Teacher Resources: Activities
The World of Dante is a multi-media research tool intended to
facilitate the study of the Divine Comedy through a wide
range of offerings. The various components allow users to engage
the poem dynamically. We encourage teachers to show students how
to access the various sections of the site before assigning any
work. Detailed below are suggestions for activities which can be
pursued in class or as homework assignments.
Combined Text Pages
These pages facilitate the examination Dante's poetic diction.
Often Dante does not name individuals by their proper names, but
identifies them through the use the periphrases and circumlocutions.
- Explain the meaning of rhetorical terms such as antonomasia, periphrasis, circumlocution, patronym, matronym or toponym. Ask students to study the expressions Dante uses to designate people, places, creatures and other entities in one or more cantos. What do the various expressions used to characterize entities such as Virgil, Beatrice, Styx or Geryon? Do the expressions change in different contexts? Are there detectable patterns in Dante's use of naming devices?
- Assign different entities to students and ask them to analyze their findings based on the information found in the brief and full records.
- Assign specific cantos to students and ask them to give a presentation after looking at the information available for any given canto. Many cantos in Purgatory have music so this component can also be considered.
Users can also access images from the Combined Text Pages. The images contain illustrations of particular episodes by Botticelli, Flaxman, Doré, and other artists.
- Ask students to study the illustrations and to discuss the fidelity with which an artist renders specific scenes. If there is more than one illustration, how do they differ?
- In what ways does the artist depart from Dante's description? How do different artists depict the same entity (ie Minos, Geryon)?
- In some instances we have a range of illustrations for a particular entity (ie Florence): what aspects of his native city does Dante emphasize?
Music recorded by Zephyrus, Central Virginia's Early Music Vocal Ensemble, is also accessible from the combined text pages for Purgatorio and Paradiso. Encourage students to listen to the music when reading passages from these two cantos and to read the contextual information on the music page.
- Ask students to analyze the relationship between a specific liturgical chant and the context in which it is mentioned. How does music contribute to the different dynamics which pertain in Purgatory and Paradise?
- Assign different hymns to students and ask them to research a particular piece of music. Encourage them to find English/Latin lyrics online.
- Ask students to incorporate the music along with the performance or recitation of a particular canto: the cantos can be staged as mini-dramas.
This page allows users to search information in the database and the XML coded text.
Search the Text
Encourage students to search for specific people or key words (ie Beatrice, Dio/God, Cristo/Christ, santo/holy, inno/hymn, gloria/glory). Such searches will take users directly to the passage or passages in the poem in which these words are found. In instances in which a person or word is mentioned more than once (ie Beatrice in Par.5 or Dio in Inf.3), readers will see arrows. Click on the arrow to find the next instance of the word.
- Ask students to study and analyze the context in which certain terms appear in the poem.
This section of the Search page allows users to find information about people in many ways - by name, nature (historical or mythical), literary source, political affiliation, and by the terms used in the descriptions.
- Ask students to search for persons who are mentioned several times in the poem such as Beatrice, Eve, God, and Christ. Searching for Beatrice will produce the all the passages in which Dante uses epithets, antonomasia and other naming devices to describe her.
- How does Dante's treatment of Beatrice and Virgil vary from one canticle to the next?
- Analyze Dante's treatment of mythical or Biblical figures?
- How are female characters, deities or creatures treated? Ask students to write a short essay or do a presentation after they have studied all the information on an entity--the passages in which a person, place, creature etc occur and the accompanying contextual information.
Readers can locate details such as all mythical figures, all Ghibellines, all ecclesiastical figures, or all people whose literary source is Biblical immediately.
Ask students to interpret the results for any searches they choose to make: how does Dante present them? In what contexts do they appear? Are there detectable patterns to these allusions?
- How are people associated with different places (ie Firenze/Florence; Limbo, Tebe/Thebes, Malebolge) treated?
- Users can also search the descriptions of people and other entities: typing in France, French, poet, or pope yields a representative selection of the appearance of these terms in the descriptions. Students can use the results to provide textual evidence on a broad range of subjects in essays.
Places, Structures, Creatures, Deities
Users can search these entities in the same way in which people can be searched.
- Ask students to pick a place (Florence/Firenze, Inferno, Roma, Troy/Troia) and analyze Dante's treatment of it in the Comedy.
- Ask students to examine and compare the accompanying illustrations of Geryon, Cerberus or other creatures.
- Ask students to study the images and information on historical geographic places or structures: what do we learn about Dante's conception of places?
Botticelli's Chart of Hell
The interactive map of Hell created from Botticelli's drawing offers a thorough visualization of Dante's and Virgil's descent through Hell. Teachers can begin a class by pointing out where they are in the journey at any given point.
- Ask students to compare the depiction of specific scenes on the Chart of Hell to Botticelli's illustrations of particular cantos (see Botticelli Gallery).
What similarities and differences do they detect?
- Botticelli also portrays elements not described by Dante: students can ponder differences in modes of representation elicited by the visual and poetic arts.
The various maps are intended to clarify Dante's cosmology and geographical allusions Mary Hensman's Dante map shows all the places mentioned by Dante in all his works as well as places known to have been traversed by the poet during his exile. Given the wealth of geographical allusions and number of itineraries traced by Dante (ie. Manto's journey in Inf.20, Ulysses in Inf.26, the discussion of the Romagna in Inf.27 and Purg.14), the maps enhance the study of Dante's geographical allusions.
Starting from the founding of the Franciscan order and ending with Dante's death, the Timeline juxtaposes events from Dante's life (in red) against the political events and major cultural achievements of his time.
- When teaching cantos with allusions to historical events such as the battles of Montaperti, Benevento, Tagliacozzo, Campaldino, or Colle Valdesa, ask students to look at the accounts of these events on the Timeline.
- Students can also study the timeline to obtain a better understanding of the historical and cultural context of the period in which the poem was written. How do Dante's wanderings in exile influence the content of the poem?
Students can pursue a wide range of activities with the art work on the site: they can compare different illustrations of a particular canto, different illustrations of Dante, study the work of a particular artist in its entirety or parts.
- How does Botticelli use facial expression and poses to express the
emotions described by Dante? Do you feel that the figures convey the same
- What does Botticelli do to "move" the reader along? How does he link one
scene to the next?
- Compare the illustrations in Yates Thompson 36 to Botticelli's work.
- What are the most distinctive features of the illustrations found in Vellutello's commentary?
- Compare Botticelli's and Vellutello's illustrations to Paradise.
- How does Doré use landscape and atmospheric effects of light and
shadow (chiaroscuro) to convey Dante's meaning in each canto?
- How does Doré use size, scale, and perspective to communicate Dante's
message? Is Doré's use of these elements effective, in your opinion?
Why or why not?
- How does Doré convey the nature of Dante's relationship with
Virgil and with the various shades he meets in Hell in each canto?
- How would you describe Doré's portrayal of Dante's reaction to meeting certain individuals such as the Virtuous Heathens in Limbo, Paolo and Francesca, Farinata, and Ugolino?
- Does Dante's relationship with Virgil (or Beatrice) change during his journey through Hell? If so, how is this change represented by the artist?
- How would you characterize the artist's depiction of Dante's meeting with specific individuals?
- How does Sandow Birk reinvent Doré's illustrations for Inf.5 and Inf.33.
- Look at illustrations in the Inf.5 and Inf.33 galleries. Compare different artists' treatment of specific scenes from these cantos.
We would very like to hear of any activities you conduct with your classes on the Divine Comedy. We hope that you will take the time to complete the short survey on the site.