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IT7: Dante and the culture of his age

This paper is available for the academic year 2023-24.

This course offers the opportunity for in-depth study of Dante’s works. After establishing a background in the early works, students will explore the Comedy in its entirety.  Particular attention will also be paid to the socio-political worlds that the poem points to and reveals.  Following up on references within the Comedy, students will investigate the cultural history of a turbulent period that saw the economic, political and artistic self-assertion of the city-republics in an Italy where Pope and Emperor still laid claim to supreme power. Students will be encouraged to develop their particular interests in specific contexts, whether literary, artistic, philosophical, historical, or religious.

There are no set prerequisites for this paper.  Students will be expected to be able to work with the Italian texts (though it is fine to make use of parallel translations to aid in the reading process). 

For Students interested in taking this paper in the academic year 2023-24, more information about the course can be found here.



Core texts and topics include:


  • La commedia ed. Anna Maria Chiavacci Leonardi (3 vols. Mondadori: Meridiani, 1990-8)
  • Rime giovanili e della 'Vita Nuova', eds. Teodolinda Barolini and Manuele Gragnolati (Milan, 2009)
  • Convivio ed. Giorgio Inglese (Milan, 1993)
  • De vulgari eloquentia, trans. by S. Botterill (Cambridge, 1996)
  • Monarchy, trans. by P. Shaw (Cambridge, 1996)

Duecento Poetry:

  • Giacomo da Lentini
  • Guido delle Colonne
  • Guittone d'Arezzo
  • Jacopone da Todi
  • Guido Guinizzelli
  • Guido Cavalcanti

The cultural history of the period:

  • conflicts between Empire and Papacy
  • religious orders
  • visual arts
Preparatory reading: 

The best way to prepare for this paper is to read as much of the Comedy as possible, helping yourself through with parallel language editions and the introductions and notes in those editions.  See particularly the editions by Robin Kirkpatrick (London, 2006-2007) and Robert Durling and Ronald Martinez (Oxford, 1996-2011).

Have a look at R. Jacoff (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Dante, Cambridge: CUP, 2007

and J. A. Scott, Understanding Dante, Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004 for general overviews of issues in Dante as well as some contextual information (particularly in the Companion) on the history and politics of Dante’s time.

A wonderfully rich resource on Duecento poetry may be found online here:

Teaching and learning: 

The paper generally consists of 20 hours of lectures and 10 hours of supervision.

For the It.7 Moodle site, please see here


The paper will be assessed by examination. Students will have two choices in this examination: Either you will answer three questions, choosing between questions that include commentary, various topics on Dante's works, the poets of the Duecento, and topics on the relationship between Dante's works and the culture of his age. For each answer you must write no more than 1,500 words. Or you may take the three hours to answer just one question chosen from a selection of the questions on the paper. The questions included in this option will be identified with an asterisk *. Your answer should be no more than 4,500 words.

Candidates for this paper may not draw substantially on material from their dissertations or material which they have used or intend to use in another scheduled paper. Candidates may not draw substantially on the same material in more than one question on the same paper.

Course Contacts: 
Professor Heather Webb