International tribute to Italian poet Dante Alighieri features York students

Posthumous portrait in tempera by Sandro Botticelli, 1495

On March 8, students from the Program of Italian Studies at York University’s Department of Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics (DLLL) participated in an international experiential learning project organized to mark the 700th anniversary of Dante Alighieri’s death. Of the 21 universities that participated, York was the only institution from Canada.

Posthumous portrait in tempera by Sandro Botticelli, 1495
Dante Alighieri. Posthumous portrait in tempera by Sandro Botticelli, 1495. Wikimedia Commons: Public domain image

As a tribute to Dante, various celebrations are taking place throughout Italy and Italian Studies programs around the world. The project, titled “Baci dal mondo/Worldwide Kisses Event,” was organized by Centro internazionale di studi Francesca da Rimini. In the language of their respective countries, students and professors from universities around the world animated and commented on the verses of Francesca da Rimini from Canto V of Inferno. Their contributions were ive streamed on

If Dante’s Divine Comedy is among the most famous epic poems in European literature, then Francesca da Rimini, a woman murdered for adulterous love, is the most memorable and debated character in Dante’s work.

The story of Francesca has been interpreted over the centuries, offering an evolution of the perception of her love through various literary theories. Less than a century after Dante’s death, Giovanni Boccaccio, an Italian writer, poet, correspondent of Petrarch and an important Renaissance humanist, argued the legitimacy of Francesca’s love. In his commentary on the Divine Comedy, Boccaccio writes of a marriage by proxy, according to which Francesca believes to be wed to Paolo, whom she fell in love with. She later realizes that her lawful husband was Paolo’s older brother, Gianciotto. Such a reconstruction has shaped the perception of Francesca’s love and liberated her from being a sinner in Dante’s second circle of the Inferno to being a woman in love, betrayed in her expectations. From Romanticism on, she is seen as a heroine of love and an honourable lover.

The video of York’s contribution was much appreciated by the organizers, who used it to promote the entire event. In their passionate and superb performances, students recited the verses pertaining to Francesca, to Dante and to other characters of the story. York’s student participants were Maria Teresa D’AgostinoShelley A. Jones, Masooma Kazmi, Giacomo Lockwood, Nadine Monzione and Ariana Zunino.

Professor Maria João Dodman, the Chair of DLLL, introduced York University and the Department. Professor John Picchione, coordinator of the Italian Studies Program, commented on York’s program and on how students study Dante. Professor Kevin Reynolds delivered a brief presentation on the canto, one of his favourites to teach from the entire Divine Comedy and Professor Samia Tawwab introduced the students.