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  • Like doves summoned by desire: Dante’s New Life in 20thCentury Literature and Cinema, Essays in memory of Amilcare Iannucci ed. by Massimo Ciavolella and Gianluca Rizzo
  • Heather Sottong
Like doves summoned by desire: Dante’s New Life in 20th Century Literature and Cinema, Essays in memory of Amilcare Iannucci, ed. Massimo Ciavolella and Gianluca Rizzo (New York: Agincourt Press 2012) 271 pp.

This volume is a collection of essays on twentieth-century adaptations and interpretations of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Many of the contributions were presented at a conference entitled “Dante’s New Life” held at UCLA in 2006 and originally envisioned by the late Amilcare Iannucci. Iannucci’s contributions to Dante studies, such as Dante, Cinema, and Television (2004), Dante: Contemporary Perspectives (1997), and Dante Today (1989), explore Dante’s enduring popularity in a variety of media up to the present. This volume, compiled in his honor, looks specifically at how the twentieth century revisited Dante’s legacy. In keeping with Iannucci’s policy, the editors of this volume, Massimo Ciavolella and Gianluca Rizzo, do not privilege any particular critical approach or ideology over another; thus, the papers within bring together a wide range of perspectives and critical methodologies. Two of the twelve essays focus on the fortune of Dante’s Commedia in specific areas of the world. Sona Haroutyunian explores the pervasive presence of Dante in Armenian culture. The first section of her essay addresses the art of translation in the Armenian world, where translators are considered nothing less than holy. Section 2 provides an overview of references to Dante and his works, focusing on the contributions of the Mekhitrarist Fathers, while section 3 discusses Armenian translations of the Commedia which enriched Armenian poetic language and expanded the linguistic possibilities of the Armenian language in general.

Piotr Salwa outlines the particularities of the Polish reception of Dante. His discussion begins with Romanticism, a time of enhanced interest in Dante which brought forth various translations, literary studies, and journalistic texts. Unlike many other European countries, however, interest in Dante was fostered largely outside of academic institutions. In the later part of his essay, Salwa details the distinctive viewpoints of three famous Polish writers, Witold Gombrowicz, Stanisław Vincenz, and Czesław Miłosz, in order to illustrate the idiosyncratic and subjective attitudes in Poland towards Dante’s works. The essay includes an appendix with color reproductions of Grzegorz Bednarski’s striking pastel illustrations and Jerzy Panek’s engravings inspired by the Commedia.

In several essays, the Commedia is considered in relation to specific historical events, such as the discovery of America. Mary Alexandra Watt’s fascinating article examines the role Dante played in shaping the narrative that surrounded Columbus’ discovery of the New World. She presents the many surprising affinities between Dante and Columbus and argues that it was Dante’s Divine Comedy which provided the paradigm that permitted Columbus to legitimize his voyage and discovery as divinely willed.

Rossend Arqués’s essay entitled “Dante in the modern ‘Inferno’: literature after Auschwitz” examines how Dante’s Inferno has proven an influential model to authors writing about the horrors of the Holocaust. The enormity of the human suffering in the concentration camps left victims with an urgency to [End Page 297] communicate this inhumane reality, but also an uncertainty as to how, and if, such unspeakable, unimaginable atrocities could be realistically represented. Arqués demonstrates how the stylistic, rhetorical, and narrative modules of the Divine Comedy have been of fundamental importance for the interpretation and representation of the Lager.

Karla Mallette looks at how Dante has come to embody the intellectual who resists oppressive regimes and is consequently exiled. Her essay includes salient examples of modern literature that read Dante as a poet of resistance. First she considers the work of two literary scholars and exiles, Erich Auerbach and Edward Said; then two Islamic writers, Assia Djebar and Orhan Pamuk; and finally the Irish authors Seamus Heaney and Martin McDonagh.

Those interested in intertextuality should read the studies of Roberto Fedi and Carolynn Lund-Mead. Fedi skillfully performs a close reading of Sonnet 36 of Petrarch’s Rerum vulgarium and discovers that Dante...


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