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Tutor profile: Francesca S.

Francesca S.
Oxford Post-Graduate in Literature and Translation
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Subject: Italian


What Makes an Italian Verb Reflexive? (Beginner-Intermediate level)

Francesca S.

Italian reflexive verbs are the ones which, in their infinitive form, end in -si. This pronoun, in fact, corresponds to the notion of “oneself.” For instance, “divertirsi” means “to enjoy oneself.” In this way, the reflexive verbs indicate that the subject of the sentence is both performing and receiving the action of the verb: → mi diverto (I enjoy myself - I am also the one who is enjoying); → mi lavo (I wash myself - I am also the who is being washed); → etc. This can be clearly visualised by thinking about the verb “lavare” (to wash): it is not reflexive if the subject who performs the action does not also receive it: → “Carlo lava la sua macchina” (Carlo washes his car). It is instead reflexive if the subject both performs and receives the action of the verb: “Carlo si lava” (Carlo washes himself). For this reason, to know whether a verb is reflexive in Italian, it is helpful to think whether in English it can be accompanied by “oneself” (to enjoy oneself - divertirsi, to cut oneself - tagliarsi, etc.). However, it is important to remember that: ( 1 ) many other English verbs become reflexive in Italian, and it is therefore useful to think whether the subject both performs and receives the action (he gets up - si alza, he falls asleep - si addormenta, he wakes up - si sveglia, he gets used - si abitua, etc.); ( 2 ) many verbs can be in both forms depending on who is receiving the action: to wash / to wash oneself - lavare / lavarsi, to love / to love oneself - amare / amarsi, etc. In the second case, the subject is also always the object of the sentence. (There are then further rules on how to coniugate reflexive verbs and on the position of the reflexive pronouns within a sentence: io mi lavo, io devo lavarmi, etc…).

Subject: Study Skills


What is a good method to write a strong essay introduction (first-year undergraduate level)?

Francesca S.

One of the multiple ways to write a good essay introduction is to break it down into five main components. TOPIC: a general sentence introducing and broadly outlining the topic.
 Example: “During the second World War and the Post-war period, many artists decided to picture the important events that overcame the Italian nation between 1943 and 1945.” FOCUS: one or a couple of sentences narrowing down to the more precise area of the general topic that has been introduced. 
Example: “One of the their main focuses was the representation and glorification of the Italian resistance. Two works of two great exponents of that time, Italo Calvino and Roberto Rossellini, brought to their fields a unique view of that movement: the film Roma città aperta e and the book Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno.” One of the their main focuses was the representation and glorification of the Italian resistance. QUESTION: a sentence paraphrasing and restating the given essay question (or stating the one you had to come up with). 
Example: “Two works of two great exponents of that time, Italo Calvino and Roberto Rossellini, brought to their fields a unique view of that movement: the film Roma città aperta e and the book Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno.” 
(In this case, the essay question could have been: ‘How do Calvino and Rossellini portray the Resistance movement?’) THESIS: a phrase clearly stating the main thesis of the paper. If you were given an essay question, the thesis embodies the direct answer to that question. 
Example: “Both of them showed multiple aspects and complex contexts of the partisan fight; even if in almost completely different ways, they both provided a celebratory view of the resistance.” PLAN: a couple of phrases outlining how the essay is going to demonstrate and support the main thesis. This is an opportunity to outline to the reader the general structure of the essay and its main arguments. 
Example: “This essay will explore the ways with which the two authors decided to portray the partisans, their possible reasons, and comment on the effect that their works produce.”

Subject: Literature


How would you tackle this formative question (undergraduate level)? “How does Ulysses in Canto XXVI of Dante’s Inferno, Divina Commedia differs from the original Homeric figure? Analyse the role the Achaean hero assumes within the Commedia.”

Francesca S.

This question is asking you to analyse one of the central figures within Dante’s Canto XXVI. First of all, approach this question by breaking it down and analysing it: This question is not asking you to write a commentary or analytical response to a whole literary passage: it is referring to a particular figure and its role (within a canto that contains other important figures). This signals that you should avoid diluting your answer by referring to the whole Canto and the other characters: the answer has to be narrowed down to the role of Ulysses. You will therefore start by introducing only the scene that directly relates to the character and its context. The first part of this question asks how the Homeric figure differs from Dante’s reinterpretation of it: it is thus asking you for a comparison. The second part of the question asks what the symbolic role of the figure within the work is: it is therefore asking you for an analysis. With this in mind, you can then start answering the question. This is one possible way to respond: 1) Briefly introduce Dante’s Ulysses and its importance within the canto. Ulysses is the true protagonist of Canto XXVI of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno. When he takes the word, the Achaean hero completely dominates the scene, and the following fifty-two verses of the canto are entrusted to the story of his last journey. 2) Address the first part of the question and introduce the Homeric figure. In the Homeric poems, Odysseus embodies the figure of the brave warrior and of an expert navigator always in search of wisdom. He is also the versatile and cunning hero, which through his rhetoric always convinces his companions, and through his intellect deceives his enemies and achieves his aims (as with the expedient of the Trojan horse). In Homer’s Odyssey, at the end of his 10-year-long journey of homecoming, Odysseus returns to Ithaca to his patient wife Penelope and his son Telemachus – a comforting conclusion which, in principle, was not contradicted by most Greek, Roman and Byzantine poets and scholars. 3) Answer the first part of the question and delve into the comparison. In the Commedia, while Ulysses maintains all the characteristics of the Homeric hero, Dante’s poetry astutely inserts itself in the ambiguities lying in the very nature of those traits: Ulysses’ nature of a cunning deceiver is emphasised as that of a manipulator, and his ambition is turned into arrogance. Dante’s Ulysses therefore relates the story of how his burning desire to "follow virtue and knowledge” led him to travel beyond the Pillars of Hercules, to the mountain of Purgatory. However, since the Pillars represent the divine limits imposed on human knowledge, and the Purgatory can only be achieved through a path of conversion and obedience to God, Ulysses ambition becomes in Dante’s work an arrogant claim to transcend the human sphere and challenge the divine. Moreover, Ulysses exploits his ars oratoria to manipulate and involve his travel companions into this sinful expedition. In this way, Ulysses’ folle volo (“mad flight”) ends with a shipwreck and an eternity in Hell. In comparison to the literary tradition, Dante’s Ulysses is thus dismembered of his homecoming, his nostos, as his curiositas prevails over the return to Telemachus and Penelope. 4) Answer the second part of the question and analyse the role of Ulysses in Dante’s work. At the same time, Dante’s pagan figure of Ulysses becomes imbued of Biblical and moral significance: a warning to use human intelligence within Christian morality and without trespassing into cognitive pride. (…) → In this way, the commentary has blended the answer to the first question (the comparison) into the answer to the second one (the analysis), revealing how the comparison itself highlights what is the role of Dante’s Ulysses within the Commedia! You could now proceed with further analysis of Ulysses’ role within the whole Commedia.

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