Dante’s Inferno is a 14th century epic that Waldorf students read during the junior year. The book is about Dante’s journey through hell guided by the Roman poet Virgil and teaches students about allegory – an important literary device to represent or symbolize ideas and concepts.
“It’s a difficult text that requires a lot of critical-reading,” said Mrs. Deirdre Somers, Waldorf’s high school English teacher. “The course prepares students for what they’ll face in college-level, seminar classes.”
Students take four tests and write a series of essays to make sure they understand the book. “But most importantly, I want them to make the story their own.”
So students also create and prepare an artistic performance that synthesizes the work. In past years, students have produced short films, performed short plays and written poems. “But this year,” said Mrs. Somers, “I challenged students to create a dance.”
One group of seven students took-up the challenge and decided to portray their assignment – the 8th and 9th circles of hell – through modern dance. Recently, the group performed their dance to a packed-house of parents, students, teachers and friends at the Thanksgiving Assembly.
Like many of the other texts read during the junior year, Dante’s Inferno is taught within the intellectual and social context of the late Middle Ages. Special attention is paid to the political, philosophical and theological concerns of the day – and how they might relate to modern day issues. “Remember, it’s an allegory,” said Mrs. Somers. “Sure, it’s a gripping story complete with monsters; but it’s also a story about politics, life, love, relationships, good vs. evil … this story has it all!”
For the students, synthesizing the concepts of redemption and salvation into a modern dance became just another way to “know-the-text.”