The Unexpected Dante

ESS Newsletter

2022, Vol 2

Lucia Alma Wolf, ed. The Unexpected Dante. Perspectives on the Divine Comedy. Contributions by Lucia Alma Wolf, Francesco Ciabattoni, Bernardo Piciché, Kristina M. Olson, and Sylvia Rodgers Albro. Published by Library of Congress in collaboration with Bucknell University Press, 2022.

This book focuses on Dante Alighieri’s masterpiece La divina commedia (The Divine Comedy) and its long afterlife of more than seven hundred years. The occasion that led to this book was a celebration of Dante’s 750th birth anniversary at the Library of Congress on December 3, 2015.

For this occasion, I, organized a symposium with panelists from Italian studies college departments across the Washington DC area and curated an extensive display of Dante books, prints, musical scores, and other materials within the Library’s vast and unique collections.

A display of this scale and event for all people, dedicated solely to Dante and his impact on world literature and art, had never been attempted before at the Library. With more than 250 attendees from all backgrounds, ages, and nationalities, it was a truly remarkable success.  Witnessing this success, I quickly realized that there was an unmet desire of the public to know more about these collections and understand their relevance.  This book, published in December 2021, in coincidence with a momentous year of global events celebrating Dante’s 700th death anniversary, is my response to the information needs that originated requests from the Dante experts and enthusiasts who had attended my display in 2015 and all of the Library’s collection users who have expressed to me through my reference and outreach work the desire to see and use the Dante collection items again.

Highlighting the range of the Dante holdings across the Library of Congress’s numerous collections is the primary goal of this book that while focusing on the history of the Italian Dante collections at the Library and relating aspects of their individual histories, speaks to the interconnected relationships among the Italian collections and many other items in the Dante holdings in different languages and media, placing them within the historical and cultural context of the Divine Comedy’s reception across Europe, the United States, and worldwide.

To make the Library of Congress’s Dante collections come alive for their global audiences, this book focuses on key interests for both the casual and academic researcher.  Areas include the early printing history of the Divine Comedy with mentions of its early manuscript and commentary traditions; the place of the Divine Comedy within the most historically important Italian acquisitions at the Library of Congress between the late 19th century and early 20th century; the history of its translation into English embedded with translation theories; its transmission and reception in the United States at a critical moment in the nation’s history—during and after the Civil War– and then across the world.

As a collections of essays by other insightful Dante authors with their own focused devotion to the Divine Comedy, this book reflects their amazing contributions of original and informative essays on topics including the symbology of music, the role of Roman law, the adaptation of the Divine Comedy to American slang and culture, and, the history of paper-making. Each of these wonderful essays is independent, significant, and complementary work all researched within the Library of Congress.

Links for The Unexpected Dante: