The Oxford Dante Festival Announced


Picture of Oxford Dante Society Logo

The Oxford Dante Society in collaboration with TORCH (as part of the Humanities Cultural Programme) is delighted to present a programme of events to celebrate the seventh centenary of the poet Dante’s death. 

See the full programme here.

Arguably the greatest European poem ever written, Dante’s Divine Comedy (c.1307-1321) has been described as a summation of high medieval culture. As the unending series of modern translations shows, it also has all kinds of relevance to the present. Dante’s account of his journey through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise, culminating in the direct vision of God, is not only about the state of souls after death; it embraces his personal experiences and feelings, Italian and European history from the Roman Empire onwards, contemporary politics, and a range of ethical and theological ideas and issues—all in a poetic language of unparalleled richness, energy and originality. Alongside the doctrine, and often in tension with it, the dead souls that Dante meets have a power and human complexity that constitutes one of the main attractions of the poem, and one of the ways in which it is as much about this world as about the next. 

Dante will form a headline theme as part of TORCH’s Humanities for our Times series in Autumn 2021 with a programme of events to mark the anniversary of the poet’s death featuring exhibitions across the city. A display in the Bodleian’s Blackwell Hall (8 September – 14 November) will show how readers’ engagement with the Divine Comedy has been shaped over the centuries by the changing forms and illustrations of the book itself, ‘The Divine Comedy from Manuscript to Manga’. A companion exhibition at the Ashmolean (September – January) will highlight how Dante invented – and critiqued – the very idea of celebrity, which has become so prominent in our own culture. An exhibition in the Voltaire Room at the Taylorian Library (September – December) will feature illustrations of Dante’s work. A further exhibition in Lady Margaret Hall in November will feature the very distinctive Dante illustrations of the artist John Dickson Batten (1860-1932).

In early November Oxford will be alive with opportunities to celebrate Dante in 2021 with activities centring on a fortnight-long celebratory festival in November (1 – 14 November 2021). There will be a screening of Harry Lachman’s 1935 film Dante’s Inferno in the first week. Alongside the film screening there will be Illustrated public talks (linked to digital and other exhibitions) on ‘Dante at Oxford’ by Laura Banella (Oxford University) and Nick Havely (York University), at the Taylorian Library.

The visual and kinetic drama of the Comedy has inspired the French choreographer Luc Petton to create a version in dance, in which he collaborates with human dancers, birds and animals. Petton will present in Oxford a film recording of his Dante-inspired creation, Ainsi la Nuit. This event is scheduled for 4 November in the Bodleian auditorium. A further sequence of Dante-related poetry, music and dance will be performed in the Holywell Music Room on 13 November.

On Tuesday 9 November, Lino Pertile (Harvard University) will deliver the Paget Toynbee Public Lecture in the Bodleian auditorium, followed by a reception and launch of Dante Beyond Borders, a collection of centenary essays by members of the Oxford Dante Society and American and German Dante Societies. Shortly thereafter, in the Blackwells Norrington Room, there will be a book launch, with readings, of a volume of translations of the Purgatorio by contemporary poets: Poets in Purgatory: After Dante (Arc Poetry). In Cambridge on 12 November, and then in Oxford’s Taylor Institution on the 13th, there will be a colloquium by early career researchers on Dante.

See the full programme here.

Events will be added to the TORCH ‘What's On’ page. Please keep an eye on our social media to find out more.