"Quel savio gentil:" Remembering Our Teachers

During this time of so many losses, when one could be particularly grateful to be a reader of literature, especially the Divine Comedy in which, to quote John Freccero, death is the least interesting thing, we also lost two inspiring and influential American teachers of Dante.

At the online Annual Members Meeting of the Dante Society of America on May 7, 2022, six former students offered tributes to Robert Hollander (1933-2021) and John Freccero (1931-2021). The idea for this initiative originally came from DSA Councilor Warren Ginsberg, who was then joined in spirit and effort by Simone Marchesi and Frank Ordiway.

For the difficult choice of only three contributions each, Ginsberg decided to feature students who had studied with Freccero at three of the institutions where he was professor in three different time periods. For Hollander, life-long Princeton man that he was, a selection was made of three different students, both graduate and undergraduate, from different periods and with different subsequent professional trajectories. The title we gave to the event was Dante's expression, "quel savio gentil" ("that noble sage"), that the poet used for his own teacher and guide, Virgil. The formal presentations were followed by remarks from people in attendance, who added their own comments and reminiscences. A videorecording of the meeting and program is available on the Society's YouTube channel.  At the same time, we thought these rich, witty, and moving tributes deserved to be recorded in written form, and what better place than Dante Notes, edited by Simone Marchesi, with its curated site on "Pedagogy." What comes through all these short tributes is a story of falling in love – with Dante, as Robert Hollander put it – but also with studying, teaching and thinking together about the world of literature and ideas. Today, when so many university bureaucrats explain to us that no one is interested in the Humanities, unless it can get them a job, it is exhilirating to read in these offered reminiscences of how people fell in love with books, to remember, as lovers of Dante all, how that moment of illumination and recognition happened also to us.

Alison Cornish
President, Dante Society of America
July 23, 2022

Please follow the links below to read the remarks presented by each of the participants:

Robert Hollander tributes:

John Freccero tributes: