Dante’s Commedia consists of three canticles--Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso—and each canticle consists of thirty-three cantos (with the exception of Inferno, which has thirty-four), for a total of one hundred cantos; the cantos are all approximately the same length, about 140 lines on average, and each with the same terza rima rhyme scheme. There is no question that this is all a deliberate architecture that contributes to the meaning of the work as a whole, and it is useful to keep this in mind as we proceed through the poem.
In this course, the reading load in general may seem light (usually about three cantos per conference meeting), but please note that I expect you to make full use of the critical apparatus available in the Hollander translation that we’ll be reading. For every canto, I would recommend first reading the canto itself, then going back to read the outline provided just before each canto, and then reading the endnotes that follow each chapter. Reading these endnotes is critical: even though you may not find them all particularly riveting, they provide very useful information and you will vastly increase your knowledge of the historical and literary backgrounds of the poem by delving into them.
Finally, try to make some beneficial use of the fact that this is a facing-page translation. It can be enlightening to see if you can follow along at all, or even identify the occasional word or two, by looking across at the original fourteenth-century Italian. Obviously, no knowledge of Italian is required (Reed doesn’t even have an Italian program--peccato!), but a little knowledge of Spanish, French, or Latin can go a long way. I will regularly refer to or analyze specific words or lines from the original in conference.
A few numerological notes pertinent to Dante:
1 = God, as Unity
3 = the number of the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit)
9 = 3 x 3, hence a perfection or intensification of the idea of Trinity
9 = Beatrice (per the Vita Nuova)
10 = the plenitude of God = 3 x 3 + 1
33 = another divine, Trinitarian number (two threes)
100 = 33 + 33 + 33 + 1 = 10 x 10 = cantos in the Commedia
The Princeton Dante Project provides a line-by-line, canto-by-canto reading of the entire Commedia aloud in the original Italian, in case you want to hear how it sounds as you're reading.