Research Programs: Public Scholars

Period of Performance

9/1/2020 - 8/31/2021

Funding Totals

$60,000.00 (approved)
$60,000.00 (awarded)

Dante's American Afterlife

FAIN: FZ-272292-20

Guy Placido Raffa
University of Texas, Austin (Austin, TX 78712-0100)

Research and writing of a book on the influence of Italian poet Dante Alighieri (d. 1321) on American culture. 

This is the first public-oriented book entirely committed to the story of Dante’s American afterlife. It shows the deep and broad impact of the poet’s most famous afterworld on American culture as we approach the 700th anniversary of his death (2021). The consummate crossover work, Dante’s Inferno has sparked creative minds across the cultural spectrum, from Longfellow’s Civil War writings and Harry Lachman’s depression-era Inferno film to Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men TV series and popular fiction by Sylvain Reynard and Dan Brown. The book’s four parts examine the history and meaning of these and other works through the lens of Dante’s main American roles: citizen, showman, lover, and judge. The book’s brightest threads are the dangerous allure and ethical teaching of the Inferno that, often entwined, encourage and characterize responses to the poem. I enliven the prose with insights drawn from archival research and my involvement with the video game that featured my Inferno commentary.

Media Coverage

Guy Raffa on Dante's Bones and Dante’s American Inferno (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Matthew Treherne
Publication: Leeds Dante Podcast
Date: 2/7/2021
Abstract: A podcast conversation about Guy Raffa’s recent book, Dante’s Bones, and his current research projected on Dante’s American Inferno.

Dante’s Bones, or, a History of the Idea of Italy (Media Coverage)
Publication: Historically Thinking
Date: 10/28/2021
Abstract: In 1321 Dante Alighieri died in the city of Ravenna, near the shores of the Adriatic. In the years since his perpetual exile from his native Florence, he had lived in a variety of places in Italy. Now he was at rest. But in future centuries even his bones would continue to move, although not so far as his body had moved in life. And, as his body diminished, his influence and legacy grew and grew, sometimes appearing in the oddest of places. Ultimately, the history of Dante’s bones is the history of the idea of Italy.

Follow Dante’s Footsteps Through Italy (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Jennifer Billock
Publication: Smithsonian Magazine
Date: 4/7/2021
Abstract: An article for the 700th anniversary of the Dante’s death, with information on his birthplace, Florentine churches, and his tomb in Ravenna.

Dante (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Ric Burns
Publication: PBS television and RAI 2 (Italian television)
Date: 9/17/2021
Abstract: Interview for "Dante," a 3-part documentary film directed by Ric Burns for RAI DUE in Fall 2021 and PBS in Spring 2022

Associated Products

Author: Guy P. Raffa
Abstract: This piece focuses on the California governor’s recent use of the (famous Dante (mis)quotation--"those maintaining neutrality in times of moral crisis occupying the hottest place in Hell"--to urge action against systemic racism. I rehearse the history of the “neutrality quote“—with links to your important work on the topic—and give my take on it and Dante’s context, ending with a tribute to the late John Lewis.
Date: 08/31/2020
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Link to essay on Dante and racial justice
Website: Zócalo Public Square

Dante’s Political Life (Article)
Title: Dante’s Political Life
Author: Guy P. Raffa
Abstract: The approach of the seven-hundredth anniversary of Dante's death is a propitious time to recall the events that drove him from his native Florence and marked his life in various Italian cities before he found his final refuge in Ravenna, where he died and was buried in 1321. Drawing on early chronicles and biographies, modern historical research and biographical criticism, and the poet's own writings, I construct this narrative of “Dante's Political Life” for the milestone commemoration of his death. The poet’s politically-motivated exile, this biographical essay shows, was destined to become one of the world’s most fortunate misfortunes
Year: 2020
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Bibliotheca Dantesca website
Access Model: Open Access
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Bibliotheca Dantesca: Journal of Dante Studies
Publisher: University of Pennsylvania, Center for Italian Studies

Battleship Dante Alighieri (1908-1928) (Article)
Title: Battleship Dante Alighieri (1908-1928)
Author: Guy P. Raffa
Abstract: The battleship named for Dante Alighieri gave new meaning to poetic power. Yet it performed more like the vessel that Ulysses—Dante’s dangerous alter ego—convinced his crew to sail into uncharted waters, a “foolish flight” ending in shipwreck and death. If far less spectacularly than the Greek hero’s ill-fated ship, the Dante Alighieri also failed to win its promised glory. Built and launched with high hopes, Italy’s first dreadnought saw limited action with (at best) modest results over the course of its twenty-year life at sea.
Year: 2021
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Dante Studies website
Access Model: Journal or JSTOR subscription
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Dante Studies
Publisher: Dante Society of America

Dante’s American Comedy (Public Lecture or Presentation)
Title: Dante’s American Comedy
Abstract: This talk shows how the dangerous allure and ethical power of Dante’s *Divine Comedy* has influenced American society and culture over the past 100 years (1921-2021).
Author: Guy P. Raffa
Date: 03/11/21
Location: Calandra Italian American Institute, New York, Zoom presentation (remote)
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Calandra Italian American Institute

Dante’s Afterlife (Public Lecture or Presentation)
Title: Dante’s Afterlife
Abstract: Exiled in death as in life, Dante has hardly rested in peace over the centuries. His bones have been entombed, condemned, contested, stolen, hidden, discovered, and reburied. They have been exhumed, examined, and relocated, even threatened with destruction by fire and bombing. Above all they have been worshiped like the relics of a saint. This talk presents the physical afterlife and graveyard history of the poet who gave the world its most enduring and influential vision of life beyond the grave with his Divine Comedy. It puts flesh on Dante’s bones by showing how they are tied to major historical events in Italy and its relationship to the wider world. Special attention is given to the poet’s American afterlife in anticipation of the 700th anniversary of his death in 2021.
Author: Guy P. Raffa
Date: 03/24/21
Location: University of Central Florida and the Italian Consulate of Miami. Zoom presentation.
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Presentation recording

Dante’s American Afterlife (Public Lecture or Presentation)
Title: Dante’s American Afterlife
Abstract: Dante’s American fame has grown unabated since his arrival in the 19th century. The poet’s presence has been felt in books, music, and classrooms, on canvases, pedestals, and stages, and, increasingly of late, on movie, television, and gaming screens. This Dantemania largely owes to how his Divine Comedy—Hell above all—holds a mirror to American life and culture. In it, the nation sees reflected some of its worst failings but also glimmers of beauty and hope. This talk looks at how the ethical authority and erotic charge of Dante’s poem have influenced and become part of the American popular imagination.
Author: Guy P. Raffa
Date: 10/19/21
Location: Italian Embassy in Washington, Italian Cultural Institute. Zoom presentation.
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Italian Cultural Institute event webpage.

Old Bones and New Life: Dante’s Physical and Literary Legacy (Public Lecture or Presentation)
Title: Old Bones and New Life: Dante’s Physical and Literary Legacy
Abstract: Guy Raffa will present his recent book Dante’s Bones: How a Poet Invented Italy (Harvard 2020) and his current project on Dante’s life and American afterlife. Virginia Jewiss will discuss her forthcoming translation of Dante’s Vita Nuova (Penguin 2022). Guy and Ginny will then lead a wide ranging conversation about Dante’s life and afterlife on the 700th anniversary of the poet’s death.
Author: Virginia Jewiss
Author: Guy P. Raffa
Date: 10/22/21
Location: Italian Consulate of Houston and University of Texas at Austin. Zoom webinar.
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: University of Texas at Austin, Department of French and Italian
Secondary URL:
Secondary URL Description: Italian Consulate General at Houston

Dante’s Afterlives (Course or Curricular Material)
Title: Dante’s Afterlives
Author: Guy P. Raffa
Abstract: Summarizing Dante's popularity in Italy in the early twentieth century, one critic amusingly observed that the medieval poet "was cooked in every sauce, served hot and cold, grilled and in gelatin, whole and ground, alone or with sides, with critical mayonnaise and historical croutons: there was something for all tastes, for strong stomachs and for dyspeptic ones, for women and for men, for kindergartners and for doddering academics." In this course we will seek intellectual nourishment at the banquet of Dante's legacy by closely examining a broad range of responses to the poet—the man and his works—from Giovanni Boccaccio's biography in the late Middle Ages to Roberto Benigni's performances of TuttoDante and Dan Brown's Inferno. Between the Dante-inspired works of Boccaccio and Brown, we will study various, often conflicting, versions of "Dante" in literature, art, film, politics, history, and popular culture. After establishing a foundation for Dante's influence by discussing his political treatise (Monarchia) and selected cantos of his Commedia (most from Inferno), we will embark on an interpretive journey tracing Dante's evolution from a regional to a national (then nationalist) figure before he attained the global status he enjoys today. Giuseppe Mazzini famously called Dante—Ugo Foscolo's "Ghibelline fugitive"—the "Prophet of the Italian Nation": we will accordingly examine appeals to Dante's authority in promoting the liberation and unification of Italy, but we will also consider his role as a beacon of liberty in the United States. Among other areas of inquiry, we will discuss Catholic interpretations of Dante as a neo-Guelph advocate of papal political power, nationalist appropriations of the poet for territorial expansion and military interventions, and recent representations of Dante as an icon of Italian culture on the world stage.
Year: 2021
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Course Descriptions
Audience: Graduate

American Dante (Course or Curricular Material)
Title: American Dante
Author: Guy P. Raffa
Abstract: ITC 330: American Dante “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” Although Dante never said these exact words, they effectively convey his contempt for people who refuse to take a stand on questions of moral, political, and social justice. Engaged readers have had good reason to quote the “Dante” line at pivotal moments in US history, from decisions about entering the two world wars to John F. Kennedy’s call to combat bigotry and Martin Luther King Jr’s plea to end the war in Vietnam. Black Lives Matter activists and the California governor therefore drew on an illustrious tradition when they cited the medieval Italian poet in the summer of 2020 to inspire action against systemic racism. Political engagement with Dante in the United States actually dates to the mid 19th century—in the movement to abolish slavery and during the ensuing Civil War—and is just one of several major themes we will explore in this course on the Italian poet’s strong presence in American history and culture. Other Dantean personas examined across a wide range of media—literature, art, music, film, television, and video games—will include the lover, the showman, and the judge.
Year: 2022
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Course Descriptions
Audience: Undergraduate