the Vatican Library let me in, I may have a shot!).



Text and translation, as ever, from the Princeton Dante Project.

Radio, what’s new?

So, I know I promised to say things about my trip to Leeds, and I certainly will, soon, I promise.
But in the interim… whattaya know? An adaptation of the Divine Comedy is the Classic Serial on BBC Radio 4 at the moment!

It’s got even got John Hurt for Who fans (playing the ‘older Dante’ by which I guess they mean the narratorial voice?)
Either way, it should be interesting and there’s also a short documentary on the making of the recording. They take a delightfully old school, radiophonic workshop approach to sound effects, which is interesting. Look out for the rice pudding!
Now, this isn’t entirely irrelevant to my Leeds Centre for Dante Studies visit, as I tried my hand at a bit of podcasting on a few poets, of which more later.
I will leave you now to have a bit of a listen!