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(click here for Cantos I-XI)
(click here for Cantos XII-XXII)


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The major highlights of this last Dante reading are Cantos XXVI (our old friend Ulysses), XXXIII (Ugolino and Ruggieri), and XXIV (Judecca--Lucifer--climbing out of Hell. By the way, try to get a handle on the physics of this climb. Dante-pilgrim is obviously confused [lines 103-105]; Dante-poet issues a challenge to the reader to comprehend what has happened [lines 91-93]).

"Minor highlights" include Cantos XXVII (Guido da Montefeltro), XXVIII (Mohammed), and XXX (Potiphar's wife[<Genesis] and Sinon [<Aeneid] go mano-a-mano).

You should keep on reading in terms of the key ideas and structuring devices we've already mentioned (the listings below have been updated for Cantos XXIII-XXXIV, please read them carefully):

  • volle, vuolo--to will: see esp. Canto XXVI , to which we will have considerable recourse in class. Bearing in mind the role will played in Confessions (and especially in Augustine's conversion), what can you say about the role of will in Dante? How would you characterize the relationship among reason, will and appetite?

  • amor--love: The "hate story" of Ugolino and Ruggieri (Canto XXXIII) is often considered a counterpart to the love story of Paolo and Francesca (Canto V). Compare the two (structure, themes, imagery, characters, anxieties) as fully and fruitfully as you can. What interesting parallels and contrasts can you uncover? What would Dante have us learn from the comparison?
          What other intertexts are alluded to in this episode? How do these intertexts help us to understand Dante's text?
          Don't forget that God made Hell out of Love (Canto III, line 6). What happens to Love as we descend into the depths?

  • disio--desire: What is the proper object of disio? What are its dangers? Which characters are associated with it? See especially Cantos XXVI (l. 69, 97 [ardore]), XXX (l. 130, 148), XXXI (l. 97).

  • pietà--pity: What progression is observed in Dante-pilgrim's susceptibility to pity? Why? What is Dante-poet's relationship to pity? --See (in addition to Cantos II, V, XIX, XX) Cantos XXXII (l. 75ff.), XXIII (ll. 40-42, 49, 69, 149-50).

  • mente--memory, mind: Think about Dante's concept of memory in relation to Augustine's and to epic kleos. See esp. Cantos XXVI (ll. 1-3), XXVII (ll. 61-66), XXXIII (ll. 7-9).

  • experienza--experience: What is the role of experience in Dante? What kinds of experience are there (sensory, cognitive, narrative...?) and what are they worth? See esp. Cantos XXVI (l. 98, 116), XXVIII (l. 48), XXIX (ll. 43-45), XXX (ll. 130ff.), XXXI (l. 97-99).

  • tellability: Dante seems to allude to Aeneid II:3 ("Sorrow too deep to tell, your Majesty...") three times: once in the words of Dante-poet at I.4 ("Ah, it is hard to speak of what it was"), once in the words of Francesca (V:121-3), and once in the words of Ugolino (XXXIII:4-6).
          In addition to those specific allusions, Dante continually inscribes the incommensurability of language--that is, the uncloseable gap between language/telling and life/experiencing in his narrative: see especially Cantos XXIV (l. 76-78), XXVI (ll. 19-24, 72), XXVIII (ll. 1-3), XXXII (ll. 1-6). What are we to make of these "speechless" moments in Dante's poetry? Is it paradoxical to write poetry about not being able to write poetry?
          Finally, in the same vein, we need to consider the role of narrative itself in this text. Francesca's story (Canto V) highlights the power of literature, of story, to affect "real life"; what, acording to Dante, is the proper role of/response to literature? What is the price of imitating literature (acting out a story)? What is Dante himself doing?

We will continue to examine the relationship between "literature" (story) and "real life" as we move on into Boccaccio...and beyond....

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