Category Archives: Italian Literature

DANTE700 COMPETITION

Did you know that 2021 marks the 700th anniversary of the death of Italian poet, Dante Alighieri? In celebration of this anniversary, the University of Oxford is delighted to launch the Dante700 Competition for primary and secondary school pupils.

Portrait of Dante.
Sandro Botticelli, ‘Portrait of Dante’ (1350-1375)

Who was Dante Alighieri?

Dante Alighieri was born in 1265 in Florence and died in 1321 in Ravenna. He is most famous for his poetry but he also wrote about the Italian language, politics, and philosophy.

The Commedia (Comedy) is Dante’s most famous poem. It is a long, epic poem in medieval Italian in which Dante describes his three-part journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise accompanied by three guides.  The poem is made up of 100 canti  (songs) in total across the three sections.

Dante’s poetry (especially the Commedia) was extremely influential for European literature and art. Many famous writers and poets were inspired by his writing, from medieval writers like Geoffrey Chaucer and Giovanni Boccaccio, to modernist writers like T.S. Eliot and Samuel Beckett.

Dante700 Competition

Many students in the UK may never have heard of Dante or The Comedy. The aim of this competition is to introduce Dante and his work to students of all ages in a fun and engaging way.

To enter, students can submit a written piece or an artistic response to any of the categories included in the resource packs. They can also submit an ‘open response’, but this must be clearly linked to Dante’s work. Winning entries will be included in an online anthology and will win book tokens. 

Students and parents can browse the resources for themselves, and teachers can use the lesson resources available to introduce the Italian poet to their classes.

The closing date for entries is 29th April 2022. Visit the competition website to access further information and resources. Entrants can submit their work here.  

Buona fortuna!

Dante700 Competition logo

Virtual Book Club: Italian Episode

In January, the Virtual Book Club returned with our first ever Spanish episode. Swift on its heels, here is the second episode of 2019, which focusses on Italian. This episode is a discussion of an extract from Le città invisibili (Invisible Cities), by Italo Calvino. The discussion is led by doctoral researcher Rebecca, with undergraduates Pauline and Maga. If you would like to sign up to receive a copy of the text, or to receive information about future episodes, please email schools.liaison@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk

Out last Italian episode is available here. Stay tuned for the next episodes in French and German over the next few months!

Another open day – Italian

This week, we bring you news of yet another open day we have coming up later in the Spring. You may remember that we posted a few weeks ago about our German open day, which will take place on Saturday 23 February, our Spanish & Portuguese open day, which will take place on Thursday 28 February, and our open day for Russian and other Slavonic Languages, which will take place on Saturday 2 March. You can book for all of those events at this link.

Now some good news for the enthusiastic Italianists out there – our Italian open day will take place on Saturday 9 March at our beautiful Modern Languages Library, the Taylor Institution. As well as offering an overview of the Italian undergraduate course at Oxford, and guidance about how to apply and different options for the year abroad, the day will offer prospective students a chance to attend mini-lectures on ‘Dante’s Ulysses’ and  ‘Reading Italian’. These lectures will be suitable both for people who are studying Italian at A Level or equivalent, and those who are interested in picking up Italian from scratch. They are designed to give you a flavour of two different elements of the degree – the literature and the language. There will also be a separate Q&A for parents and companions. This day is a great chance to talk to current tutors and students about what it’s really like to study Italian at Oxford. If you are interested in attending, please book a place here. Here is the full programme…

Virtual Book Club: Italian takes a turn

The Virtual Book Club is back once again, this time with an episode on Italian. The Italian episode features a discussion about a poem by Patrizia Cavalli, which was published in 1992. Here, doctoral student Nicolò Crisafi guides two undergraduates, Kirsty and Hannah, through the poem, looking at topics like gender, voice, and form.

If you would like to receive a copy of the poem to follow as you watch the discussion, or if you would like future Virtual Book Club updates, please email us at schools.liaison@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk

Post-WW2 Italian Literature: Calm in the face of a storm?

This post was written by Kirsty Bailey, a second-year French and Italian student at Exeter College

Picture the scene. It is post-WW2 Italy, and two Italian Jewish writers, Primo Levi and Natalia Ginzburg, are writing about their wartime experiences. Levi was a prisoner at the Auschwitz concentration camp, while Ginzburg’s husband was killed for his anti-Fascist activism.

You might expect, in these circumstances, that Levi’s memoir, Se Questo è un uomo (If This is a Man, 1947) would be emotionally charged, with an angry or despairing narrator. While the work does pack an emotional punch, leaving the reader horrified at what the camp’s inmates were forced to endure, Levi’s narrative style is surprisingly measured – he remains calm; even detached. He seeks to analyse the situation, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions. He never laments his own personal struggles, but reflects on the experiences of the prisoners as a collective:

Bisogna risalire la corrente; dare battaglia ogni giorno e ogni ora alla fatica, alla fame… O anche, strazzare ogni dignità.” (“One has to fight against the current; to battle every day and every hour against exhaustion, hunger… Or else, to throttle all dignity.”)

The narrative style of Ginzburg’s autobiographical work, Lessico Familiare (Family Sayings, 1963) is similar to Levi’s, in that the narrator never expresses outrage or despair over the atrocities of the war. Her work, as suggested by its title, is rooted in her family and friends, rather than the larger workings of history. She remains detached from her own personal emotions – even when her husband dies, she worries more about his friend, Cesare Pavese (a fellow twentieth-century Italian writer), than her own grief:

“Era stato il suo migliore amico. Forse annoverava quella perdita fra le cose che lo straziavano.” (“He had been his best friend. That loss may have been one of the things which tortured him”).

A sense of detachment and restraint can therefore be found in both Levi and Ginzburg’s works, despite their emotive subject matter. Their respective narrative voices succeed in remaining calm in the face of a terrifying, terrible storm – making for intriguing narratives well worth a read.