On the 12th of September, Virgina Jewiss, a lecturer in the humanities at Yale University and director of the Yale Humanities in Rome program came to give a lecture on the structure of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Jewiss has translated Melania Mazzucco’s Vita and is the winner of Italy’s most prestigious literary award, the Strega Prize. Among numerous translations and screenplays, Jewiss has also written a children’s version of Dante’s Inferno entitled Dante’s Journey, An Infernal Adventure. Having taught Dante for more than twenty years at Yale, Jewiss knows the ins and outs of the epic poem thoroughly, which was a huge benefit especially to the architecture students at the lecture as this year’s studio project is a reanalysis of the Danteum, a project designed as an ode to Dante’s Divina Comedia by Giuseppe Terragni, yet never built.
The lecture was attended by many of the students and faculty of the Cornell in Rome program and faculty of other universities in Rome as well who had all come to hear Jewiss speak.
Jewiss’ lecture was hugely informative, beginning with the description of Dante’s career and going over the architecture of the Comedy by displaying various diagrams representing inferno, purgatorio and paradiso. She explained how the levels of hell and heaven are structured and the horizontal reading that can be carried out between the cantos of the three canticles of the comedy, which tie together. At the end we realized that Dante’s journey through hell as he goes down level by level is actually a journey up as he travels through the last circle and reaches the base of the mountain of purgatory, leaving one with the idea that “to know good one first has to know evil”; an enlightening statement made by Jewiss and one that brought the entire epic together in a new light.
Students remained to ask questions and several even spoke of their own projects with Jewiss and how they would tie in the structure of the comedy to them.