Robert Hollander, Emeritus Professor of European Literature in the Department of French and Italian, had a lifelong association with the University. A member of the Undergraduate Class of ’55, he went on to spend the entirety of his career starting in 1961 at the university, except for the years spent at Columbia University earning his PhD and for various visiting appointments during his leave years. He served in many roles, among which as Chair of the Department of Comparative Literature and Master of Butler College, but perhaps his greatest service to the University and the one of which he himself was most proud was his commitment to its students. A devoted teacher of medieval Italian literature and associated fields for more than forty years, he inspired generations of devoted students with a lifelong love of the humanities and an understanding of their importance, which has continued to enrich their lives long after leaving the University. His courses on Dante’s Divine Comedy generated a special Dante Reunion held in Princeton that has run uninterrupted for forty-five years, as well as a series of biennial weeklong seminars in Tuscany to study the great author, which brought together former students of all ages and walks of life: journalists, musicians, lawyers, singers, bankers, engineers, physicians, and entrepreneurs, in addition to the more expected graduate students, professors, and college president.
Hollander’s research encompassed a wide range of topics, but it constantly maintained at its core the study of the works of Dante and Boccaccio. Among his seminal books, which have exerted a long-lasting influence on scholarship published on both sides of the Atlantic, one may single out Allegory in Dante’s Commedia (Princeton, 1969); Il Virgilio dantesco (Olschki, 1983); Boccaccio’s Two Venuses (Columbia, 1977) and Boccaccio’s Dante: The Shaping Force of Satire (Michigan, 1997). With his wife Jean, he also translated Dante’s Commedia in a commented edition published between 2000 and 2008 (Doubleday/Anchor). His commentary also appeared online and in an Italian translation (Olschki, 2011 and Loescher, 2016). Hollander’s pioneering work on Dante extended from an early date into the field of digital humanities. He was the driving force behind the creation of the Dartmouth Dante Project, a digital archive collecting scores of ancient and modern commentaries on the Commedia, the Princeton Dante Project, an annotated virtual edition of the poem and textual archive for Dante’s works, and the Electronic Bulletin of the Dante Society of America, a digital journal now continuing its publication as Dante Notes.
From 1979 to 1985 he served as President of the Dante Society of America; in 2007 he was made Honorary President of the Ente Nazionale Giovanni Boccaccio; in 2008 he was the first American elected to the consiglio Direttivo della Società Dantesca Italiana, of which he also became Honorary President. His work was recognized by grants from the Fulbright, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Rockefeller Foundation. He was awarded the Howard Behrman Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities from Princeton, the Il Fiorino d’oro del Comune di Firenze for his studies of Dante and his edition of Dante’s Commedia, the Premio internazionale Nicola Zingarelli per la filologia e critica dantesca, and he was made an Honorary Citizen of Certaldo, birthplace of Boccaccio.