Dante’s Travels to China

In October, Dr Matthew Treherne and I travelled to China for a conference held at Fudan University in Shanghai. After an arduous 19-hour flight, so much food we thought we would burst, and an opening ceremony fit for the Olympic Games, Dr Treherne kicked things off with an inspiring lecture about love in Dante’s CommediaImage

Matthew took his own love of Dante as a starting point for his lecture, and went on to explore how Dante himself presents different types of love in his great poem. Dante doesn’t appear to be very widely studied in China, and many of the students were keen to find out which English translations they should use as a first step into the world of the Commedia (FYI, Matthew advised either Durling or Kirkpatrick; I recommended Sinclair or Sisson, proving that it’s all just a matter of taste).

The trip was a real eye-opener for me in terms of conference etiquette. I’ve only ever been to conferences in the UK before, so seeing how different cultures do things was really interesting. Chinese conferences are much more formal than British ones; there are opening and closing ceremonies, prizes for the best papers, designated “respondents” to each paper, and gruelling schedules, which begin at 8am (!!!). But we were also treated to some of the most amazing food, and met some really interesting and inspiring people. 

Thanks to Fudan University for inviting us to speak and for looking after us so well. We had a really amazing trip and hope to be able to stay a little longer next time to fully enjoy your beautiful city!



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Dan Brown’s “Inferno”

Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, unleashed his new novel Inferno upon readers today and, as you have probably guessed from its title (if not from the massive publicity campaign that has accompanied the run-up to its release), the story is based on the first canticle of Dante’s Commedia. As the fourth book in Brown’s hugely popular Robert Langdon series, Inferno has a lot to live up to, not least because of its resonances with one of the most famous texts of all time. Dante-scholar, A.N. Wilson, reviewing the book for the Daily Mail, claims Brown’s new novel is ‘twaddle, but at least it’s entertaining twaddle’. However Professor Stephen Milner (Manchester University) took to the airwaves today to discuss the latest Dante-inspired work of fiction, and spoke rather less disparagingly of the American author’s latest offering.

Whatever your thoughts on Dan Brown’s Inferno, it has certainly sparked a renewed interest in Dante. Hopefully we’ll have a massive influx of new medievalists in the not-so-distant future, inspired by Professor Robert Langdon’s investigations.

Listen again to the Radio 5 Live interview with Professor Milner here (scroll to 1:46:00)

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Mad Men does Dante

Not even advertising God Don Draper is immune to the wonders of Dante, it would seem. The first episode of season six of the cult show premiered on Sunday night and, to the delight of medievalists everywhere, the opening lines was a quotation from the Inferno. The episode opens on Draper, played by the delicious Jon Hamm, as a 1960s version of our poet, trapped in a revolving door (no doubt to represent the circles of Hell), reciting lines from the Commedia. Yet it seems that this allusion to Dante is a little more than just a passing reference as, Katherine Boyle writes in the Washington Post, series creator Matthew Weiner has been ‘ticking off sins since season one, circle by circle, providing a checklist of damnation straight from 1308’. Elsewhere, Matt Zoller Seitz, writing for online culture magazine ‘Vulture’, prophesies that there is more Dante-inspired drama to come from Draper et al, especially since the ‘opening double-episode, titled “The Doorway,” has Dante-esque intimations of hell, purgatory, death, and spiritual torment galore’.

Meanwhile, Dan Brown – author of The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons – is set to burst back onto the literary scene next month with his hotly-tipped new novel, Inferno (Doubleday, 2013). And yes, this one’s also going to be firmly rooted in the depths of Dante’s Commedia. If the front cover is anything to go by – the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, partly obscured by a portrait of Dante – this is going to be one text worth savoring for all you Dante fans out there.

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Dante wishes you luck in your exams.

Happy New Year, fellow dantisti!

I’m sure you’re all knee-deep in revision and essay-writing, so I thought I’d liven up your dark Tuesday afternoon by bringing you a bit of love from our favourite poet.

My new year’s resolution – aside from making myself like olives and stopping biting my nails – was to  make a valiant effort to write my thesis before my funding runs out. So far, this is going well (the writing bit, not the olive bit, unfortunately…) and I have spent two full days in the cupboard under my stairs (which I handily transformed into an “office” – seriously though, it’s tiny) knocking out thousands of words about medieval stuff.  Today’s task was to tackle Dante. This morning I was all like “OH YEAH, I CAN TOTALLY SUM UP DANTE IN A PAGE AND A HALF” and now, 2,000 words later, I’m a little less optimistic about my synthesising abilities. I’m not very confident about my Commedia knowledge, so have made friends with Google in a big way today, and this has proved most useful in my search for enlightenment.

The Internet is home to a myriad of wonderful things, and quite a few of these popped up during my searches. One of the not-so-wonderful things that I stumbled across was an article from the Telegraph [13/05/12], claiming that the Comedy is ‘offensive and should be banned’. I was quite taken aback by this suggestion and read on to discover that Valentina Sereni of human rights organisation Gherush 92, claimed that ‘Schoolchildren and university students who studied the work lacked “the filters” to appreciate its historical context and were being fed a poisonous diet of anti-Semitism and racism’. I’m not sure about you, but I think my anti-Semitic filters are pretty tip-top…

Anyway, here is a nice picture of Dante holding a book. Why not mentally project your revision notes onto the page and pass your exams with flying colours?


In bocca al lupo!

S x

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See you tonight in Florence?

Tonight is our second evening in Dante’s Florence and BOY AM I EXCITED! Last week I was blown away by the sheer brilliance of the lecture and especially by our FANTASTIC undergrad researcher, Lois Haines, whose confidence and ease on stage made me quite jealous (but not as jealous as her dress made me). I’ve never met Lois before, but I predict that she’s destined for big things.

Tonight we’re moving on from the Baptistery and Orsanmichele to Santa Croce and Santa Maria Novella. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for more interactive tours of these places because it made me have goosebumps to look at some of the exact same things that Dante would have looked at. I’m a bit sad that we won’t have the chamber choir perform for us every week, because last week they were awe-inspiring, but we don’t want to start taking these things for granted now, do we?

See you all tonight in conference auditorium 2 at 6pm? It’s a date.

S x

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Happily ever Dante….

Remember when you were a kid and your life revolved around Disney films (well not for me actually, because I found them all just a little bit too sinister…)? Remember the breathtaking magic of mice turning into steeds and the underdog triumphing over the evil stepmother? Well, it’s kind of like that with Dante isn’t it? Admittedly there aren’t any frogs-to-princes kisses, or talking candlesticks wooing the French feather dusters, but it’s pretty magical that Dante gets to wade through the levels of Hell with his homeboy Virgil at his side. He’s the underdog – the only alive person in a swamp of deceased souls – and he sure as hell gets his princess in the form of Beatrice. They don’t exactly live happily ever after, but I’ll bet they had a cheeky snog before he came back into the real world.

Anyway, where am I going with this? Dante’s stories lend themselves so well to the standard fairytale format of the good guy getting the girl and reigning triumphant over the baddies, that even Walt Disney -undisputed king of happy endings – could see that he was onto a winner. And what better way to show appreciation to the wonders of the Commedia than by creating an entire comic book devoted to its brilliance. Check these out:

The page-scans of the entire story can be found here. There is an English translation out there somewhere, but we’re Italianists, right? We laugh in the face of English translations… *hides English translations of all PhD primary texts*

S x


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Three Evenings in Dante’s Florence

Leeds Centre for Dante Studies is pleased to announce a series of public lectures, which will each investigate a different aspect of Florentine life in the year 1300. The first of these lectures – “Community: Entering Religious and Civic Life”  – takes place on 14th November 2012 at 6pm in Conference Auditorium 2.

The lectures are free to attend and open to anyone. Live-Tweeters and bloggers are also welcome. Let’s get #leedsdante trending!



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