CIV 203 tackles important questions regarding the human condition within in their historical context. In this class, we will study a seminal literary work called "the Divine Comedy" (original title: “la Divina Commedia”), written in the period 1302-1320 by a medieval Italian poet, politician, writer, and fierce social critic, called Dante Alighieri. The Divine Comedy is divided in three books, originally called "cantica", written in proto-Italian (an ancient form of the Italian language, used before the modern form took its final shape and slowly replaced it). Each book counts 33 chapters (originally called "canto") plus one introductory chapter, which is usually not added towards the total. Because the original Italian terminology can be confusing, we will stick to English terms, using simply "book" and "chapter".
The Divine Comedy mesmerizes readers with a very detailed journey of self discovery, redemption from sin, quest for justice, and for the true purpose of one’s life. There are numerous reading angles and countless topics that can be chosen as analytic prism for this monumental work; we will focus on a few big ideas that the Divine Comedy illustrates in an epic, fascinating way
1. Self discovery, redemption, and self development: how and why we get lost, how and why our life can get stuck in a dark phase, a swamp, with no apparent direction, and how we can get out of it
2. Justice, judgment, and retribution: the main idea here is that we all get from life what we put into it. Justice is simply the concept that "in the end, everyone will get what they deserve" (both the good and the bad). In Dante’s narration, what exactly it is that each of us deserve, will be determined by our own actions (not by our words, not by our intentions... but simply by what we ultimately do, each day, for the entirety of our adult life).
3. Finding meaning in life, through the search for a higher purpose, exemplified by God, in the literary work and in real life as well. Dante adopts religion, virtue, morality, and zest for life almost as benchmarks for one’s “living performance” in their material existence and in the afterlife as well.
The Divine Comedy describes a long, intense journey of loss, despair, faith, humility, rebirth. In the timeline of the book, the journey takes just seven days to complete, but in reality it is the journey of a lifetime. The Author literally goes into Hell, explores all of it, goes to the end of it, then gets into Purgatory (the middle area between Heaven and Hell, in the pre-modern religious and cosmological traditions); having explored all of Purgatory, he will finally ascend to Heaven, explore it all, and (maybe – let’s not spoil the surprise of the finale) in the end, go to meet God.
The first introductory classes (Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, September 4, 6 and 8, 2022) will lay out the historical context for a solid understanding of the work, the technical details of it, the tools that students need to write well, the explanation of what kind of assessment your instructor will prepare for you.
After the first week, on each class day we'll go through a selection of passages, chosen more or less in equal number between the three books; again, these are: Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), Paradiso (Heaven/Paradise).
At the end of each book, there will be an assignment (so, one for Inferno, one for Purgatorio, and one for Paradiso). Throughout the course, students are expected to engage in discussions; these will make up for 20-25% of the final grade.