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April 1, 2004

Smith College Students, Faculty and President to Perform Marathon Reading of Dante's 'Inferno' on April 8, Holy Thursday

NORTHAMPTON -- Holy Thursday, which will take place this year on April 8, may be the most apropos evening on the calendar on which to perform a marathon recitation in its entirety of Dante Alighieri's "Inferno," the most famous of the three books in his classic masterpiece "The Divine Comedy."

The "Inferno," a poetic creation of 34 cantos, is a carefully structured book that describes Dante's journey through Hell, a torture labyrinth in his famous depiction comprised of nine levels, each pertaining to the nature of one's sins.

Dante's journey begins on Holy Thursday night when he becomes aware of being lost in a dark place after wandering astray and continues through to the dawn of Easter Sunday when he finally emerges from Hell. His stay in the underworld is intended to correspond symbolically with the period between Christ's death (on Good Friday) and Resurrection (on Easter Sunday), the same period during which Christ himself was said to have descended into Hell, according to some interpretations.

On this year's Holy Thursday, April 8, beginning at 7:30 p.m., the entire cycle of cantos in Dante's "Inferno" will be recited in order by Smith College faculty, students and other guests, including President Carol T. Christ, in a nearly six-hour marathon reading that will carry participants into the morning hours of Good Friday, the day Christ was crucified, died and was buried. A different reader will recite each canto. Members of the Northampton community will be invited to read.

The reading, which will take place in the Helen Hills Hills Chapel at Smith, is free, open to the public and wheelchair accessible. The program will also include musical performances of works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Franz Liszt and Giuseppe Verdi.

The event is modeled after an annual Holy Thursday reading of "Inferno" at The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City. The idea was suggested by a student in a class at Smith taught by Alfonso Procaccini, professor of Italian language and literature and a Dante scholar. He and several of his students decided to stage the reading to commemorate Christ's descent into Hell in light of Dante's poetic vision.

"The Divine Comedy," one of the most important and widely studied works in world literature, was written during the years 1306 to 1321. It is generally accepted that Dante underwent a profound life-changing experience at some point just prior to the fictional date of his declared journey commencing on Holy Thursday, April 8, 1300, according to Procaccini. "Whatever the experience, no doubt it served to awaken him and in turn inspire him to imagine and compose the work that would become his timeless literary masterpiece."


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Marti Hobbes
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