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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 through a combination of coursework and online examination: one question to be answered in a coursework essay and one or two further questions to be answered in a 3-hour timed online examination during which students have access to resources. 

One question (worth one third of the marks) to be answered in a coursework essay of no more than 1800 words.

One or two further questions (worth two thirds of the marks) to be answered in a three-hour online examination in the Easter Term exam period. Either students will answer two questions, writing essays no longer than 1500 words, or they may choose to write one essay of no more than 3000 words. The questions available for this single answer option will be identified with an asterisk *. 

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 in this assessment. 

Course Contacts: 
Professor Heather Webb