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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.


Double Vendetta: how academic research exposed mafia workings

By Lara J Carim, on 13 January 2012

The Italian authorities officially recognised the existence of the mafia as a single unified criminal organisation in 1992. This was in spite of evidence brought to their attention more than 100 years previously exposing the secretive, bloody ritual undergone by all new ‘men of honour’ – evidence that had lain neglected in Sicilian archives until Professor John Dickie (UCL Italian) unearthed them in research that grew into his latest book, Blood Brotherhoods (Sceptre 2011).

On 10 January, Professor Dickie held the packed audience of the Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre spellbound with the tale of the dogged yet doomed Inspector Sangiorgi, in a dramatic inaugural professorial lecture that more resembled a one-man show.

Giovanni Falcone – an investigating magistrate from Palermo – became a national hero in Italy when he was killed by a car bomb weeks after bringing several hundred members of the mafia to trial in 1987 – a trial that forced the authorities to admit that the Sicilian mafia was a “freemasonry of murderers”, in Professor Dickie’s words, rather than disparate criminal gangs. The trial pivoted on the detailed description Tommaso Buscetta – a mafioso turncoat – gave in the dock of the initiation ritual he had undergone.


The origins of the ‘ndrangheta of Calabria: Italy’s most powerful mafia

By Carly Schnabl, on 14 March 2011

Although not as famous worldwide as the Sicilian Cosa Nostra or the Neapolitan Camorra, the Calabrian mafia is believed to be Italy’s richest and most powerful organised crime syndicate.

Patrick Mcgauley, MPhil student in UCL Italian, reports on Professor John Dickie’s exploration of the historical origins of the ‘ndrangheta in his lunchtime lecture on 1st March at UCL.