Ron Jenkins Discusses Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’
Professor of Theater Ron Jenkins participated in a discussion on WNPR’s The Colin McEnroe Show about Dante Aligheri’s 14,000 line epic poem, “The Divine Comedy,” of which “Dante’s Inferno” is the most famous section. This adventure story is based on Dante’s real life in 14th century Italy, where he was a city official, diplomatic negotiator, and a man who dared to cross the Pope. Jenkins has taught Dante at Wesleyan and in prison courses.
“I discovered that I could learn a lot about Dante by teaching it in prison. I brought my Wesleyan students and my Yale students into prison to work with him,” said Jenkins. “I discovered that a lot of stereotypes are shattered by going into a prison with a text like that because although the commonplace understanding of Dante is a writer who writes about hell and awful, horrible things, the men in prison immediately understood that this was a poem about hope. They immediately identified with Dante. One of the reasons they identified with Dante is he was not only in exile, but he was a convict. He was convicted of crimes, that’s why he was put in exile. As soon as men in prison hear that, they pay attention more closely. […] They identify with Dante’s journey through hell, through purgatory, to a better place, and they can connect to that. They latch onto the hope that’s in Dante’s poem. […] They want to think about where they can go when they leave prison, if they can leave prison, or where they can go spiritually even if they can never leave prison.”