Dante, Florence, Italy: Then and Now

Christopher Kleinhenz
From UW Showcase Lecture April 2014

In 2021 we will mark the seven-hundredth anniversary of Dante’s death, and it would appear that, even after seven centuries, his masterpiece, the Divine Comedy, will continue to be the focus of academic discussions and research and to exert its hold on the popular imagination in films, novels, and computer games that draw their inspiration from it. This presentation will briefly examine the historical, socio-political, literary and artistic contexts in which Dante lived and wrote and will, moreover, investigate the many reasons for his and his poem’s initial and continuing importance in Western civilization. It will seek answers to a number of questions, among which the following: Who was Dante Alighieri and why did he write the Comedy? Why should his poem have had such great and enduring success? How and why are Dante and the Comedy still relevant in the modern world? In the course of the richly illustrated presentation we will be considering many examples of Dante’s influence on literary, artistic and popular cultures over the centuries, with special attention to his impact on contemporary society.

Christopher Kleinhenz is the Carol Mason Kirk Professor Emeritus of Italian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where, from 1968 to 2007, he taught courses on medieval Italian literature, manuscript studies, and the interrelationship of art and literature in Italy. He also served as Director of the Medieval Studies Program for many years and as Director of the L&S Honors Program. Among his numerous publications are The Early Italian Sonnet (1986) and Medieval Italy: An Encyclopedia (2004). He served as President of the American Association of Teachers of Italian, the American Boccaccio Association, and the Medieval Association of the Midwest, and as Editor of Dante Studies. A Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America, he has received the Fiorino d’oro from the Società Dantesca Italiana, the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, the CARA Award for Outstanding Service to Medieval Studies, the AATI Distinguished Service Award, and the ADFL Award for Distinguished Service in the Profession.