9 Oct 2009 - 10 Oct 2009 All day CRASSH, 17 Mill Lane




Pierpaolo Antonello (Department of Italian, University of Cambridge)
Florian Mussgnug (Department of Italian Studies, UCL)
Heather Webb (Department of French and Italian, Ohio State, USA)

Conference summary


In a time like the present, when apocalyptic visions are pervasive and dominant on a global level, a thorough reflection on eschatological imagination is imperative. Visions of the End – of death and desolation, salvation and fulfilment – have left an enduring mark on Italian culture, literature and thought.  From its earliest origins – in late testamental and intertestamental Judaism and in the final book of the New Testament – apocalyptic discourse presents itself in a rich and distinctive style, with abundant use of symbols, allegorical figures, and rhetorical devices. In classical apocalypticism, these original modes of literary presentation are normally associated with a distinctive form of religious eschatology: a systematic and deterministic view of the course of history; an emphatic and intensely dramatic conception of the conflict between good and evil; a sense of the imminence of the End; the expectation of a messianic kingdom on earth and of life after death, including belief in the last judgement. For medieval and early modern Italian thinkers and writers, however, the rich heritage of apocalyptic discourse is not necessarily linked to such assumptions. As a key for the understanding of contemporary political and social events, apocalyptic scenarios are evoked in a variety of new contexts, both in support of the current political order and in the name of some proximate millennial state. Under the influence of new systems of knowledge and of technological and social change, classical apocalypticism further evolves into a predicament for the individual: anxiety over personal death and election becomes as important as the collective demand for a new social order. While Reformation theology strengthens this emphasis on individual matters, modern Catholicism also distances itself from naive forms of millenarianism, treating the End as immanent, rather than imminent.

This conference brings together scholars of literature, art history, philosophy and religion in order to explore the wealth and complexity of Medieval and Early Modern apocalyptic thought in Italy and to assess its influence on Nineteenth, Twentieth, and Twenty-First century Italian culture to the present day. While we will reflect on the reception of singular figures such as St Francis, Joachim of Fiore, Jacopone da Todi and Dante Alighieri – as well as Cola di Rienzo, Girolamo Savonarola and Marsilio Ficino – it is not our intention to depict Italian apocalypticism as an altogether singular or distinct tradition.  Instead, we intend to set down, as clearly as possible, the rich and lengthy history of this versatile, constantly changing and increasingly complex cultural phenomenon, its variety of interests, contexts and purposes. When it comes to the Twentieth Century, our conference will consider the relevance of eschatological paradigms to fields as diverse as Modernist fiction, anthropology (Ernesto De Martino), philosophy (Gianni Vattimo, Giorgio Agamben) and popular entertainment (cinema, graphic novels, television). We will also discuss the prominence of the apocalyptic imagination in avant-garde discourse, in political art of the post-war period and in more recent postmodernist fiction. Our greatest challenge – and our principal aim throughout the conference – will be to underline the existence of a genuine community of content and purpose, a common ground that justifies our investigation of apocalypse culture in relation to such diverse texts and authors over the course of so many centuries.

Delegate notice

Conference delegates can find information about accommodation in Cambridge at the following URLs:
NB. CRASSH is not able to help with the booking of delegate accommodation.

Conference sponsors

The conference convenors would like to gratefully acknowledge the support of the following sponsors:


The British Academy
Imitatio-The Shire Foundation
Department of Italian (University of Cambridge)
Department of Italian (UCL)


Administrative help: Samuel Mather (Conference Programme Manager, CRASSH)


Tel: +44 1223 766886
Email enquiries@crassh.cam.ac.uk