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Transformation: Text and Translation

Divine Comedy.png

Transformation: Text and Translation

Robin Kirkpatrick

One response to an original work of art has always been to produce another work of art as when poems are translated into songs, sculptures into poems or picturesque ruins into atmospheric or surrealistic paintings.  This seminar will consider the value of such transformations and invite participants to develop responses of their own in any medium of their choosing to one particular text, Dante Alighieri’s Commedia. Over the 700 years since it was written, the Commedia has stimulated artists in the whole range of genres to offer their own response.  In the 14th century illuminated manuscripts of the poem were immediately produced in great number;  and these are now joined by comic strip version (La Divina Avventura) or by the TV Dante of the 1980s in which Tom Phillips collaborated with Peter Greenaway. There are sculptures such as Rodin’s The Kiss inspired by the Inferno. The Romanian artist Mihai Marius Mihu spent seven months recreating Dante’s vision of the nine circles of Hell using almost 40,000 Lego bricks. There are a number of dance versions created recently by Royal Ballet choreographers.  As for translations, each year witnesses a great number of new attempts in a great many different languages  – and some of the most interesting of these are by writers who know very little Italian.  

The seminar then will assume no knowledge of Italian or of medieval philosophy, but will interest itself in the artistic outcome of reading and discussion. 


  1.  Translation, between languages genre and media.  Discussion, initiated by A Very Short Introduction:  Translation by Matthew Reynolds.

  2. A Survey of Dante’s Commedia, taking for discussion Tom Phillips (on Inferno 21-2: including the Laurel and Hardy version);  Purgatorio 32 (with reference to William Blake’s illustration); Paradiso 2 and 3 With some reference to Samuel Beckett’s chapter ‘Dante and the Lobster’ in More Kicks than Pricks

  3. Inferno 15 with some reference to TS Eliot’s response in Four Quartets (Little Gidding ‘In the uncertain hour before the dawn …’)

  4. Inferno 25 (Nb Dante’s explicit challenge to Ovid’s Metamorphoses)

  5. Purgatorio 5 (NB Robert Lowell The Soldier (?) or Seamus Heaney Station Island

  6. Purgatorio especially 1 and 28 (with reference to the Thurlow’s Dance setting (+ video clip) from 2009 in Experience Dante

  7. Paradiso 10 and 14 Dante’s dancing philosophers (with reference to The Song of Songs).

  8. Paradiso 30:  The Psychedelic in Excelsis. (9 & 10)

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