Sand-Sculpting Hell.

Just a little post (from my sick bed *cough splutter sneeze*) to say HI to all my new followers, and to draw your attention to these BRILLIANT sand sculptures that were posted on the Italian Facebook page earlier:

Amazing, no?!

The entire set of images can be found on Flickr by clicking HERE.

Stay medieval. S x



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Dante and Memory.

I’m an obsessive person.  I’m not a stalker-type obsessive;  but I do go through phases of being hung up on specific ideas and thoughts. A couple of years ago, my obsessive thoughts centred on the notion of memories: specifically, what are they?? and where and how do we store them? I’m not a stupid person; I understand that memories are recollections of past events and that they’re stored in our brains, but I was worried that brains might be like hard-drives, with a limited amount of data storage, and I started to worry that if I remembered really banal things from my childhood then there might not be enough space in my brain to remember important things like my PIN number or my dog’s name.

In order to quell these anxieties, I started reading about memory (since reading is  the best way to process any difficult thoughts). Reading was helpful, in that I got to grips with basic memory techniques and I started remembering even more banal facts, but it was also quite a hindrance. A hindrance because, all the while I had been voraciously consuming book after book about memory processes and brain synapses, I had been neglecting my MA. I was supposed to be in the Middle Ages, but instead I was forever on Amazon, spending money I didn’t have on books I *desperately* needed. Luckily, my supervisors were understanding people and suggested that I channel this crazy obsessive energy into my essays by looking at medieval memory work. I was pretty stunned by this idea, since I evidently thought memories were a 21st-century invention. But when I started looking into it in more detail, I found that memory was a pretty huge thing in the Middle Ages, probably because people had to actually REMEMBER things, instead of their iPhones giving them seventeen reminders a day.

Anyway, so I wrote a good essay and got a good mark. The end. That was the gist of my story.

But what this post is *really* about is that this Friday, Dr. Anna Pegoretti is hosting her final seminar in her series ‘Mendicant Orders and Literature in Italy’. Among the guest speakers this week is Lina Bolzoni (Pisa), who is giving a paper entitled ‘The “Divine Comedy” and the Art of Memory’. If you’ve never read anything about memory before, or even if you have, I implore you to attend this seminar. It is one of the most fascinating subjects ever. I know that probably doesn’t carry much weight coming from a girl who has just openly declared on the Internet that she put her life on hold for a couple of weeks to read everything and anything ever written about memory, just so she wouldn’t forget her dog’s name (Alfie, if you’re interested), but just give it a try, yeah?


26th October 2012, 5pm, Parkinson Building Council Chamber:

– Nicolò Maldina (University of Leeds): ‘Preaching and Dante’
– Lina Bolzoni (Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa): ‘The “Divine Comedy” and the Art of Memory’.


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Review: The Dante Club

On paper, Matthew Pearl’s The Dante Club is exactly my cup of tea. It has it all: murder, detectives, geek-heroes, and intertextuality. Set in 1865, the story revolves around a series of murders based upon Dante’s circles of Hell in Inferno, which only a group of super-brainy American Dante-academics can solve. It’s all there, on paper, and it should be perfect. But – and I’m going to be brutally honest here – it REALLY missed the mark. Here’s why:

This book was bought for me as a gift a few years ago. As someone who is easily disturbed and suffers from night terrors, I wisely chose to wait until an emotionally stable moment in my life to read it. I had great expectations for this book, not least because of the dramatic preface, ‘A Caution to the Reader’, by Professor C. Lewis Watkins (Cambridge, Mass.), which ends with the warning: ‘Please, if you continue, remember that words can bleed’. When I first read this line, sitting, as I was, in Peterborough train station, I immediately laughed out loud. However, once I had regained my composure and reattached my serious-and-very-important-academic head, I got a bit of a quiver down my arms from excitement, thinking that this book would change my life. WRONG.

I am a very lazy reader. I will read if it’s something I want to read. I will become distracted and reluctant to invest any attention if the prose is bad. And this prose is awful. I know I’ve never written a novel or even had anything published (yet), but I know good writing when I read it, and this was anything but good writing. And the reason WHY the prose was so bad: it was just TOO GOOD. I know this seems like a HUGE contradiction, but it’s true. Pearl seems to have gone all-out to prove that he knows his Dante facts; he throws them in left, right and centre. The narrative is simply one good line after another and it’s relentless and tiresome.

I wanted to quit after about three pages, because I’d actually had to read those three pages about twelve times to understand the prose (so bad is the grammar and sentence structure). However, I’m currently trying not to quit things when they start getting hard, so I persevered. This was one of the worst decisions of my literary life (and I read ALL of the Harry Potter books in the vain hope that the quality of writing would EVENTUALLY improve), and I am now following my gut-reaction regarding such decisions (i.e. NOT jumping on the Fifty Shades…bandwagon).

As a story, The Dante Club is a brilliant concept, and there’s no denying that Matthew Pearl has an incredible imagination. But to be quite truthful, if I were you, I’d wait until they turn it into a film.



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Società Dante Alighieri UK

Some of you may know about the Società Dante Alighieri, which operates all over the world to promote the study of Dante and his works. They’re a pretty amazing organisation (they once funded a scholarship for me when I was doing my UG to go and study in Italy for a month), and have a really interesting history in the UK. Unfortunately we don’t have a Dante Society in Leeds (CAN WE CHANGE THIS PLEASE? I WILL BE WILLING TO RUN IT MYSELF!) but our nearest established franchises are in Hull and Manchester.

I don’t mean to promote Manchester more than Leeds, because obviously Leeds is brilliant and we have amazing Dante resources, but something quite big is going down in M-town right now. To celebrate 150 years since the Unification of Italy, Manchester Dante Society is running a series of events, billed as the ‘Festa Italia‘. Aside from the talk about illustrations in 20th century editions of the Commedia, the society has organised concerts, film screenings, celebratory dinners, and parades per festeggiare the brilliance of Italian culture.

I’m so excited about all of this, because I feel like sometimes Medieval Italy is a little bit sidelined in modern-day England. This is the perfect excuse for us to boast about how lucky we are to work on this amazing poet and have a bloody good time whilst doing so.

S x


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“20th Century Visual Dante” – Sat 2nd June

Once upon a time, when I lived in Manchester and was out playing ‘people bingo’ with my bingo buddy, Anne-Marie, I stumbled across a magical building called the Portico Library. This 18th Century, men-only, city library took my breath away, such was its unashamed beauty, and the librarians were a pure delight to talk to.

This Saturday, 2nd June, from 5-7pm, the loveliest librarian in all the land, Emma Marigliano, in conjunction with the Società Dante Alighieri, will be holding a talk in this very building regarding the illustrations found within 20th Century editions of Dante’s Commedia.

It would be an excellent opportunity to mix with fellow Dante-enthusiasts, learn something new about beautiful books, and see the gorgeous library with your very own eyes. I’ve even been nice enough to provide a map so that you don’t have an excuse not to go. It’s really really easy to get to if you get off the train at Piccadilly; all you have to do is follow the crowds to Piccadilly Gardens, head towards St. Peter’s Square, and it’s just on the corner of Moseley Street by a pub called The Bank.


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The Internet has drawn my attention to something rather remarkable this week (even more remarkable than Pudsey the dancing dog); something which made me bow in respect for the individual(s) involved in its production; something that made me wish that I had more free time and had saved my many many Lego sets from when I was a child.

That thing is this:

The Nine Circels of Hell, As Depicted in Lego









(All images are taken from mihaimariusmihu’s Flickr photostream)

S x

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Welcome on board!

Last week the interviews took place to fill the two post-doctoral positions for Matthew and Claire’s joint project with the University of Warwick – Dante and Late Medieval Florence: Theology in Poetry, Practice and Society. I was lucky enough to sit in on the presentations for all five shortlisted candidates (they were all brilliant – I couldn’t have called it and did not envy Claire, Simon or Matthew for having to make that decision) and was thrilled to find out that Nicolò Maldina got the position in Leeds, and that our very own Anna Pegoretti was appointed the post-doc position at Warwick.Congratulations to you both! Whilst I’m really sad Anna will be leaving us for pastures new, I’m really excited about Nicolò’s appointment and look forward to working with him over the next couple of years.

Just a little snippet of the project launch last week: after a brilliant introduction to what promises to be a really amazing and valuable study into Dante in the Middle Ages, and a really entertaining quodlibet performance by the Dean and Pro-Dean, we all congretated in LHRI room 3 for wine and crisps. It was here that I stumbled upon the following:


Well if it isn’t my very own Dantean heart! Luckily I was surrounded by fellow geeks who could appreciate the poetry behind such a delight of a cheese and onion crisp. One of the candidates (who will forever be a hero in my eyes) actually recited the whole of the poem from Vita Nuova III wherein Dante dreams that Beatrice eats his heart. Then, by eating the crisp, I felt I had actually become Beatrice. If that’s not an omen that this project is going to be amazing, then I don’t know what is.



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