Dante’s Comedy: Inferno

In this discussion-based course, taught at Syracuse University, we engage in an intensive reading of Inferno – the first canticle of Dante’s influential masterpiece, the Comedy, which depicts the author’s journey towards his own (and his readers’) salvation. The work has fascinated readers for over 700 years, in part because of tensions built into its architecture: written for an Everyman and at the same time intensely personal, it depicts a terrifying system of punishment in Hell, yet a universe in which God is love. While the poem is a synthesis of diverse literary, philosophical, scientific and theological traditions ranging from classical antiquity until the author’s day, it was also a radical experiment that pushed the limits of Christian doctrine and aimed to shake the foundations of the literary traditions on which it claimed to stand. By investigating the way in which the poem constructs its world, readers may begin to discover both the powers and the limitations of their knowledge. Can we begin to understand medieval culture through the lens of this monumental work, or does the poem show us the limits of our understanding? Can we identify with Dante’s Everyman, and appreciate the poet’s genius, at the same time that we may criticize some of his positions? Discussion in Italian – Readings in Italian and English.

Blood: A Cultural History

I developed this course and taught it for the first time in the spring of 2016 at the University of Notre Dame.

The course explores blood’s significance in various genres and mediums from Ancient Greece to the present day – from classical Latin epics to vampire films, medieval Christian iconography to modern poetry, medical treatise to popular song. We discuss how blood’s meanings often seem contradictory. Blood signifies violence and vitality. Blood has been used to marginalize or persecute individuals or groups (women, Jews, immigrants, the poor, people suffering from disease), but images of Christ’s blood are also important inclusive symbols in Catholic theology and practice. These tensions, however, are partly what make blood’s implications so powerful. As blood lies at the intersection of many disciplines (art history, literature, theology, philosophy, medicine), the course is vigorously interdisciplinary.

Passage to Italy

This course was originally developed by members of the Notre Dame Italian Studies faculty, and I adapted it for my own section taught in the fall semesters of 2016 and 2017.

The course provides an introduction to the analysis of the major forms of Italian culture: literary works in various genres (poetry, memoir, novels, novellas, fables, etc.), as well as other artistic forms (film, art, architecture, theatre, opera and popular music). Instead of providing an exhaustive survey of Italian works of art and literature, the course samples key works from a variety of time periods, and seeks to understand these works within their cultural and historical context. Alongside our analysis of these major texts, we undertake a comprehensive review of Italian grammar and language, four semesters of which students have completed at this point. Homework assignments provide the opportunity to perfect your command of Italian through your own effort and practice with the textbook. Classtime provides the opportunity to develop command of the language through discussion and through follow-up questions from the homework. This course aims to provide students the tools to make their own passage into the rich, intriguing and complex world of Italian history and culture.