Teaching Dante

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Teaching Dante

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1Mithalogica
Ene 16, 2014, 8:42pm

This semester (Spring 14) I am taking a class of undergraduate students through the Divine Comedy. This is a first for me, and I thought I would share my experiences here. In intent in doing so is twofold; firstly for the interest of anyone else who might have cause to teach the beloved Florentine, or might just be interested in Dante in an academic setting. I am also very open to suggestions, or commentary.

So far, we have spent our first full week taking a whirlwind your of the Middle Ages, its culture and political concerns (think really, really, broad strokes here!), and looking at Dante's life and earlier works. I certainly don't expect my students to become experts in medieval society, but I think some idea of the times is useful. (If anyone is interested, I have the syllabus and some PPT files I can share).

My goal is to reflect here at least once a week on the class, whatever new things I come to when going through the Commedia again, and, inasmuch as I can, my students reactions to Dante's masterwork.

By all means, feel free to share in the journey!

2TheoClarke
Ene 17, 2014, 7:56am

I would be interested in seeing your documentation.

3matthewmason
Ene 17, 2014, 12:02pm

Sounds like a fascinating course offering, raven moon! Last time I helped teach Dante, I found that (in my case, reciting aloud) playing the Italian to be delightful. Tentative maps of the Inferno might be useful, and a bit on Vergil should be necessary too, considering his enormously important role as guide to Dante, along with all the other ancients Dante encounters in Limbo. I guess I'm partial to the literary tradition, more than others. Most everyone can name a guide and an inspiration in life; Vergil and Beatrice are for Dante, without a doubt. Love to hear how things go!

4Mithalogica
Ene 17, 2014, 6:26pm

>2 TheoClarke: Theo (and anyone else interested) I have started a folder in Scribd.com with some of the resources for my course. Please do respect the work I've put into them; if you want to reproduce them or use them in your own work, I'd appreciate if you asked first (I really doubt I'll mind :)

Here is the link:
http://www.scribd.com/collections/4420523/Dante-Social-Justice-Course-Resourses

5Mithalogica
Ene 17, 2014, 6:36pm

> 3 Matthew, we've touched briefly on Virgil & The Aeneid already (as well as the ongoing idea of Rome (both for Dante via De Monarchia, and culturally in the intro), which of course related so closely to Virgil's presence. We will go into more depth when we discuss Dante's choice of Virgil as his guide, and point out some of the similarities between Aeneas' journey and that of Dante the Pilgrim.

I wish we had time to read the Aeneid, and LVN, too, but as these are undergraduates, and we have the SJ focus, too, I tried to keep the reading load fairly light. I *just* fit the Commedia into our semester calendar! As to maps, luckily, the Musa editions have maps in them, but I have some others I will give as handouts when appropriate. I plan to show a lot of the illuminated manuscript versions as we go, especially the MS. Holkham misc. 48 and the Yates Thompson 36 (Giovanni de Paulo).

We'll see; we begin with Inf. I-IV next week! :D

6Mithalogica
Feb 4, 2014, 6:21pm

My class is about halfway through Inferno by now, and I couldn't be more pleased! Were I doing this course again, I think I might read all of Inferno, and then selected sections of Purgatorio and Paradiso - we are going too fast, I think. We could spend a LOT more time in each Canto, particularly in light of the wonderful questions my students have been asking.

I'm having them submit at least three serious questions for each day's reading, and I've been really impressed with the kinds of questions they are asking. They are definitely learning to look behind/beneath Dante's words for deeper meanings, allegories, and so on. So far, they have said that it is hard going, but they seem to like Musa's translation, and after a little hesitation, have been using both Musa's notes and Raffa's DanteWorlds to help untangle the many references, especially all those that refer to the complicated politics of Italy (though we aren't focusing too much on those, keeping the focus on the ideas of justice and society).

After working through some of the first examples, they are doing a great job of applying the same methods later on. For example, we talked at length about Dante's reaction to Francesca, so now they are watching closely how the Pilgrim reacts to other sinners. They picked up right away that the 'pity' he felt for Pier Della Vigna was different, both because Della Vigna admits his guilt, whereas Francesca blamed everyone but herself, and because his pity was over the betrayal and false accusations that destroyed Della Vigna, not for his suffering in the wood of the suicides. They also observed on their own that Dante was apt to feel pity, for the circumstances were not too different from those of his own exile. I think this is really great for first-time readers, and (at the risk of sounding patronizing), I am very proud of them!

Now that we have gone through violence and are beginning Fraud, we are really getting into the intricacies of Dante's take on society and justice; I think that will definitely be the focus the next couple weeks....