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

Undergraduate Course: Damnation and redemption in the medieval world: a journey through Dante's Inferno and Purgatorio (HIST10403)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of History, Classics and Archaeology CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits40 ECTS Credits20
SummaryThe vision of the afterlife in Dante's Divine Comedy is an incredibly vivid, complex, timeless and vastly influential discussion of the meaning and purpose of human existence, encompassing politics, religion, emotions, society, along with intellectual and ethical ambitions. This course explores two of its realms, Inferno and Purgatorio, and the medieval world that inspired them. They respectively deal with eternal damnation and redemptive penitence by portraying Dante's encounters with a gallery of tragically flawed historical and mythological characters from the distant and recent past, who undergo diverse punishments for their sins in highly imaginative settings.
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 point of an age-old tradition, but it also addresses both the 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 two have always been overwhelmingly favoured because they are very dramatic and their gallery of complex, flawed and colourful inhabitants. Dante's journey through Hell and Purgatory amounts to an historical archive of evils and sins 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 and Purgatory, which are explored in the first and second semester respectively: after an introductory session providing guidance, each seminar explores one section of those two realms of the afterlife (which in turn represent different categories of sinners). Each seminar will include the reading, discussion and contextualisation of one or more of their cantos. The last seminar of each semester will explore the legacy of Dante's work.


Semester 1: Inferno

1. Introduction: Dante, the Divine Comedy and the threshold of Hell
2. 1st circle: Limbo
3. 2nd circle: Lust
4. 3rd circle: Gluttony
5. 4th circle: Greed
6. 5th circle: Anger
7. 6th circle: Heresy
8. 7th circle: Violence
9. 8th circle: Fraud
10. 9th circle: Treachery
11. The legacy of Dante's inferno

Semester 2: Purgatorio
12. Ante-Purgatory: The beach of Mount Purgatory
13. Ante-Purgatory 2: Negligence and last minute repentance
14. Terrace 1: Pride
15. Terrace 2: Envy
16. Terrace 3: Anger
17. Terrace 4: Sloth
18. Terrace 5: Avarice
19. Terrace 6: Gluttony
20. Terrace 7: Lust
21. The Garden of Earthly Paradise
22. The legacy of Dante's Purgatorio
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Students MUST NOT also be taking Dante's Inferno: medieval society, sin and eternal damnation (HIST10396)
Other requirements None
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate, by way of coursework and examination as required, command of the body of knowledge considered in the course
  2. Demonstrate, by way of coursework and examination as required, an ability to read, analyse and reflect critically upon relevant scholarship
  3. Demonstrate, by way of coursework and examination as required, an ability to understand, evaluate and utilize a variety of primary source material
  4. Demonstrate, by way of coursework and examination as required, the ability to develop and sustain scholarly arguments in oral and written form, by formulating appropriate questions and utilizing evidence
  5. Demonstrate independence of mind and initiative, intellectual integrity and maturity, an ability to evaluate the work of others, including peers.
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 ability to draw valid conclusions about the past
ability to identify, define and analyse historical problems
ability to select and apply a variety of critical approaches to problems informed by uneven evidence
ability to exercise critical judgement in creating new understanding
ability to extract key elements from complex information
readiness and capacity to ask key questions and exercise rational enquiry
ability critically to assess existing understanding and the limitations of knowledge and recognition of the need regularly to challenge/test knowledge
ability to search for, evaluate and use information to develop knowledge and understanding
possession of an informed respect for the principles, methods, standards, values and boundaries of the discipline(s), as well as the capacity to question these
recognition of the importance of reflecting on one's learning experiences and being aware of one's own particular learning style
openness to new ideas, methods and ways of thinking
ability to identify processes and strategies for learning
independence as a learner, with readiness to take responsibility for one's own learning, and commitment to continuous reflection, self-evaluation and self-improvement
ability to make decisions on the basis of rigorous and independent thought.
ability to test, modify and strengthen one's own views through collaboration and debate
intellectual curiosity
ability to sustain intellectual interest
ability to make effective use of oral, written and visual means convey understanding of historical issues and one's interpretation of them.
ability to marshal argument lucidly and coherently
ability to collaborate and to relate to others
readiness to seek and value open feedback to inform genuine self-awareness
ability to articulate one's skills as identified through self-reflection
ability to approach historical problems with academic rigour
ability to manage and meet firm deadlines
flexible, adaptable and proactive responsiveness to changing surroundings
possession of the confidence to make decisions based on one's understanding and personal/intellectual autonomy
ability to transfer knowledge, learning, skills and abilities flexibly from one context to another
ability to work effectively with others, capitalising on diversities of thinking, experience and skills
working with, managing, and leading others in ways that value their diversity and equality and that encourage their contribution
Course organiserDr Gianluca Raccagni
Course secretaryMiss Katherine Perry
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