Medieval Studies

Guy P Raffa

Associate ProfessorPh.D., Indiana University


  • Phone: 512-232-5492
  • Office: HRH 3.104A
  • Office Hours: TTH 10-11, W 11-12
  • Campus Mail Code: B7600


Dante Studies, medieval Italian literature and culture, digital humanities, history and philosophy of science, Italo Calvino and Umberto Eco


Guy Raffa has taught at the University of Texas at Austin since 1991. He holds a B.S. in mathematics and computer science from Duke University and a Ph.D. in Italian Literature from Indiana University. His primary scholarly field is medieval Italian literature--Dante above all--with a secondary interest in modern Italian authors, particularly Italo Calvino and Umberto Eco. In addition to articles, book-essays, and reviews, he has published three books: Divine Dialectic: Dante's Incarnational Poetry (Toronto, 2000), Danteworlds: A Reader's Guide to the "Inferno" (Chicago, 2007), and The Complete Danteworlds: A Reader's Guide to the "Divine Comedy" (Chicago, 2009). He won a gold award for innovative instructional technology with his Danteworlds Web site and has received a number of other awards and fellowships, including a President's Associates Teaching Excellence Award and a Raymond Dickson Centennial Endowed Teaching Fellowship. For work-in-progress on Dante's graveyard history, he won a Humanities Research Award from the University of Texas and fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He has been interviewed for articles in Investor's Business DailySlate, and The Atlantic, and has written for The Chronicle of Higher Education.

DanteWorlds    Inferno  Divine Dialectic 





MDV 392M • Dante's Afterlives

40235 • Fall 2015
Meets W 1230pm-330pm HRH 2.106C
(also listed as C L 382, ITL 390K)

Dante's Afterlives (Fall 2015)

ITL 390K (39449), crosslisted with CL 382 and MDV 392M: W 12:30-3:15 in HRH 2.106C

Guy P. Raffa, HRH 3.104A;; 232-5492

Office Hours: TH 12:45-1:45, W 11-12, and by appointment

Course Conducted in English; Reading Knowledge of Italian Required

       Summarizing Dante's popularity in Italy in the early twentieth century, one critic amusingly observed that the medieval "was cooked in every sauce, served hot and cold, grilled and in gelatin, whole and ground, alone or with sides, with critical mayonnaise and historical croutons: there was something for all tastes, for strong stomachs and for dyspeptic ones, for women and for men, for kindergartners and for doddering academics." In this course we will seek intellectual nourishment at the banquet of Dante's legacy by closely examining a broad range of responses to the poet—the man and his works—from Giovanni Boccaccio's biography in the late Middle Ages to Roberto Benigni's performances of TuttoDante and Dan Brown's Inferno. Between the Dante-inspired works of Boccaccio and Brown, we will study various, often conflicting, versions of "Dante" in literature, art, film, politics, history, and popular culture. After establishing a foundation for Dante's influence by discussing his political treatise (Monarchia) and selected cantos of his Commedia (most from Inferno), we will embark on an interpretive journey tracing Dante's evolution from a regional to a national (then nationalist) figure before he attained the global status he enjoys today. Giuseppe Mazzini famously called Dante—Ugo Foscolo's "Ghibelline fugitive"—the "Prophet of the Italian Nation": we will accordingly examine appeals to Dante's authority in promoting the liberation and unification of Italy, but we will also consider his role as a beacon of liberty in the United States. Among other areas of inquiry, we will discuss Catholic interpretations of Dante as a neo-Guelph advocate of papal political power, nationalist appropriations of the poet for territorial expansion and military interventions, and recent representations of Dante as an icon of Italian culture on the world stage.

Touchstone texts in our tour of Dante's legacy across time, space, discipline, and culture will include: writings by Boccaccio, Alfieri, Foscolo, Mazzini, Byron, Leopardi, Carducci, Cordelia Ray, Longfellow, D'Annunzio, Marinetti, T. S. Eliot, Samuel Beckett, Primo Levi, Matthew Pearl, Dan Brown, and others; artwork by Botticelli, Blake, Flaxman, Doré, and Suloni Robertson; and films (and clips) by FrancescoBertolini(1911), Harry Lachman (1935), Spencer Williams (1944), Peter Greenaway and Raúl Ruiz (1989), Woody Allen (1997), Vincent Ward (1998), Sandow Birk (2008), and Michael Patrick King (2008).        

Required Texts (at COOP): Dante, Inferno (Garzanti, 2008) and Monarchy (Cambridge, 1996)

Optional: The Complete Danteworlds: A Reader's Guide to the Divine Comedy (Chicago, 2009)

[Other sources and critical works will be posted on Canvas.]

Assignments and Computation of Grade

Class preparation and participation: 15%

Two brief papers (3-5 pages) on assigned material: 20%

Oral research presentation (the basis for a conference presentation): 10%

Research paper of 18-25 pages with full documentation (the basis for a scholarly article): 50%

Sample syllabus for an undergraduate course on Dante's legacy: 5%

Danteworlds Web site ( In addition to entries, audio recordings, and study questions, this Web site contains numerous images from works by Sandro Botticelli, John Flaxman, William Blake, Gustave Dorè, and Suloni Robertson (a UT graduate).

Sources for Videos and Images

Canvas contains links to the following streaming videos: 1911 silent Inferno (set to music by Tangerine Dream), Harry Lachman's Dante's Inferno (1935), Spencer Williams's Go Down, Death! (1944), the 2008 Puppet Inferno based on the artwork of Sandow Birk, and A TV Dante (1989): Cantos 1 and 5 by Peter Greenaway, and Cantos 9-14 by Raúl Ruiz. In addition to containing entries with abridged commentary from The Complete Danteworlds, the Danteworlds Web site (DW: hosts galleries of artistic images (Botticelli, Vellutello commentary, Blake, Flaxman, Doré, Robertson) that you should consult as part of your preparation for the assigned Inferno cantos. I also encourage you to visit the "Dante Today" Web site for modern Dante sightings / citings as we proceed through the Inferno. Over 1000 images from Cornell University's Divine Comedy Image Archive are available on Shared Shelf Commons (, an open-access image library. For links to other on-line collections of Dante images, see the "World of Dante" Web site:

Other Dante Web Sites

Dante Today (Dante in contemporary culture):

Dartmouth Dante Project (commentaries on the Divine Comedy):

World of Dante:

Princeton Dante Project:

Dante On-Line (Società Dantesca Italiana):

Course Objectives

1) Mastery of the course content through intensive study of a wide range of creative responses to Dante and his work. From Boccaccio to Benigni, Botticelli to Blake, Byron to Birk, Beckett to Brown (to list just the B's), we will look critically at Dante-inspired and Dante-related works across time, space, media, genres, disciplines, and cultural registers.

2) Systematic, targeted attention to research, writing, and oral communication skills to produce scholarly work fit for presentation at an academic conference and, with reasonable revision, for inclusion in a dissertation or for publication in a reputable venue.

3) To advance the reciprocity of scholarly and teaching excellence, we will explore pedagogical strategies to inform a potential undergraduate course on Dante's cultural legacy with knowledge of the material studied and researched this semester.


MDV 392M • Dante II

41425 • Spring 2010
Meets TTH 1100-1230pm MEZ 2.122
(also listed as ITL 390K)

ITL 390K (attached)

Digital Humanities

Danteworlds Website

Welcome to Danteworlds: A multimedia journey--combining textual commentary, artistic images, and audio recordings--through the three realms (Inferno, Purgatory, Paradise) of Dante's Divine Comedy. This site contains, in addition to an abridged version of the original commentary in The Complete Danteworlds: A Reader's Guide to the Divine Comedy and Danteworlds: A Reader's Guide to the Inferno, Italian recordings of selected verses and a vast gallery of images depicting characters and scenes from the Divine Comedy. Like the books, the Danteworlds Web site is structured around a geographic representation of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise--the three worlds of Dante's Divine Comedy.

Danteworlds is "an invaluable resource for specialists and novices alike," writes E. S. Hierl (Harvard University) in Choice Reviews Online, "the sort of multimedia experience that those in the digital humanities strive for" (August, 2010). The subject of an interview on the home page of the University of Texas at Austin, Danteworlds was selected for inclusion on EDSITEment in 2008 as "one of the best online resources for education in the humanities," and was featured in the literary blogs of the New Yorker (Jan. 8, 2009) and the Los Angeles Times (Jan. 14, 2009).


The Complete Danteworlds: A Reader's Guide to the "Divine Comedy" (University of Chicago Press, 2009, second printing in 2011).

Seamlessly combining a major work of scholarship with extensive pedagogical features, this multi-purpose book is a valuable resource for researchers, teachers, students, and other ambitious readers of Dante's Divine Comedy. The poem's earliest commentators and Giovanni Boccaccio's public lectures on it in the fourteenth century inaugurated a tradition—interpreting and explicating the Comedy in piecemeal fashion (from individual verses to a single canto)—that has been carried on by Dante scholars down to the present. Based on original research and written in lively prose, The Complete Danteworlds contributes to this tradition with a new scholarly commentary that covers the entire Divine Comedy. It does so, moreover, in a highly innovative way: unique among Dante commentaries, the entries in this book are conceived and arranged according to the geography of Dante's afterlife: rather than line by line notes, the over 240 entries in The Complete Danteworlds follow the path traveled by Dante and his guides as they descend through the circles of Hell, climb the terraces of Mount Purgatory, and traverse the spheres of Paradise. This geographical organization, truer to Dante's visual imagination than a purely textual ordering, has born fruitful scholarly results by providing new information and critical insights on topics that received only partial or scattered treatment in earlier commentaries.  Published by a top-tier university press and widely reviewed in academic journals, The Complete Danteworlds combines the best qualities of a monograph and a textbook by embodying the productive reciprocity of original research and innovative pedagogy.

In his superbly written and always engaging presentation of the three realms of the afterlife Guy Raffa displays the rare ability to see, as it were, both the forest and the trees, capturing the grand outlines and shape of Dante’s poem as well as identifying and providing incisive commentary on its myriad components—people, places, events, themes. Not only will first-time readers of the Comedy appreciate Raffa’s meticulous overview, but seasoned scholars will also profit from his many critical insights. Danteworlds will have a major impact on the ways we read, teach, and study the Comedy. - Christopher Kleinhenz (Carol Mason Kirk Professor Emeritus of Italian, University of Wisconsin-Madison)

The commentary and structure of the guide constitute a very impressive work of scholarship in that it admirably fulfills its goal of presenting Dante’s poem in all of its complexity without reductionism. - Peter Bondanella (Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature, Film Studies, and Italian, Indiana University)

Dante Studies are in safe hands when such energy and creativity is brought to bear on the Comedy. . . . This book deserves a wide audience, both inside and outside the academy. - Notes and Queries

Under the author’s skillful guidance, the world of Dante’s creative output is lucidly explored and engagingly presented. - Forum Italicum

 Danteworlds: A Reader's Guide to the Inferno (University of Chicago Press, 2007)

This is the first guide to Dante's Inferno to take readers on a geographic journey through the poet's underworld—not canto by canto but circle by circle, similar to how Dante and Virgil proceed in their infernal descent. The heart of Danteworlds is an original commentary arranged according to the physical layout of Dante's Hell. Each chapter (or "region") of the book, from the "Dark Wood" down to the ninth circle of Hell, begins with a summary of the action and contains detailed entries followed by significant verses and useful study questions. The entries, based on a close examination of the poet's sources (biblical, classical, and medieval) in addition to the most up-to-date scholarship, treat the characters and creatures encountered by Dante on his journey as well as a vast array of references to religion, philosophy, history, politics, and literature. For news of people and events from Dante's time and place, Danteworlds provides information and entertaining anecdotes drawn from the poem's earliest commentators. The book's critical methodology is grounded in the conviction that there is no substitute for revisiting and analyzing the primary sources (in the original languages) from the ancient world to the late Middle Ages that fired Dante's imagination and for examining closely how he fashioned this material into a literary masterpiece.

Guy Raffa provides lucid, concise information on all the major persons, deities, and creatures encountered in the course of his journey. - Deborah Parker (Professor of Italian, University of Virginia)

Throughout, Raffa finds ways to provide context and clues that encourage the reader to return to Dante's poem for a fresh look. The book, therefore, is not only useful for first-time readers, but also for those who regularly teach the Comedy to such readers. - The Medieval Review

 . . . it does a remarkable job of conveying a great deal of information as well as a lively sense of the richness, interest, and relevance of the Inferno. - Speculum

Divine Dialectic: Dante's Incarnational Poetry (University of Toronto Press, 2000)

Divine Dialectic: Dante’s Incarnational Poetry offers a fresh reading of Dante’s major literary works—the Vita nuova and the Divine Comedy—by combining central tenets of incarnational theology and dialectical thought. Recognizing Dante as a poet who paradoxically embraces both opposition and reciprocity, this book shows how Dante challenges such conventional dichotomies as human desire and divine love, artistic fame and spiritual humility, sacrifice and triumph, and political action and philosophical contemplation. Divine Dialectic ultimately argues that Dante crosses textual and theological boundaries to promote the paradoxical union of contradiction and resolution as a way of reading his poem and, by extension, the world itself.

This book is commendable for being daring and Dantean in the truest sense of the word. - Renaissance Quarterly

Lucid, erudite, and thought provoking, this is an important contribution to Dante studies that will be obligatory reading for advanced students and scholars of the Commedia. - Choice

This is a book, though, not just for Dante Scholars. Anyone interested in medieval Christianity will find it informative and enriching. - Christianity and Literature

This impressive book, Guy Raffa's first, shows from the outset a genuinely remarkable degree of scope and ambition. . . . This is an important contribution to the field that will compel its readers to reconsider some of their most cherished preconceptions about the workings of Dante's mind and poetry. . . . He leaves his readers permanently indebted to him, both for a compelling general interpretation of Dante's major works and for countless illuminating observations of textual detail that enlarge our readerly understanding. - Symposium

The reviewer read every page of this book with keen interest and found it to be one of the most satisfying works of criticism on Dante that he knows. . . . It achieves a remarkable level of readability and grace, comprehensiveness and control, telescoping whole fields of scholarship in ways that focus their exact pertinence for specific points in Dante's text. It deserves to become a widely read and highly esteemed work of American Dante criticism. - Letteratura Italiana Antica


Articles and Essays

"What the Head of Hiring at Google Doesn't Understand About Skills." The Chronicle of Higher Education. "The Conversation." May 28, 2014. Reprinted in The Chronicle Review. June 20, 2014: B2.

"Calvino's Scientific Humanism," in Approaches to Teaching the Works of Italo Calvino, ed. Franco Ricci. New York: MLA, 2013. 37-41.

"A Beautiful Friendship: Dante and Vergil in the Commedia." MLN 127.1 (Supplement) (2012): 72-80.

"Eco's Scientific Imagination," in New Essays on Umberto Eco, ed. Peter Bondanella. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. 34-49.

"'Io amo New York': Calvino's Creatively Chaotic City," in Science and Literature in Italian Culture from Dante to Calvino, ed. Pierpaolo Antonello and Simon A. Gilson. Oxford: Legenda, 2004. 276-91.

"Dante's Poetics of Exile," Annali d'italianistica 20 (2002): 73-87.

"Usury," "Greeks," and "Five Hundred Ten and Five." The Dante Encyclopedia. New York and London: Garland, 2000.

"Carlo Levi's Sacred Art of Medicine," Annali d'Italianistica 15 (1997): 203-20.

"Dante's Mocking Pastoral Muse," Dante Studies 114 (1996): 271-91.

"Eco and Calvino Reading Dante," Italica 73.3 (1996): 388-409.

"Dante's Beloved Yet Damned Virgil," in Dante's "Inferno": The Indiana Critical Edition, ed. Mark Musa. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995. 266-85.

"Enigmatic 56's: Cicero's Scipio and Dante's Cacciaguida," Dante Studies 110 (1992): 121-34.

"Love's Duplicity in the Vita Nuova," Italian Culture 10 (1992): 15-26.

"From Two's to Three's in Inferno II," Lectura Dantis 10 (1992): 91-108.

"La bestialità ne Il Decameron e due strutture contrapposte," The Rackham Journal of the Arts and Humanities (1991-92): 35-42.

Invited Lectures (Selected)

"Dantemania: Looking Back Today for a Better Tomorrow." University Lecture Series, Bass Concert Hall, University of Texas at Austin, September 29, 2014. (  

"Dante's Immortal Remains: From Florentine Martyr to Global Icon," Annual Dante Lecture, Center for Renaissance Studies, Newberry Library, Chicago, November 15, 2013.

"Dante and the Popular Imagination: A Historical Perspective," Annual Meeting of the Dante Society of America, MLA, Los Angeles, January 8, 2011.

"Romancing the Tomb: Dante's Bones and Italian History," Annual Dante Lecture, Yale University, October 20, 2010.