212: Seminar on Dante

Th 2-5pm | Dwinelle 6331 | Instructor: Albert Ascoli

Units: 2 or 4

In one of the most famous episodes in Western literature, Francesca da Rimini blames her adulterous love of her husband’s brother, Paolo, for both her violent death and eternal damnation, on an act of reading, solicited by a book and its author (“Galeotto fu il libro e chi lo scrisse” [A pander was the book and he who wrote it]). This episode, however, is just one of the many, many ways that the critical representation of readers and acts of reading, including his own, pervade the Dantean corpus from beginning to end. Our focus in this course, then, will be on Dante’s dialectical construction and reconfiguration of medieval practices of reading in relation to his emerging concept of his own “authoriality.” Specifically we will follow an itinerary that leads from the first of Dante’s major “hybrid” prose and poetry works, the Vita Nova, through the unfinished treatises of his early exile (Convivio and De Vulgari Eloquentia), to selections from the three canticles of the Commedia. In addition to examining “scenes of reading” like Inferno 5 and Dante’s textual definitions of and engagement with his own readers, we will consider questions concerning the intersections between authorial intentionality and readerly understanding; the self-reading mode of auto-commentary; appropriations and transformations of Scholastic models of lectio; the gender and social standing of implied readers; and others still. Though our primary focus will be on Dante’s texts, we will take into consideration the circulation of those works around the time of their composition, as well as the first generation of the Commedia’s readers.

Course Requirements: Students are expected to attend and participate regularly. Students taking the course for two credits will do the reading, plus in-class reports and other short assignments. Students taking the course for four credits will also develop one of their shorter assignments into a final research paper of 6000-7500 words (25-30 pages).