Dante’s long narrative poem, The Divine Comedy, opens with the poet-narrator, midway through his life, lost in a dark wood. There he is found by Roman poet Virgil, sent from the afterlife by a woman Dante had loved who has reached down from Heaven to set him back on the right path by showing him what waits for human beings after death. The first two parts of the Comedy tell the story of Dante and Virgil’s journey together through hell to the mountain of Purgatory, a lost Eden where Dante will meet Beatrice once more.
The Comedy, itself a kind of response to Virgil’s own epic poem the Aeneid, has generated a rich tradition of commentary, illustration, translation, and allusion that date back to the poem’s completion in 1320. As well as making use of this tradition, we will continue and add to it through practices of active reading and annotation. Work for the class includes reading journals, homework groups, leading discussion, and after-class reports. If possible and desired, one class may be held in the Boston Public Library’s Special Collections room to work with early editions. A final reflection essay on the materials and course design will be due in the last week of the semester.