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‘Dante Now!’ blends poetry, performance

| Monday, October 12, 2015

20141010, 20141012, Dante Now, Declan Sullivan, Emily McConville, Floater, Horizons for Youth tailgateEmily McConville | The Observer

Amidst the many football-related activities of a fall Friday afternoon, the Italian studies program gave visitors and students alike a much different option last Friday.

Students in various Italian classes, donning robes, red cloth caps and golden wreaths on their heads, walked around campus in groups and recited excerpts from the Italian poet Dante’s “Divine Comedy” as part of the annual “Dante Now! A Divine Comedy Flashmob.”

“[The event is] to try to introduce people to Dante and show them how beautiful it is,” Italian studies research assistant professor Anne Leone said. “In my experience, a lot of people are kind of curious about Dante. It’s a nice way to answer some people’s questions.”

According to the William and Katherine Devers Program in Dante Studies website, students read Dante’s work at various public places between 2 and 3 p.m., such as on the steps of Bond Hall, in front of the Library and in front of the main building. At 3 p.m., students, professors, parents of alumni and members of the public performed a choral reading of a section of Dante’s work at the Grotto. The readings were followed by a public talk in the Carey Auditorium in the Library and a reception.

“’Dante Now!’ is a way to have more laymen experience the beauty of the ‘Divine Comedy’ because it’s still relevant today,” sophomore Mary Lien said. “The truth imparted in the ‘Divine Comedy’ really is something super relevant to the Catholic tradition on campus, so ‘Dante Now!’ gives people a chance to learn more about Dante, to read Dante in the modern time and be able to experience it firsthand.”

Lien said the public nature of the event allows anyone to experience Dante’s works.

“You don’t have to look at a poster beforehand, you just hear people on the street reciting Dante and can join in,” she said.

Sophomore Greg Jenn said reading the poem aloud introduced people who might never have explored Dante to his poems.

“As a group, we’re drawing people in,” Jenn said. “We’re not individuals, we’re inviting people into the community of Dante. It’s supposed to be read in a group.”

Many students in Italian classes have been preparing for “Dante Now!” since classes began in August.

“We got the piece of paper at the very beginning of the year and we talked about it,” Jenn said. “We’ve spent several class periods going over it, analyzing the text and speaking the Italian to practice.”

According to instructor of Italian studies and graduate student Thomas Graff, understanding Dante is as important as being able to recite it.

“We go through it in class get the cultural background, answer the questions like ‘Who’s Dante?’” Graff said.

In addition, all 208 Italian language students have attended a reading workshop to develop their pronunciation of the text and become familiar with its meaning, Leone said.

“We work on the rhythm, intonation, phrasing and pronunciation in those workshops.” she said. “It’s open to the public but it’s usually the classes that have been studying it so all of our language classes come in during their language period on Wednesday.”

While participation in the event is part of many students’ classes, anyone can join in, Graff said. Many spectators also picked up the handouts with the text on it and recited the poems alongside the students.

“You can get involved even if you aren’t in the class,” Lien said. “We give out these papers for people to join us, to read if they feel comfortable reading Italian. There’s a translation beside the Italian original script so laymen will have no trouble understanding it.”

Being fluent in Italian is not necessary to experience Dante’s works, Lien said.

“’The ‘Divine Comedy’ is essentially a poem,” she said. “It has that cadence and rhyme to it that you can really hear. You don’t even have to understand the language, you can just hear the beauty of how it sounds in Italian. I think it’s beautiful to anyone.”

However, it is possible for those who are interested in Dante’s works to explore their meanings. After the recitations, Albert J. and Helen M. Ravarino Family Director of Dante and Italian Studies and Inaugural Academic Director of Notre Dame’s Rome Global Gateway Theodore Cachey, associate professor of Italian Christian Moevs and Leone gave a public lecture in the library, each discussing a different aspect of Dante’s “Inferno.” According to Graff, Notre Dame makes understanding Dante’s works possible because of its professors.

“The Dante professors we have are incredible, some of the best in the nation,” he said.

Both Lien and Jenn said they encourage students who are curious about Dante to consider enrolling in a course focused on his works.

“In my personal opinion, Dante is probably one of the greatest poets of all time,” Jenn said. “Why would you not want to listen and be exposed to that?”

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