Robert M. Durling
1929 - 2015
Robert M. Durling (1929-2015)

Robert M. Durling, Professor Emeritus of Italian and English Literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz, died May 21st in Oakland, California, from heart failure; he was 86. Born in New York on March 11, 1929, Durling graduated from Manhasset High School in 1946. He attended Harvard College, graduating in 1950, and in 1958 earned a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Harvard University, where he studied Dante with Charles S. Singleton. Durling taught briefly at Haverford College (1954-56) before going to the Department of Romance Languages at Cornell University in 1957.
Durling's experience in the intellectually lively Cornell of the early 60s yielded The Figure of the Poet in Renaissance Epic (Harvard University Press, 1965), a study of the inscribed figure of the author in early modern texts both English and Italian. The book's chapter on Ariosto's Orlando Furioso details how Ariosto's poem engaged the crises of 16th century Italy, and helped to free Ariosto studies from the influence of Benedetto Croce, sparking subsequent scholarship.
In 1966 Durling joined the Literature department of the newly founded University of California at Santa Cruz; he was, in addition, a visiting professor at Princeton University, Stanford, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Oregon. His scholarly work focused closely on Italian literature of the 14th century, and his Petrarch's Lyric Poems: the Rime Sparse and Other Lyrics (Harvard, 1976), accompanied by Durling's prose translations, remains a standard reference for English-speaking students. In 1990 Durling, with Ronald L. Martinez, published Time and the Crystal: Studies in Dante's 'Rime petrose' (University of California Press), which claims that the formal principles of Dante's four petrose poems are analogous to the structures of the cosmos, and thus display a "microcosmic poetics" that subsequently informs the Divine Comedy.
Durling's work on Dante culminated with his prose translation – first achieved in a single six-week stretch in 1993 – of the entire Divine Comedy and his subsequent commentary and notes on the poem, done in collaboration with Martinez. Oxford University Press published Inferno in 1996, Purgatorio in 2003, and Paradiso in 2011. In 2013 Durling's Paradiso translation was recognized by the Modern Language Association with the Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for a translation of a literary work.
Endowed with unbounded curiosity, Durling was equally at ease in Italian, French, and German. He was a demanding but generous teacher and scholar, and a musician. He played the bassoon for many years, and occasionally turned his hand to composition: his "Study for String Orchestra" was performed in 1971; his waltz, "La Maussade," was recorded by the Baguette Quartette in 1998.
He is survived by his wife of thirty years, Nancy Vine Durling; his three daughters by a previous marriage to Rita J. Kuhn: Rachel Durling, husband Michael Papciak (Berkeley, CA); Sarah Durling, husband Yonatan Shemmer (Sheffield, England); Ruth and Daniel Wiseman (Passaic, NJ), and five grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his son Kenneth Durling.
Published by New York Times from May 28 to May 29, 2015.
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11 Entries
Bob Durling enabled us through the erudition he wore so lightly and shared so generously to remember our deepest history and the heart's unquenchable longings. Sincere condolences for the loss of his irreplaceable humanity to his wife Nancy, his family, and all whose lives were touched and enlarged by him.
Patricia MacKinnon
February 3, 2016
Here was a translator of the heart for all of us; sharp, sweet, in humor, and so welcome.
Rob Turner
July 27, 2015
Bob always said the class with Charles Singleton changed his life. Our classes with Bob changed our lives. He taught us things we have thought about and used every day since. His ears must have been ever ringing as his name was always invoked in our home, as it will continue to be.
Matt Leipzig and Lynn Whitney
July 21, 2015
Here was a man. So gifted, and so loving. Goodbye. You will be greatly missed.
Sharon Ladin
June 29, 2015
It was an honor and delight to know you.
Joe Blanda
June 2, 2015

Nancy : avec mes condoléances les plus sincères.
Bob nous manque déjà, à tous. Comme nous allons
le regretter.
Herve Le Mansec
June 1, 2015
May flights of angels sing you to thy rest.

Goodbye, dear Bob.
May 31, 2015
Bob Durling will be sorely missed by those of us at the University of California at Santa Cruz who worked with him. Farewell to a loyal colleague, excellent scholar, gifted teacher and dear friend. Sincere condolences to Nancy and his children.
David Orlando
May 31, 2015
Rest in peace, beloved father.
May 31, 2015
Goodbye my friend.
Albert Ascoli
May 30, 2015
A treasure has passed.
Michael Steinberg
May 29, 2015
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