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UCL events news and reviews


An appointment with Dante

By uclzean, on 30 May 2014

Dante, by Sandro Botticelli

Dante, by Sandro Botticelli

Into the spirals of UCL Roberts building I descended. My second UCL Festival of the Arts event was an hour of getting to grips with 13th century epic-supremo – il sommo PoetaDante Alighieri.

Professor John Took’s (UCL School of European Languages Culture and Society) profound love and passion for this subject seeped through this hour-long seminar. He must have drawn breath on all of one occasion as he delivered a great river of speech on the man he considers to be the ‘world’s greatest love poet’.

There’s nothing effete about Commedia – the Divina was added later by Dantian disciple and fellow wordsmith Bocaccio. Hell-like apparitions abound. The Roman poet Virgil leads Dante from the dark wood through the layers of the Inferno, through to Purgatorio and Paradiso. Most of all, Took says ‘enjoy the story, my goodness is he a yarn spinner’.


To Hell and back over lunch: an introduction to Dante

By Lara J Carim, on 16 May 2013

The Vision of Hell viii, iII. Gustave Doré
(UCL Library Special Collections)

Severed heads, rivers of blood and pools of faeces might not seem the most appealing topics over lunchtime, but there was standing room only at Professor John Took’s talk at the UCL Festival of the Arts on 14 May about Dante’s Divine Comedy – one of the most horrifying, yet uplifting, poems ever written in western literature.

In the words of Professor Took (UCL Italian), Dante’s Commedia (Comedy) – which charts one lost soul’s metaphorical journey to Hell, Purgatory, Heaven and back in several thousand lines of rhyming poetry – is “a work of tremendous stature, which lays hold of you by the throat and won’t let you go”.

A note for the pedants: the Divina (Divine) prefix, by which the poem is better known, was added by the Church during the Counter-Reformation in an attempt to co-opt the work – which already tells you something about the poet’s representation of the Papacy.


At the gates of heaven: a beginner’s guide to Dante’s Paradiso

By Lara J Carim, on 7 February 2013

Only be prepared to be dragged through hell by someone you trust to lead you through purgatory to heaven.

This timeless life lesson was expressed by Abi Warburg, founder of the Warburg Institute, nearly 120 years ago in a letter to a friend, which unfavourably compared a literary sensation of the day to Dante’s Divine Comedy.

The Divine Comedy – the 14th-century Italian epic charting the author’s mid-life crisis and subsequent enlightenment via a dramatic journey to hell and heaven – has been the subject of a pretty epic series of seminars, running from October 2012 to March 2013.

The Vision of Hell viii, iII. Gustave Doré (UCL Library Special Collections)

The Vision of Hell viii, iII. Gustave Doré

UCL Italian’s Professor John Took, Dr Alessandro Scafi (Warburg Institute) and Tabitha Tuckett from UCL Special Collections have been guiding Dante novices and specialists alike on a multi-sensory whistlestop tour of the great poem for the past four months.

This has involved scene-setting introductions, advice on key elements to listen out for and readings – in Italian and English – of selected pivotal cantos (verses) – all complemented by a changing display from UCL’s outstanding Dante Collection, dating back to the 15th century.