ACU commemorates 700th anniversary of Dante Alighieri’s death

Mar 30, 2022 | Announcements

Sydney, 25 March 2022: The 700th anniversary of the death of Italy’s most distinguished poet and one of the West’s greatest literary figures, Dante Alighieri, has been marked at a special commemorative event at the Australian Catholic University (ACU).

Il sommo Poeta, A Commemoration of the 700th Anniversary of the Death of Dante Alighieri, was hosted last week by ACU in conjunction with the Italian Cultural Institute and followed a year-long program of events held in celebration of the life and works of Dante.

It took place on March 25, a day marked by the Italian government since 2020 as National Dante Day in honour of the poet.

The Consul General of Italy in Sydney, Mr Andrea De Felip, spoke about the fascinating link Dante has with Australia. Namely, his reference to the “quattro stelle” or “four stars” in Purgatorio I, 23, believed by scholars to be a reference to the Southern Cross, and his poetic notion that these stars represented the virtues of Justice, Prudence, Temperance, and Fortitude.

Keynote speaker and Dante scholar, Emeritus Professor John Kinder from the University of Western Australia, gave a lively account of his personal transformation kickstarted by Dante’s Divine Comedy which is considered one of the most important poems of the Middle Ages and one of Western civilisation’s greatest works.

Professor Kinder mentioned that had we been in Florence in Dante’s time, we would have been wishing each other ‘happy new year,’ since the calendar at that time celebrated the beginning of the new year on March 25, the Christian feast of the Annunciation, exactly nine months before December 25, the birth of Christ.

Prof Kinder broke down the Divine Comedy, an allegory of the afterlife, into three parts; Hell, Purgatory, Paradise. The poet, Virgil, leads Dante through each of these places where he encounters groups of souls. In Hell, he encounters damned souls isolated by their own self-destructive behaviours, who have chosen to be there, as opposed to being there because they were damned by God. In Purgatory, he encounters souls who are climbing a mountain, with heavy stones on their back to purge/detach themselves from the memories of their sins to prepare themselves for Heaven. In Paradise, he encounters peace, harmony, music, and groups of blessed souls whose inherent happiness is to be in the company of each other whilst marvelling at the mystery of the Beatific Vision.

Significantly, Dante’s journey in understanding Divinity was through his encounter with humanity and vice versa. Professor Kinder’s discussion of the human heart, as presented by Dante, sparked many philosophical questions, both at the end of his keynote address and amongst guests at the end of the event.

Guests were delighted with readings of excerpts from the Vita nova and the Commedia. Readings were given by newly-appointed Ramsay Centre Academic Director Professor Diana Glenn, ACU Western Civilisation Program Director Professor Robert Carver, ACU Professor of Canon Law Michele Riondino, as well as ACU Ramsay Scholars Emily Nix, Domenica Mitchell, and Elizabeth Mills.

Dr Kishore Saval, Senior Lecturer for ACU’s Western Civilisation Program, gave a dynamic testimony to how Dante has influenced his life summed up in his call to action from Inferno 26: “…you have not been made to live like brutes but to pursue virtue and knowledge.”

Dr Saval spoke about the arresting and endearing aspects of all the human characters we meet through Dante’s poetry as a parallel experience to our own lives. He suggested that one of Dante’s key messages is that salvation for humanity comes from the messiness of life and the learning from the dark passages of time we encounter, not just the bright and the brilliant moments. Dr Saval explored the concept of allegory, a word coming from the Greek meaning loosely, ‘to say something other.’ He broke this concept down, and dissected how, in poetry, timeless meaning can be garnered from the mystery that veiled language holds.

To close, Director of the Italian Cultural Institute, Lillo Guarneri, gave his own reflection on why Dante’s works are still worth reading today. Mr Guarneri said it is because Dante’s knowledge of the human soul and spirituality gives us hope, and as the Poet writes in Inferno 34, “we emerge to see – once more – the stars.”