Dante in Oxford 2021

Drawing of Dante with plant headdress.

Primary Investigator

Gervase Rosser (St Catherine's College, History (History of Art))

Partner Organisations:

Ai-Da Robot

Compagnie Le Guetteur

logos of Ashmolean and Bodleian Libraries

‘The most beautiful book in the literature of the world’ – this was Jorge Luis Borges’ description of the Divine Comedy. What has this extraordinary poem, a visionary account of the afterlife which reflects back at every point on the pains and hopes of life in the world, to say to audiences today? This TORCH-supported project takes up that question, in the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death in 1321. Focused on an exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum and Bodleian Library, it will expand into related events which will explore both the enduring creative potential of the poem and its capacity to generate debate across the humanities about the future of culture and knowledge.

A display in the Bodleian’s Blackwell Hall (September – November) will show how readers’ engagement with the Divine Comedy has been shaped over centuries by the changing forms and illustrations of the book itself, ‘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.

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.

The exhibition at the Ashmolean will see an intervention by artificial intelligence, in the form of Ai-Da, ‘the world’s first humanoid artist-robot’. The display will include a work by Ai-Da produced in response to a passage in the Divine Comedy. In addition a performance is planned, and a symposium which will consider, in the light of this particular encounter with Dante, the changing role of artificial intelligence in the humanities.

For the full programme of events click here. 

Find out more about the Oxford Dante Society and their events here.


Gervase Rosser


Part of the Humanities Cultural Programme, one of the founding stones for the

future Stephen A. Schwarzman Centre for the Humanities.