Religion, sex, food and money… 700 years ago

Friday 12 March 2010

Infidelity, eating disorders and financial irresponsibility: hot topics today, but nothing new, according to scholars of the 14th century poet Dante.

Today (Friday 12 March 2010), international scholars of Dante’s Divine Comedy will gather in St Andrews to take part in a unique celebration of this central yet deeply controversial work of European literature. Conflicting religions and ideologies, sexual indiscretions and infidelity, eating disorders, obesity, financial irresponsibility and greed are just some of the issues addressed by Dante 700 years ago.

The event, part of a six-year series of lectures, is organised by Drs Robert Wilson and Claudia Rossignoli of the Department of Italian at the University of St Andrews.  Dr Wilson commented, “In the fourteenth century these aspects of human behaviour were described in different terms: paganism, lust, gluttony, avarice, profligacy. The language may be different, but the realities remain.”

The topical subjects, central to some of the most famous cantos of Inferno, will be read aloud by scholars as part of an ambitious six-year long series of readings of the 100 cantos of Dante’s Divine Comedy.  The unique event sees the most eminent Dante scholars in the world retrace the writer’s footsteps through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise.

Thought to be the first of its kind undertaken in this country, the series follows the tradition of readings of Dante – ‘Lectura Dantis’ – that date back to 1373. In Santo Stefano di Badia in Florence. It was there that Giovanni Boccaccio began his series of public lectures on the Comedy of Dante Alighieri, or ‘Il Dante’ as it was then known.

This very first public ‘course’ on Dante was launched in response to a petition by some Florentine citizens for public lectures on the poem.  Boccaccio was paid a year’s salary of 100 gold florins to carry out the lecture series, but sadly he became ill and died after reaching just the seventeenth canto.

One of the driving principles of the Lectura dantis (which literally means ‘reading of Dante’) was to make Dante’s poem available to a wider public, and the lectures were specifically for ‘anyone who wanted to hear them’. The lectures were attended by people of mixed social classes and education, prompting criticism from some quarters that Boccaccio was popularising Dante’s poem.

The St Andrews Lectura series, the ‘Lectura Dantis Andreapolitana’, launched last October to bring Dante to the wider public, also aims to shed new light on his most famous work through the interpretation of today’s leading scholars.

Dr Wilson continued, “This second meeting takes us through some of the best known cantos in the poem, and we meet some of the most famous characters such as Francesca da Rimini among the lustful, and the glutton Ciacco. We also have the unique opportunity to listen to some of the most interesting and innovative Dante scholars in the world right here in St Andrews.”

The Lectura Dantis Andreapolitana continues with readings by Professor Corinna Salvadori (Trinity College Dublin), Professor Lino Pertile (Harvard University), Dr Elena Lombardi (Bristol) and Dr Matthew Treherne (Leeds), introduced by Dr Robert Wilson (St Andrews) at Parliament Hall, 9.30am-6pm, Friday 12 March 2010.  The meeting is open to the public.  For further information and the full programme visit



DR WILSON IS AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEW ON 01334 463 645, OR EMAIL [email protected]

Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews

Contact Gayle Cook, Senior Communications Manager on 01334 467227 / 462529, mobile 07900 050 103, or email [email protected]

Ref:  Dantes Inferno continues 110310

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