Dante scholar visits UD, sheds light on ‘Paradiso’


Linda Smith
Assistant News Editor

Princeton Professor Emeritus, Dr. Robert Hollander, presented a lecture Wednesday evening on Dante Alighieri’s Paradiso, the third and final canticle of The Divine Comedy.

As Dr. Gregory Roper introduced the guest speaker, he told how he “overheard a story about [the speaker] being asked to leave by a silly department head. I am sure they have regretted that many times over,” to which the Professor Emeritus of European Literature at Princeton, Dr. Robert Hollander, laughingly replied, “I don’t think so.”

Hollander made a guest appearance at the University of Dallas the week of March 12-16, giving a lecture Wednesday evening at 7 p.m., in which he explained aspects of the prologue to Dante’s “Paradiso,” the third and final canticle of The Divine Comedy.

Hollander began by breaking down the three books of the Comedy, positing that the “Paradiso” is not a finished work and has inconsistencies, not to mention that it is also the most difficult for beginning Dante readers. With a room full of freshmen in agreement with his latter point, he went on to focus on a few sections of the beginning of the “Paradiso,” explaining first the difficulty and finally resolving the issue at hand. For example, Hollander stated that Dante takes so many risky chances in the work because of St. Thomas Aquinas, who once said, “Poets are liars. Poetry is a science, but it is the lowest science.” (Dante’s ultimate response is to give him the second-most number of lines in the “Paradiso,” besides Cacciaguida.)

He also gave much insight into Dante himself, who at many times in the poem seems humble but shows his seething pride and self-confidence in other parts of the work. Hollander noted during the lecture that he even felt that Dante was sitting in the front of Gorman A, looking at the audience but listening to Hollander, looking to explain himself on several points Hollander put forth.

In a separate interview, Hollander explained that he and his wife have been coming to UD for six or seven years and that the Core has a “shaping influence” that “provides a sense of community” amongst students.

“Once again, it’s wonderful to be here and be involved in the Core,” Hollander said. “I can’t tell you how excited I was the first time when I saw what you were doing here and that it worked; nothing has changed.”

Hollander, who has been on permanent leave from Princeton since 2003, was instrumental in three major Dante projects (including one at Princeton) and the establishment of a mandatory great books course at Columbia.

Although Hollander remarked during his Wednesday lecture that “anyone can be a Dante scholar and frequently is,” and stated in the interview that if he had known that the bibliography for Dante consisted of over 50,000 works, “[he] never would have done it,” his enthusiasm shows in his contributions to these extensive projects and his constant cheerful nature and easy-going approach to enlightening students about Dante.

As Hollander told the audience that he hates lectures and would understand if we left before he opened for questions, I imagined him sincerely wanting to get back to Dante Alighieri, his constant companion and poetic muse.


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