Rebecca Bowen and I have curated an exhibition to celebrate Somerville’s long history of study and teaching of the poetry Dante Alighieri.
The exhibition is made up of items from the library’s special collections, including a 16th-century edition of the Divine Comedy, complete with commentaries a lovely woodcut illustrations, a first edition of Gustave Doré’s 19th-centrury illustrations for Dante’s Inferno, and Mary Somerville’s own copy of the Divine Comedy.
Current graduate and undergraduate students – Anna Branford, Katie Bastiman, Sofia Derer, Aleksandra Rutkowska, and Joanna Raisbeck – have researched and written a lot of the information included in the exhibition. We are also very grateful to Anne Manuel, Sue Purver, and Matthew Roper for their help and advice, without which this exhibtion wouldn’t have been possible.
The exhibition is Library Loggia, and you can ask at the porters’ lodge for directions and access.
This is a link to an article I wrote about one of my favourite Cavalcanti poems, ‘Noi sìan le triste penne isbigottite’ [We are the sad, bewildered quills] (Yes, penne the pasta means quill pens).
I find this poem so fascinating because the poet’s voice disappears almost entirely, to be replaced by his writing tools – the quill pens, the clippers, and knife (used by scribes to sharpen their quills during).
These writing implements talk directly to the reader, creating an intriguing and rather modern atmosphere. In fact, Italo Calvino, writing in the 1980s, thought Cavalcanti had written, with ‘Noi sìan le triste penne…’, the first truly modern poem.
The article contains my original translations of some of Cavalcanti’s poetry, as well as my thoughts on the poem and its context. I hope you’ll have a read, and do let me know what you think in the comments!
This was another one of those coincidental moments* in my travels around the US. Having just come from presenting my work at the Association of American Italian Studies Conference in Eugene, OR, I wandered past this club, Dante’s (Booker T. Jones was playing that night), and was deeply happy to find out they had the warning words from the gates of hell above their doorway:
Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate!
(Abandon all hope, you who enter!).
*The grainy photo is courtesy of my phone camera, my proper camera having been lost a week earlier.
Ok, so it’s a mermaid, but close enough. I took this photo in New York while I was there between conferences. It was the same day that I finished a paper on the dream of the ‘femmina balba’ (the stuttering woman who metamorphoses into a siren) in Purgatorio XIX. That paper is now to to be published as part of a collection by the University of Bologna’s Petali imprint.