Fifteen hours of the Divine Comedy

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Dr. Andrew Osborn reads the "Paradiso" from Dante's "Divine Comedy" in the Art History Auditorium. Photo by Hannah Green.

On the second Monday after winter break, when students were back to being fully submerged in the intensive University of Dallas curriculum, a portion of the student body attended a five hour reading, from 7 p.m. to 12 a.m., of Dante’s “Inferno”  — a required reading of the Lit Trad II Core class.

The advertisement for this event, or rather the trio of events, was backgrounded with a scene from the “Divine Comedy,” and the three dates for the “Inferno,” the “Purgatorio,” and the “Paradiso,” were set for Jan. 28, Feb. 11 and Feb. 25, respectively.  Each reading coincided with the timeline in which the Lit Trad classes were reading these works, and each installment of Allen Mandelbaum’s translation of Dante’s most famous work required an approximately five-hour reading.

“Sounds like a fun time and good use of your Monday night,” said no one.

Yet, those who made it to the Art Auditorium that Monday night were captivated and delighted — or rather disgusted, as the “Inferno” seems to warrant — with the volunteers who read at this event and their ability to captivate listeners with the rhythmic lines of the poem. The text was projected on the screen, with the original Italian and the Mandelbaum translation side by side, as well as intermittent slides of depictions of the famous work, both in color and black and white, pen and oil canvas. The graphic depictions on the screen, as well as the lines of the poem, made for an immersive experience of the  “Inferno.”

Dr. Kathryn Davis and Dr. Andrew Osborn, both English professors at UD, planned this event for the students and faculty alike to dive into Dante’s “Divine Comedy” in an enthralling experience.

“Dante wanted it to be read aloud and to be voiced,” Davis said.

As Davis recounts, Osborn approached her about helping him plan it over winter break and thus begun the “crap work,” as Dr. Osborn put it, of the event planning.

In UD’s recent past, Braniff graduate students have put on two similar events, one with Homer’s “Iliad,” and the other with the same work, the “Divine Comedy,” but that was years ago, according to Davis.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve heard it publically read on our campus, and we really would love to hear it out loud,” Davis said.

They received a “generous outpouring,” as Davis put it, of people willing to help in the actual reading of the poem, from both the English and Italian departments, colleagues, the Cistercians, students taking Davis’ Dante course and even people stretching beyond these programs and departments.

Osborn, after having been deprived of teaching Dante for some time, and through whom this event originated and came to fruition, said he wanted people who would practice the reading beforehand. That way, the readers would accurately pronounce the various Latin phrases and other peculiarities of the poem, so that the audience would be able to hear the flow and rhythm of Dante’s words. He says he is recording each reading to be a resource to students in the future, and that the audio recording will probably be available via the UD website, although nothing is set in stone.

According to Davis, Osborn ensured that snacks would be available outside the auditorium for every night of the event, provided by the Academic Success office, the English Department and the Italian Department.

For the “Purgatorio” and the “Paradiso,” there weren’t projected depictions of the poem, only the English Mandelbaum translation text and the beautiful fluid voices of those Dante veterans who volunteered to read.

“Dante wants the poem to work on us; he has something in mind that he wants us to see and understand, and that can best be seen and understood when it’s both read and heard,” Davis said. “He designed it so that it could be heard, and coming out to listen is a great way to [get] what he wanted us to experience through the poem.”

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