Humanities West Presents Dante’s Divine and Comic 700th Anniversary

With Cranna, Galvez & Hampton

Many nations have a national poet, whose poetry helps carve out their own unique cultural niche in human civilization. Italy has enjoyed many literary geniuses for over two millennia, but still looks to one man the most: Dante. Like major poets in other cultures, Dante’s influence on the Italian language can hardly be overstated. The Divine Comedy was the first major work of literature to leave Latin behind in favor of Italian, and it remains the world standard of poetic excellence. Dante’s fertile imagination also inspired artists, writers and theologians, making him almost as influential about the afterlife as he is linguistically.

Join Humanities West in person at The Commonwealth Club, or via livestream, to celebrate the 700th Anniversary of Dante’s death—which ironically occurred not that many months after he completed his speculations about post-death possibilities—with a two-hour, three-lecture Dante feast:

  • Timothy Hampton on “Dante After Dante: the Forms of Memory.” Though there were many “in the know” about the achievement of Dante’s great poem during his lifetime, his vast influence on Italian poetry and world literature was uneven in the centuries following his death. In some areas of artistic creation—for example, in the painting of Botticelli—Dante was powerfully present. In other areas (poetry, philosophy, literary criticism) his influence was definite, but diffuse and oblique. This lecture will speak about the ways in which Dante’s work did and didn’t shape Italian and European culture in the early modern period.
  • Kip Cranna on “Dante at the Opera: From the Divine Comedy to a Comic Puccini Delight.” In “The Inferno,” part one of The Divine Comedy, Dante introduces the condemned sinner Gianni Schicchi, consigned to the Eighth Circle of Hell along with others guilty of fraud. His crime: impersonating the deceased Buoso Donati to falsify Buoso’s will for his own benefit. Dante personally knew the Donatis (he was married to one), and therein lies an intriguing tale of medieval Florentine society. The story of this fraudulent will and the legend surrounding it became the inspiration for the famed composer Giacomo Puccini’s only comic opera. After outlining the Dante-Puccini connection, San Francisco Opera’s Dramaturg Emeritus Kip Cranna will present brief video highlights from the opera Gianni Schicchi, including the ever-popular aria “O mio babbino caro.”
  • Marisa Galvez on “Dante Before Dante Become Dante.” In retrospect it almost seems like Dante invented Italian literary culture, but he arrived on the Italian literary scene as a love poet—an admirer of courtly love and the troubadour traditions which had begun a century earlier in Occitania, and had spread to Italy, Spain and then most of Europe. Dante defined the troubadour lyrics as rhetorical, musical and poetical fiction — which is also a good description of The Divine Comedy.