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ENGL409: Dante

Unit 1: Dante   We will start the course by taking a close look at Dante’s personal life.  In this unit, we will learn about the influences—political, religious, and literary—that came to shape his career.  Because his works were undoubtedly influenced by his personal life, we will also learn about his relationship with his love and muse Beatrice, whom many scholars consider worthy of study in her own right.  This unit should provide an excellent foundation for beginning your study of Dante’s work, and will certainly be useful as you look at the more complicated themes later in the course. 

Unit 1 Time Advisory
This unit should take you 18 hours to complete.

☐    Subunit 1.1: 3 hours

☐    Subunit 1.2: 6 hours

☐    Subunit 1.3: 2 hours

☐    Subunit 1.4: 6 hours

☐    Subunit 1.5: 1 hour

Unit1 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:

  • Outline the medieval concepts of justice and religion.
  • Identify the major factors in Dante’s personal life that shaped his literary career.
  • Describe Dante’s relationship with Beatrice in terms of medieval courtship rituals.
  • Define and explain the significance of “dolce stil nove.”
  • Situate the author’s work within its distinct historical context.
  • Explain the cultural attitudes towards vernacular literature, with special attention to Dante’s stance on language.
  • Explain how the rise in humanism affected and shape Dante’s literary career.

1.1 Who Was Dante?   1.1.1 Biography   - Reading: Catholic Encyclopedia’s “Dante Alighieri” Link: Catholic Encyclopedia’s "Dante Alighieri" (PDF)
 
Instructions: Please read the encyclopedia entry linked here for an introduction to the life of Dante, as well as some introductory information about his literary works.
 
This material is in the public domain. 

1.1.2 Family, Education, and Politics   - Reading: Dante Circle of Friends’ “Early Years” and “Political Life”; The History Guide: Dr. Steven Kreis’s “Dante Alighieri” Link: Dante Circle of Friends’ “Early Years” (HTML) and “Political Life”; (HTML) The History Guide: Dr. Steven Kreis’s “Dante Alighieri” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read the pieces linked here for a short overview of Dante’s life, which touches upon his family, education, and politics.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above. 

1.1.3 Religious Life   - Reading: The History Guide: Dr. Steven Kreis’s “Aquinas and Dante” Link: The History Guide: Dr. Steven Kreis’s “Aquinas and Dante” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read the short lecture linked here in its entirety.  The lecture reviews the religious context of Dante’s life and discusses his relationship with notable theologian Thomas Aquinas.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above. 

1.1.4 Professional Career   - Reading: Dante Alighieri on the Web’s “His Life” Link: Dante Alighieri on the Web’s “His Life”(PDF)
 
Instructions: Please read the short page linked here for a discussion of Dante’s ill-fated political career.
 
Terms of Use: The material linked above is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License(HTML).  It is attributed to (Carlo Alberto Furia) and the original version can be found {here}(HTML).

1.1.5 Exile   - Reading: Dante Circle of Friends’ “Exile” Link: Dante Circle of Friends’ “Exile” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read the very short commentary on Dante’s exile late in his life.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above. 

  • Lecture: Yale University: Dr. Giuseppe Mazzotta’s “Introduction” Link: Yale University: Dr. Giuseppe Mazzotta’s “Introduction” (YouTube)
     
    Also available in:
    ITunes, Flash, HTML, MP3
     
    Instructions: Please listen to the whole lecture, which discusses Dante’s life and times and provides a basic introduction to his literary career.
     
    Terms of Use: The article above is released under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial-ShareAlike License 3.0 (HTML).  It is attributed to (Dr. Giuseppe Mazzotta) and the original version can be found {here}(HTML).

1.1.6 Dante’s Literary Contemporaries   - Reading: The History Guide: Dr. Steven Kreis’s “The Medieval World View” Link: The History Guide: Dr. Steven Kreis’s “The Medieval World View” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read this short lecture about trends in medieval literature.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above. 

1.2 Relationship with Beatrice   1.2.1 Beatrice’s Life   - Reading: Princeton Dante Project’s “Beatrice” Link: Princeton Dante Project’s "Beatrice" (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read the notes here for some basic information about Beatrice’s life.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above. 

1.2.2 Medieval Gender Issues   - Reading: Northern Virginia Community College: Diane Thompson’s “Gender” Link: Northern Virginia Community College: Diane Thompson’s “Gender” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read the short commentary here for a quick discussion of gender issues in Dante’s work, especially as it relates to Beatrice as the subject of his work.
 
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1.2.3 Examples of Courtly Love   - Reading: University of Tennessee at Knoxville: Dr. Bruce MacLennan’s “An Interpretation of Courtly Love” Link: University of Tennessee at Knoxville: Dr. Bruce MacLennan’s “An Interpretation of Courtly Love” (HTML)
 
Instructions: From Dr. MacLennan’s site, please read the short entry on courtly love, which addresses Dante’s use of courtly love themes.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above. 

1.2.4 Beatrice in Dante’s Vita Nuova   - Reading: Princeton Dante Project’s version of Dante’s Vita Nuova Link: Princeton Dante Project’s version of Dante’s Vita Nuova (HTML)
 
Also available in:
 
eText format on the Kindle ($0.99)
 
Instructions: From Dante’s Vita Nuova, please read these short sections: VII, 1-7; XII, 1-17; XXIV, 1-11. 
 
Note on the text: In Vita Nuova, Dante used a combination of prose and verse style to create a series of poems on courtly love.  Published early in Dante’s career, the text is notable for its use of Italian and Tuscan dialects rather than the Latin language, which was far more traditional at the time.  The sonnets and ballads are thematically united by tales of Dante’s interaction with Beatrice, which move from his first vision of her to his reaction after her death.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above. 

  • Lecture: Dr. Giuseppe Mazzotta’s “Vita Nuova” Link:Dr. Giuseppe Mazzotta’s "Vita Nuova"(YouTube)
     
    Also available in:
     
    ITunes U, HTML, Flash, MP3
                           
    Instructions: Please listen to this lecture, which discusses Dante’s Vita Nuova in the context of medieval love.
     
    Terms of Use: The article above is released under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial-ShareAlike License 3.0 (HTML).  It is attributed to (Dr. Giuseppe Mazzotta) and the original version can be found {here}(HTML).

1.2.5 Dante, Beatrice, and Love Poetry   - Reading: University of Tennessee at Knoxville: Dr. Bruce MacLennan’s “Dante and Fedeli d’Amore” Link: University of Tennessee at Knoxville: Dr. Bruce MacLennan’s "Dante and the Fedeli d'Amore" (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read the essay linked here for a discussion of the influence that traditional forms of poetry had on Dante’s work.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above. 

1.2.6 Dante’s “Dolce Stil Novo”   - Reading: University of Texas at Austin: Guy P. Raffa’s “Sweet New Style” Link: University of Texas at Austin: Guy P. Raffa’s “Sweet New Style” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Please read the short definition linked here for more about Dante’s “dolce stil novo,” which is one of his trademark poetic devices.
 
Terms of Use: The material above has been reposted with permission for educational use by (Guy P. Raffa).  It can be viewed in its original form {here} (HTML).

1.2.7 Role as Dante’s Muse   - Reading: California Polytechnic State University: Dr. Deborah Schwartz’s “Context for the Commedia: Beatrice and the Vita Nuova” Link: California Polytechnic State University: Dr. Deborah Schwartz’s "Context for the Commedia: Beatrice and the Vita Nuova" (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read the short piece linked here for a quick introduction to Beatrice’s role in the Dante’s work, both as a muse as well as a symbol of sexual love and female purity.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above. 

1.3 Historical and Literary Influences   1.3.1 Medieval Political Contexts   - Reading: The History Guide: Dr. Steven Kreis’s “The Holy Crusades” Link: The History Guide: Dr. Steven Kreis’s“The Holy Crusades” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read the entire lecture for more about the medieval political world, which was largely dominated by the church’s attempted
conquests. 
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above. 

1.3.2 Medieval Ideas of Religion   - Reading: The History Guide: Dr. Steven Kreis’s “Heretics, Heresies and the Church” Link: The History Guide: Dr. Steven Kreis’s"Heretics, Heresies and the Church" (HTML)
 
Instructions: Read the short piece linked here for a basic introduction to the problems in the medieval church.  As you read, please pay close attention to the discussion of Dante’s reflections on heresy. 
 
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1.3.3 Medieval Concepts of Justice   - Reading: The History Guide: Dr. Steven Kreis’s “The 12th Century Renaissance” Link: The History Guide: Dr. Steven Kreis’s“The 12th Century Renaissance” (HTML)
 
Instructions:  Read the entire text of this lecture for information on the medieval church’s evolution at this time in history.  As you read, please pay close attention to the concept of justice at this time, which will figure prominently in Dante’s The Divine Comedy.
 
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1.4 Dante’s Language and Criticism   1.4.1 Tuscan, Occitan, and Latin Poetry   - Reading: Columbia University Digital Dante Project’s version of The Cambridge Companion to Dante: Teodolinda Barolini’s “Dante and the Lyric Past” Link: Columbia University Digital Dante Project’s version of The Cambridge Companion to Dante: Teodolinda Barolini’s “Dante and the Lyric Past” (HTML)
 
Instructions: From The Cambridge Companion to Dante, please read the short chapter linked here for a discussion of Dante’s poetic inspirations and influences. 
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above. 

1.4.2 Revolutions in Vernacular Literature   - Reading: California Polytechnic State University: Dr. Deborah Schwartz’s “Medieval Attitudes Towards Vernacular Literature”; Northern Virginia Community College: Diane Thompson’s “Vernacular” Link: California Polytechnic State University: Dr. Deborah Schwartz’s “Medieval Attitudes Towards Vernacular Literature”; (HTML) Virginia Community College: Diane Thompson’s “Vernacular” (HTML)
 
Instructions: From Dr. Schwartz’s “Medieval Attitudes Towards Vernacular Literature,” please read the short article here for a discussion of the use of language in medieval literature.  Please focus on the discussion of the development of Dante’s concept of language.  Then read the short definition of “vernacular” for a quick review of the topic. 
 
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1.4.3 Dante’s Ideas of Language   - Reading: Princeton Dante Project’s version of Dante’s De Vulgaria Eloquentia Link: Princeton Dante Project’s version of Dante’s De Vulgaria Eloquentia (HTML)
 
Instructions: From De Vulgaria Eloquentia, please read the following sections: I, ii, 1-8; I, xix, 1-3; II, ii, 1-10.  As you read, please pay attention to Dante’s use of the vernacular as his preferred form of language. 
 
Note on the text: In De Vulgaria Eloquentia, Dante distinguishes primary language (or the natural language) from secondary language (or the language used to study).  Although written in Latin, Dante extends his concept of language to say that Italian should be used in literature, and that Latin should be used only in works like essays.  This text is not only important for its revolutionary ideas about language, but because it is considered one of the earliest works of literary criticism.
 
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1.4.4 Dante as the First Literary Critic and the Rise of Humanism   - Reading: Catholic Encyclopedia’s “Humanism” Link: Catholic Encyclopedia’s “Humanism” (PDF)
 
Instructions: Please read the entry on humanism for a discussion of Dante’s contribution to the movement.
 
This material is in the public domain. 

1.5 Modern Critical Perspectives   - Reading: University of California’s eScholarship: Betsy Emerick’s “Auerbach and Gramsci on Dante: Criticism and Ideology” Link: University of California’s eSchoarlship: Betsy Emerick’s “Auerbach and Gramsci on Dante: Criticism and Ideology” (HTML)
 
Also available in:
 
PDF
 
Instructions: Please read the entire critical article here for two more modern critical perspectives on Dante.  The article includes an excellent overview of different critical approaches to his work.
 
Terms of Use: Please respect the copyright and terms of use displayed on the webpage above.