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Honoursmodule: From Hell to Paradise: Dante's Journey Through the Arts and Sciences

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R.M. de Rooij & E.A. Baldi

Entry requirements 

Second-year and third-year Bachelor's students participating in an honours programme.

Recommended prior knowledge


Learning Objectives

At the end of the course the student can:

  • Analyse and interpret several key episodes of Dante’s Commedia
  • Contextualise Dante’s Commedia against its literary and cultural background
  • Analyse and interpret Dante’s views on the arts and sciences
  • Recognise and interpret significant examples of Dante’s presence in the arts and sciences
  • Conduct a small research on a Dantean ‘presence’ (use, reference, adaptation etc.) in his/her own field and present the results in a clear and logical manner


In the spring of 1300 an unknown Florentine poet by the name of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) went on a weeklong journey in the world after death. About his experiences in hell, purgatory and heaven he wrote the Commedia, a truly miraculous poem that has exercised a profound influence on Western culture ever since.

The Commedia is many different things. It is the autobiography of a poet in love with an angelic woman; a visionary treatise on history and world politics; a passionate sermon on how humans should live better lives; a theologically inspired story of a communion of a human soul with God. The Commedia is also a compendium of all existing knowledge, bringing together, discussing and often contributing to virtually all art forms and scientific disciplines of its time.

Besides acquainting ourselves with some of the world-famous episodes and powerful characters from InfernoPurgatorio and Paradiso, we will read and examine Dante’s masterpiece from artistic, scientific and interdisciplinary perspectives.

With regard to the Commedia itself: how did Dante incorporate the arts and the sciences of his time into his masterpiece? What are his ideas about literature, music and the visual arts? How did he use scientific knowledge? What does he tell us about land and seas (geography, cartography), about nature and matter (physics), about human behaviour and leadership (law and politics), the workings of the human body (biology), about the heavens and the stars and their role in human lives (astronomy), about the value and meaning of numbers (mathematics)?

With regard to the reception of the Commedia: how were artists, writers, intellectuals, scholars and scientists in the course of seven centuries inspired and influenced by Dante’s poetry? In our sessions we will discuss many relevant examples, including the father of modern science, Galileo Galilei, who in 1588 tried to calculate the dimensions of Dante’s hell. But also in modern  times, different branches of science (e.g. astronomy) and new disciplines that emerged (long) after Dante’s time (e.g. psychoanalysis, psychology, criminology) have on many occasions been in fruitful dialogue with his work or have dubiously misused and misinterpreted it (e.g. fascism and other regimes) through a ‘scientific’ or political framework (racial hygiene, nationalism vs. cosmopolitanism).

Teaching method

  • Lecture
  • Seminar
  • Presentation
  • Selfstudy
  • Work independently on project


  • E-poster, audiovisual presentation (approx. 15 minutes) or paper (approx. 1500 words) on an important theme of Dante’s Comedy. Deadline: beginning of January. 50% 
  • E-poster, audiovisual presentation (approx. 15 minutes) or paper (approx. 1500 words) on a Dantean ‘presence’ (use, reference, adaptation, etc.) in one of the discussed arts/sciences or in a field of your own choice. Deadline: end of January. 50%
  • Proposal and outline for one or both assignments. Deadline: beginning of December. 0%

Study material:

  • Literature: a selection of passages from Dante’s Commedia (these passages will be made available on Canvas; the excellent contemporary translation and commentary by Robert and Jean Hollander is also available on on the following websites: http://etcweb.princeton.edu/dante/pdp/ and http://dante.dartmouth.edu/)
  • Syllabus: articles/book chapters and other materials (will be made available on Canvas)

Min/max participants

max. 25


The schedule will be available on Datanose 


Registration is possible for 2nd year (or higher) students participating in an Honours programme. The registration for the Honours courses will start on June 1, 10 am -  June 4, 11 pm, You can register through the online registration form that will appear on Honoursmodules IIS (registration is NOT through SIS)

Placement will be at random and students will be informered about their placement in the week of June 21. 

There is NO guarantee for placement if you register AFTER June 4, so make sure you apply on time! 

For questions about registration please email to: Honours-iis@uva.nl

SDGs in education

The IIS strives to reflect current societal issues and challenges in our elective courses, honours modules and degree programmes, and attempts to integrate the following Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in this course. For more information about these goals, please visit the SDGs website

Facts & Figures
Mode Honours programme
Credits 6 ECTS,
Language of instruction English
Starts in November