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Medieval Studies

MDV 392M • Dante's Afterlives

41079 • Raffa, Guy
Meets TTH 12:30PM-2:00PM HRH 2.106C
(also listed as C L 382, ITL 390K)
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Dante's Afterlives (Fall 2021)

ITL 390K, cross-listed with CL 382 and MDV 392M

TTH 12:30-1:45 in HRH 2.106C

Guy P. Raffa, HRH 3.104A;


Note: While the language of instruction is English, Italian Studies students are required to read primary Italian texts in the original language.

Summarizing Dante's popularity in Italy in the early twentieth century, one critic amusingly observed that the medieval poet "was cooked in every sauce, served hot and cold, grilled and in gelatin, whole and ground, alone or with sides, with critical mayonnaise and historical croutons: there was something for all tastes, for strong stomachs and for dyspeptic ones, for women and for men, for kindergartners and for doddering academics." In this course we will seek intellectual nourishment at the banquet of Dante's legacy by closely examining a broad range of responses to the poet—the man and his works—from Giovanni Boccaccio's biography in the late Middle Ages to Roberto Benigni's performances of TuttoDante and Dan Brown's Inferno. Between the Dante-inspired works of Boccaccio and Brown, we will study various, often conflicting, versions of "Dante" in literature, art, film, politics, history, and popular culture. After establishing a foundation for Dante's influence by discussing his political treatise (Monarchia) and selected cantos of his Commedia (most from Inferno), we will embark on an interpretive journey tracing Dante's evolution from a regional to a national (then nationalist) figure before he attained the global status he enjoys today. Giuseppe Mazzini famously called Dante—Ugo Foscolo's "Ghibelline fugitive"—the "Prophet of the Italian Nation": we will accordingly examine appeals to Dante's authority in promoting the liberation and unification of Italy, but we will also consider his role as a beacon of liberty in the United States. Among other areas of inquiry, we will discuss Catholic interpretations of Dante as a neo-Guelph advocate of papal political power, nationalist appropriations of the poet for territorial expansion and military interventions, and recent representations of Dante as an icon of Italian culture on the world stage.

Touchstone texts in our tour of Dante's legacy across time, space, discipline, and culture will include: writings by Boccaccio, Alfieri, Foscolo, Mazzini, Byron, Leopardi, Carducci, Cordelia Ray, Longfellow, D'Annunzio, Marinetti, T. S. Eliot, Samuel Beckett, Primo Levi, Matthew Pearl, Dan Brown, and others; artwork by Botticelli, Blake, Flaxman, Doré, and Suloni Robertson; and films (and clips) by Francesco Bertolini (1911), Harry Lachman (1935), Peter Greenaway and Raúl Ruiz (1989), Woody Allen (1997), Vincent Ward (1998), Sandow Birk (2008), and Michael Patrick King (2008).     

Required Texts (at COOP): Dante, Inferno (Garzanti, 2008) and Monarchy (Cambridge, 1996)

OptionalThe Complete Danteworlds: A Reader's Guide to the Divine Comedy (Chicago, 2009)

[Other sources and critical works will be posted on Canvas.]

Assignments and Computation of Grade

Classwork and participation (including weekly Discussion Forum entries on Canvas): 20%

Short essay (750-1000 words) on a creative work studied this semester in relation to Dante: 15%

Discussion leader for a lesson on creative and critical works for your research paper: 15%

Research paper of 10-15 pages (2500-3750 words) with full documentation: 50%

Danteworlds Web site ( In addition to entries, audio recordings, and study questions, this Web site contains numerous images from works by Sandro Botticelli, John Flaxman, William Blake, Gustave Dorè, and Suloni Robertson (a UT graduate).

Sources for Videos and Images

Canvas contains links to the following streaming videos: 1911 silent Inferno (set to music by Tangerine Dream), Harry Lachman's Dante's Inferno (1935), the 2008 Puppet Inferno based on the artwork of Sandow Birk, and A TV Dante (1989): Cantos 1 and 5 by Peter Greenaway, and Cantos 9-14 by Raúl Ruiz. In addition to containing entries with abridged commentary from The Complete Danteworlds, the Danteworlds Web site (DW: hosts galleries of artistic images (Botticelli, Vellutello commentary, Blake, Flaxman, Doré, Robertson) that you should consult as part of your preparation for the assigned Inferno cantos. I also encourage you to visit the "Dante Today" Web site for modern Dante sightings / citings as we proceed through the Inferno. Over 1000 images from Cornell University's Divine Comedy Image Archive are available on Shared Shelf Commons (, an open-access image library. For links to other on-line collections of Dante images, see the "World of Dante" Web site:

Other Dante Web Sites

Dante Today (Dante in contemporary culture):

Dartmouth Dante Project (commentaries on the Divine Comedy):

Digital Dante (Columbia University):

World of Dante (University of Virginia):

Princeton Dante Project:

Dante On-Line (Società Dantesca Italiana):

Course Objectives

1) Mastery of the course content through intensive study of a wide range of creative responses to Dante and his work. From Boccaccio to Benigni, Botticelli to Blake, Byron to Birk, Beckett to Brown (to list just the B's), we will look critically at Dante-inspired and Dante-related works across time, space, media, genres, disciplines, and cultural registers.

2) Systematic, targeted attention to research, writing, and oral communication skills to produce scholarly work fit for presentation at an academic conference and, with reasonable revision, for inclusion in a dissertation or for publication in a reputable venue.

3) To advance the reciprocity of scholarly and teaching excellence, we will explore pedagogical strategies and digital humanities projects to inform a potential undergraduate course on Dante's cultural legacy with knowledge of the material studied and researched this semester.  

MDV 392M • Premodern Race

41080 • Heng, Geraldine
Meets M 6:00PM-9:00PM CAL 419
(also listed as C L 382, E 392M)
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It’s an old theoretical canard that race and discourses on race existed in the West only from the Enlightenment onward: that premodern European culture was pre-racial, because its operative prioritizing discourse was founded on religion, and not biological-scientific taxonomic systems of bodily difference, despite the evidence, in medieval culture and history, of institutions and phenomena that we would today identify as racial, were they to recur. 

This seminar will ask what is lost or gained by tracing discourses on race backward in time.  Beginning with a selection of texts from antiquity, we consider a range of medieval texts to ask what racial thinking, racial phenomena, racial institutions, and racial practices are, in their historically-contextualized relations to the following (not listed in order of priority or procedure): (1) war, conquest, colonization and empire-formation; (2) theories of blood, reproduction, and genealogy; (3) religion, canon law, and church apparatuses; (4) the body and physiognomy (color, biology, etc); (5) sex and gender; (6) slavery, occupations, and economic systems; (7) nation-formation, “nationalisms”, state apparatuses; (8) disciplinary systems of knowledge-power (climatology, geography, ethnography, etc).  We will end by student-led critical readings of 3 Shakespearean plays: Titus Andronicus, Merchant of Venice, and Othello

Medieval materials include romances, travel literature, historical documents, manuscript drawings, saints' legends, maps, statuary, and whatever else may be useful.  For critical comparison, we will also read two Arabic original documents in translation, in which race is featured.  Concomitantly, we will read a selection of theoretical writing on race by scholars working with postmedieval periods, to test definitions against earlier texts and documents, to see how established theories of race might be revised, augmented, or replaced. Classicists and early modern studies students in the seminar can contribute substantially to take their period out of parentheses. 

Requirements: This course runs like a research seminar: students working in any period, discipline, or culture are welcome.  Previous knowledge of the European Middle Ages or languages other than English is not required, but non-medievalists are expected to thicken their understanding of the Middle Ages in a serious and aggregative way, and medievalists are expected to engage with critical and theoretical texts we read with the same degree of attentiveness and commitment they afford medieval texts. Though not required for seminar discussion, possession of other languages, European and non-European, medieval and modern, is an advantage for research and writing.  Medievalists who can read our texts in their original languages (Middle High German, Latin, Franco-Italian, Middle Dutch, etc) should do this.  Other requirements: 2 seminar presentations and a term paper for a letter grade; presentations only for pass/fail.

Sample texts (suggestive, subject to change, open to negotiation): “Airs, Waters, Places,” Herodotus’ Histories (selections), Vinland Sagas, Parzival, Moriaen, Al-Jahiz, The Book of the Glory of the Black Race, Ibn Battuta’s travels in West Africa, John of Plano Carpini’s Ystoria Mongalorum, William of Rubruck’s Itinerarium, Chaucer’s Prioress's Tale and Man of Law's Tale; Marian miracle tales from the Vernon manuscript; King of Tars, Richard Coer de Lyon, Marco Polo’s Il Milione, Mandeville’s Travels, Titus Andronicus, Othello, Merchant of Venice; a small selection of theoretical and critical readings.

MDV 392M • Reading Arabic Literature

41081 • Noy, Avigail
Meets TH 3:30PM-6:30PM CAL 422
(also listed as C L 386, MES 386)
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This course introduces students to the canons of Arabic literature through readings in translation. Texts range from pre-Islamic poetry in the 6th century to novels in the 20th century, and include the Qur’an, Maqamat, Islamic court literature known as adab, literary criticism, philosophical literature, early modern love poetry, European genres in the modern era, and more. We will discuss to what degree the term “canon” applies to these texts and will consider how the work of early modern orientalists and Islamic revivalists influenced our perception of the canon(s). We will also explore the persistence of certain literary forms, especially classical Arabic poetry, up until the 21st century, with reality shows coming out of the Arab world like “Prince of Poets.” The question of translation will be considered throughout. No knowledge of Arabic or Islam needed.

Weekly readings, attendance & participation: 40%

Presentation(s): 10%

Research paper: 50%