Dante Alighieri, one of the giants of medieval literature and greatest Italian poets of all time, is still studied at length in colleges all over the world, despite the fact that his poetry was written centuries ago.
Dr. Giuseppe Mazzotta, one of the world’s greatest living Dante scholars, came to Fairfield on April 20 to give a lecture on Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” considered by most to be his poetic masterpiece.
At Fairfield, a course on Dante is taught by Dr. Mary Ann McDonald Carolan, which studies his “Divine Comedy” of Dante in depth over the course of a semester.
Carolan, who studied under the tutelage of Mazzotta, spoke on the lecture.
“It was a pleasure to host Mazzotta on the Fairfield campus. He was my professor in graduate school, and my advisor for the dissertation. His dedication to the art of teaching and to writing set a very high standard indeed for those of us fortunate enough to study with him,” said Carolan. “When I first offered the Dante course at Fairfield, I invited Mazzotta to lecture. After his talk he made me promise to offer Dante each year, which I have had the honor of doing for more than a decade,” Carolan said.
Mazzotta, who has read the works of Dante since he was a little boy and seriously studied his works since the age of 15, has taught classes on the Italian poet since 1969. He stopped two years ago, but intends to return to teaching next year.
Mazzotta insisted on the continued importance of Dante’s works in modern society: “It’s not just about God,” he said, “it’s about your life, and everybody should care about that.”
In fact, the poem is so important to Mazzotta that he would make it mandatory reading in high schools.
“I hope that when you write about me, it will make people more interested in Dante,” he said. “That’s my appeal.”
The lecture was sponsored by the Department of Modern Languages & Literatures, and the programs in Catholic Studies and Italian Studies.
Mazzotta is the Sterling Professor of Humanities for Italian at Yale University. He has published many works on Italian literature and culture, including “Dante,” “Poet of the Desert: History and Allegory in the Divine Comedy,” “The World at Play in Boccaccio’s Decameron,” “Dante’s Vision and the Circle of Knowledge,” “The Worlds of Petrarch,” “The New Map of the World: the Poetic Philosophy of Giambattista Vico” and “Cosmopoiesis: The Renaissance Experiment.”
His works have been published all over the world and have been translated into Spanish, Bulgarian, German, Italian and Norwegian.
Mazzotta has received honorary degrees in Humane Letters from Catholic University of America and in Sacred Letters from the University of Toronto. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and holds a Ph.D. from Cornell University and was president of the Dante Society of America from 2003 to 2009.
“He has made Dante’s poem and other works of literature come alive to students,” said Carolan, introducing Mazzotta before the lecture.
Mazzotta’s lecture, entitled “The Theology of The Future,” focused on the third and final part of Dante’s epic poem, the “Divine Comedy.”
Mazzotta stated that, although many people say it is the most difficult part of the poem, it is also “the most wonderful part.”
Mazzotta discussed some of the major themes of the poem such as love, free will, beauty and creation. Dante, according to Mazzotta, intended his poem to be for future audiences, which is why Mazzotta called his lecture “Theology of the Future.”
“Instead of dismissing the final canticle as too monotonous or too abstract, like some critics have done, Mazzotta considers Dante’s ‘Paradiso’ a place of ineffable beauty that stretches the descriptive limits of language for the poet and his audience,” said Carolan.