Metamorphosing DanteAppropriations, Manipulations, and Rewritings in the Twentieth and Twenty-First CenturiesVienna: Turia + Kant, 2010
Copy to Clipboard
Add italics as necessary
Cite as: Piero Boitani, ‘Irish Dante: Yeats, Joyce, Beckett ’, in Metamorphosing Dante: Appropriations, Manipulations, and Rewritings in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, ed. by Manuele Gragnolati, Fabio Camilletti, and Fabian Lampart, Cultural Inquiry, 2 (Vienna: Turia + Kant, 2010), pp. 37–59 <>

Irish DanteYeats, Joyce, Beckett Piero Boitani

Keywords: Alighieri, Dante – Divina Commedia; Alighieri, Dante – Vita nuova; productive reception; Irish literature; Yeats, William B.; Joyce, James; Beckett, Samuel; Heany, Seamus

‘Dante and Ireland’, or ‘Dante and Irish Writers’, is an extremely vast topic, and to cover it a book rather than an essay would be necessary. If the relationship between the poet and Ireland did not begin in the fourteenth century — when Dante himself may have had some knowledge of, and been inspired by, the Vision of Adamnán, the Vision of Tungdal, and the Tractatus de purgatorio Sancti Patricii — the story certainly had started by the eighteenth, when the Irish man of letters Henry Boyd was the first to produce a complete English translation of the Comedy, published in 1802. Even if one restricts the field to twentieth-century literature alone, which is my aim in the present piece, the list of authors who are influenced by Dante includes Yeats, Joyce, Beckett, and Heaney — that is to say, four of the major writers not only of Ireland, but of Europe and the entire West. To these should then be added other Irish poets of the first magnitude, such as Louis MacNeice, Ciaran Carson, Eiléan Ní Cuilleanáin, and Thomas Kinsella. I hope I will therefore be forgiven for treating this theme in a somewhat cursory manner, privileging the episodes I consider most relevant and the themes which I think form a coherent and intricate pattern of literary history, where every author is not only metamorphosing Dante but also rewriting his predecessor, or predecessors, who had rewritten Dante. Distinct from the English and American Dante of Pound and Eliot, an ‘Irish Dante’, whom Joyce was to call ‘ersed irredent’, slowly grows out of this pattern.


The full text can be downloaded above and here as pdf.


  1. Alighieri, Dante, An Choiméide Dhiaga Dainté Ailígiéirí, trans. by Pádraig de Brún (Dublin: An Clóchomhar, 1997)
  2. Commedia, ed. by Anna Maria Chiavacci Leonardi, 3 vols (Milan: Mondadori, 1994)
  3. Convivio, ed. by Cesare Vasoli (Milan and Naples: Ricciardi, 1988)
  4. The Inferno of Dante Alighieri, trans. by Ciaran Carson (London: Granta Books, 2002)
  5. Vita nuova, ed. by Domenico De Robertis (Milan and Naples: Ricciardi, 1980)
  6. Beckett, Samuel, The Beckett Trilogy (London: Pan, 1979)
  7. Disjecta: Miscellaneous Writings and a Dramatic Fragment, ed. by Ruby Cohn (New York: Grove, 1984)
  8. Dream of Fair to Middling Women, ed. by Eoin O’Brien and Edith Fournier (London: Calder, 1993)
  9. En attendant Godot (Paris: Minuit, 1973)
  10. Le Dépeupleur (Paris: Minuit, 1993)
  11. More Pricks than Kicks (London: Calder, 1993)
  12. Nouvelles et Textes pour rien (Paris: Minuit, 1974)
  13. Boccaccio, Giovanni, Opere in versi, Corbaccio, Trattatello, ed. by Pier Giorgio Ricci (Milan and Naples: Ricciardi, 1965)
  14. Boldrini, Lucia, Joyce, Dante and the Poetics of Literary Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001)
  15. Bryden, Mary, ‘No Stars Without Stripes: Beckett and Dante’, The Romanic Review, 87.4 (1996), pp. 541–56
  16. Caselli, Daniela, Beckett’s Dantes: Intertextuality in the Fiction and Criticism (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005)
  17. Di Rocco, Emilia, ‘Beckett e Dante’, Strumenti critici, 3 (2005), pp. 403–22
  18. Eliot, Thomas S., ‘Ulysses: Order and Myth’, The Dial, 75 (1923), pp. 480–83
  19. Ellis, Steve, Dante and English Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983)
  20. Ferrini, Jean-Pierre, Dante et Beckett (Paris: Hermann, 2003)
  21. Fletcher, John, ‘Beckett’s Debt to Dante’, Nottingham French Studies, 4.1 (1965), pp. 41–52
  22. Fowlie, Wallace, ‘Dante and Beckett’, in Dante among the Moderns, ed. by Stuart Y. McDougal (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985), pp. 128–52
  23. Frasca, Gabriele, Cascando: Tre studi su Samuel Beckett (Naples: Liguori, 1988)
  24. Harvey, Lawrence E., Samuel Beckett, Poet and Critic (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970)
  25. Heaney, Seamus, ‘Envies and Identifications: Dante and the Modern Poet’, Irish University Review: A Journal of Irish Studies, 15.1 (1985), pp. 5–19
  26. Preoccupations (London: Faber and Faber, 1980)
  27. Joyce, James, Finnegans Wake, 3rd edn (London: Faber and Faber, 1964)
  28. Letters of James Joyce, ed. by Stuart Gilbert, Richard Ellmann, 3 vols (New York: Viking, 1966)
  29. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, ed. by Seamus Deane (London: Penguin, 1992)
  30. Ulysses, ed. by Jeri Johnson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993)
  31. Joyce, Stanislaus, ‘The Background to Dubliners’, The Listener, 25 March 1954, pp. 526–27
  32. Melchiori, Giorgio, The Whole Mystery of Art (London: Routledge, 1960)
  33. Moretti, Franco, Opere Mondo (Turin: Einaudi, 1994); in English as Modern Epic: The World-Systems from Goethe to Garcia Marquez (London: Verso, 1996)
  34. Reynolds, Mary T., Joyce and Dante: The Shaping Imagination (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981)
  35. Ricks, Christopher, Beckett’s Dying Words (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993)
  36. Robinson, Michael, ‘From Purgatory to Inferno: Beckett and Dante Revisited’, Journal of Beckett Studies, 5 (1979), pp. 69–82
  37. Salvadori Lonergan, Corinna, ‘“E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle” — But There Are No Stars: Dante in Beckett’s Endgame’, Journal of Anglo-Italian Studies, 5 (1997), pp. 277–91
  38. Wallace, David, ‘Dante in English’, in The Cambridge Companion to Dante, ed. by Rachel Jacoff, 2nd edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 281–304
  39. Yeats, William Butler, Autobiographies (London: Macmillan, 1955)
  40. The Collected Poems (London: Macmillan, 1965)
  41. L’opera poetica, ed. by Anthony L. Johnson, trans. by Ariodante Marianni, introduction and life by Piero Boitani (Milan: Mondadori, 2005)