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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of History, Classics and Archaeology : History

Undergraduate Course: Dante's Inferno: medieval society, sin and eternal damnation (HIST10396)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of History, Classics and Archaeology CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryDante's imaginative and action-packed vision of the afterlife is a timeless and vastly influential discussion of the meaning and purpose of human existence encompassing a variety of social, political, religious, ethical and intellectual issues. This course focuses on the most famous and dramatic section of his Divine Comedy, that is, Dante's journey through the nightmarish nine circles of Hell. The Inferno explores the nature and effects of mortal sin and evil by portraying a gallery of tragically flawed characters along with the never-ending punishment to which they are subjected in terrifying settings and under the watch of devils and mythological monsters.
Course description The Divine Comedy has been described as a compendium of medieval culture, but it is also one of its most long-term influential works. While death and ideas on afterlife were at the centre of life in the Middle Ages, Dante's Divine Comedy is not only the most complex and articulated narrative about the afterlife, the high learned and popular sides of the Christian community. At the same time, the Divine Comedy has been exerting a profound influence to this day over authors, thinkers and artists. Of the three sections of the Divine Comedy, that is, Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise, the first has always been overwhelmingly favoured since it is very dramatic and due to its gallery of complex, flawed and colourful inhabitants. Dante's journey through Hell amounts to an historical archive of evils ordered according to type and severity as reflected in their settings and punishments. Yet those evils are embodied by historical and mythological individuals and by the far from clear-cut stories which they recount about their deaths. The programme closely reflects the structure of Dante's Inferno: after an introductory session providing guidance and outlining Dante's biography, each seminar explores one of nine circles of Hell (which in turn represent different categories of sinners and the gradual increase of their wickedness), focusing on the reading, discussion and contextualisation of one or more of their cantos, while the last seminar explores the legacy of the work by focusing on the English speaking world.

o Introduction: Dante's life and how to read the Divine Comedy

o The threshold of Hell and the 1st circle (Limbo): the uncommitted on the banks of the River Acheron, the unbaptised and the castle of the virtuous pagans

o 2nd circle, Lust: the winds of lust and the tragedy of Paolo and Francesca

o 3rd circle, Gluttony: the watch of the 'Great Worm' Cerberus and the slush of the gluttons

o 4th circle, Greed: the watch of Plutus, the joust of the stone-bearing damned, and the role of fortune

o 5th circle, Anger: the fight of the wrathful on the surface of the Stygian Marsh

o 6th circle, Heresy: the flaming tombs of heretics and unbelievers

o 7th circle, Violence: the watch of the Minotaur and its three rings

o 8th circle, Fraud: the cliff of the winged monster Geryon

o 9th circle, Treachery: the watch of the giants and Satan's icy prison

o The legacy of Dante's inferno
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Students MUST NOT also be taking Damnation and redemption in the medieval world: a journey through Dante's Inferno and Purgatorio (HIST10403)
Other requirements A pass or passes in 40 credits of first level historical courses or equivalent and a pass or passes in 40 credits of second level historical courses or equivalent.
Before enrolling students on this course, Personal Tutors are asked to contact the History Honours Admission Administrator to ensure that a place is available (Tel: 5037680.)
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students should have at least 3 History courses at grade B or above (or be predicted to obtain this). We will only consider University/College level courses. Applicants should note that, as with other popular courses, meeting the minimum does NOT guarantee admission.

** as numbers are limited, visiting students should contact the Visiting Student Office directly for admission to this course **
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate, by way of essay, oral presentations and examination, awareness of key aspects of the medieval world and Dante's life and work, of the methodological approaches used by historians, and an ability to analyse selected primary source material.
  2. Demonstrate independent gathering and critical consideration of relevant evidence; independent management of personal timetable and workload; ability to express ideas in a coherent and cogent fashion; and write cogently and persuasively.
Reading List
The text and commentary of the Divine Comedy is available online in the Princeton Dante Project:
P. Hainsworth and D. Robey, Dante: a very short introduction (Oxford, 2015).
R. Swanson, Religion and devotion in Europe, 1215-1515 (Cambridge, 1995).
R. Jacoff (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Dante (Cambridge, 2007), ebook.
R. Lansing (ed.), The Dante Encyclopedia (Garland, 2000).
J. R. Woodhouse, Dante and governance (Oxford, 1997) ebook.
P. Boyde, Human vices and human worth in Dante's Comedy (Cambridge, 2006).
A. Morgan, Dante and the medieval other world (Cambridge, 1990).
N. R. Havely, Dante's British public readers and texts, from the fourteenth century to the present (Oxford, 2014) ebook.
H. Bloom, The western canon: the books and school of the ages (London, 1995).
The Cambridge history of Christianity, volume 4: Christianity in Western Europe, c. 1100-1500 (Cambridge, 2010), ebook.
The Central Middle Ages: 950-1320, ed. D. Power (Oxford, 2006).
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Demonstrate independent gathering and critical consideration of relevant evidence; independent management of personal timetable and workload; ability to express ideas in a coherent and cogent fashion; and write cogently and persuasively.
Course organiserDr Gianluca Raccagni
Course secretaryMiss Claire Brown
Tel: (0131 6)50 3582
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