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Dante: Contemporary Perspectives

  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The essays in this volume probe current critical assumptions about the celebrated Italian poet, literary theorist, moral philosopher, political theorist.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7371-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-2)
    Amilcare A. Iannucci

    From the very beginning, theCommediahas managed to produce meaning and pleasure for those who receive it, and to engage the dominant art forms and media of the time, from the most popular to the most recondite and exclusive. Dante’s literate audience quickly realized the poem’s importance as well as its complexity – the fact that it works at several different levels at the same time. TheCommediademanded explication, and so no sooner was Dante in his grave than the scholars set to work. By the end of the fourteenth century, theCommediahad produced more commentary than...

  5. Dante and Medieval Poetics
    (pp. 3-22)

    The major acquisition of recent medieval studies has been to acknowledge that the Middle Ages had a highly sophisticated understanding of and interest in literary criticism and theory (see, in particular, Minnis; Minnis, ed.; Minnis and Scott). The acceptance of this reality has had a radical effect on the ways in which the literature of the period is now approached and read. It is not simply the case that medieval texts are seen as the product of sophisticated technical considerations; more importantly, it is recognized that, whatever their preferred subject or form, contemporary authors granted considerable space to literary matters...

  6. Palinode and History in the Oeuvre of Dante
    (pp. 23-50)

    The aim of this paper is threefold: (1) to review a topic, the ʹpalinode,ʹ which has been at the heart of American Dante studies for the last twenty years and which in fact can be understood broadly as a figure for most of the work in this period on Dantean inter- and intra-textuality; (2) to bring Dante studies into productive relationship with two major trends in method on the American literary scene generally, namely ʹrhetoricalʹ and ʹhistoricalʹ reading (in this case, rhetorical readingashistorical reading);¹ and (3) to continue my own ongoing attempt (in which I am clearly not...

  7. Dante and the Classics
    (pp. 51-73)

    The first canto of theInfernocould well serve as the starting point of our discussion of Dante and the classical tradition, since it is the canto which performs the essential macrotextual function of acting as prologue to the entireCommedia. The scene described in this canto is one which also opens many allegorical narratives and tales of chivalry: the protagonist, the character who says ʹI,ʹ finds himself in a ʹdark woodʹ [selva oscura] after having lost the ʹstraight pathʹ [diritta via]. Attempting to find a way out of this dolorous place, the ʹIʹ reaches the slopes of a ʹhillʹ...

  8. Dante and the Bible: Biblical Citation in the Divine Comedy
    (pp. 74-93)

    A fairly recentPeanutscomic strip has a story line that is pertinent to the subject of this essay. As the scene opens, Charlie Brown is sitting in a beanbag chair watching the television set; Sally, his younger sister, enters the room and observes: ʹWatching a football game, I see ...ʹ She begins to watch the program, and suddenly something on the screen catches her eye, which prompts her to ask, ʹWhy does someone always hang a sign over the railing that says ʺJohn 3:16ʺ?ʹ The unperturbed and seemingly omniscient Charlie answers this query in a very matter of fact...

  9. Forbidden Love: Metaphor and History (Inferno 5)
    (pp. 94-112)

    In book 8 of theOdyssey, Homer tells of the illicit love affair between Ares and Aphrodite. As the lovers lay together secretly in Aphroditeʹs house, Apollo saw their adulterous embrace and informed the wronged husband, Hephaestus. Saddened and angered, the crippled smith of Olympus went to his workshop and constructed a net so fine that not even the gods could see it. He suspended it from the posts of his bed, and then pretended to go on a journey. When the lovers got into bed, they were captured in the net. In his rage, Hephaestus called the other immortals...

  10. Danteʹs Ulysses: Narrative and Transgression
    (pp. 113-132)

    Dante criticism has been divided on the subject of Ulysses essentially since its inception. Among the early commentators, Buti takes a moralizing position critical of the Homeric hero, while Benvenuto sees him as exciting Danteʹs admiration.² We could sketch the positions of various modern critics around the same polarity: there is a pro-Ulysses group, spearheaded by Fubini, who maintains that Dante feels only admiration for thefolle volo, the desire for knowledge it represents, and the oration that justifies it;³ and there is a less unified group which emphasizes the Greek heroʹs sinfulness and seeks to determine the primary cause...

  11. Narrative Design in Danteʹs Earthly Paradise
    (pp. 133-147)

    From the moment of its appearance it has been universally acknowledged that DanteʹsCommediais a highly structured poem whose constituent parts, at every level of formal consideration, display a visual analogue to Aristotelian notions of order under the aegis of Christian theology. Although criticism of very recent vintage, primarily efforts in the deconstructive vein, has attempted to destabilize this age-old view of the poem, claims that assign value and meaning to patterns of correspondence, hierarchy, symmetry, proportion, and teleological purpose, have generally prevailed over notions of deferral and undecidability. Aristotle placed near the heart of his body of narrative...

  12. A Desire of Paradise and a Paradise of Desire: Dante and Mysticism
    (pp. 148-166)

    Canto 23 ofParadisoopens with a simile in which structure, sound, and meaning combine to create a perfect balance between momentary calm and tension towards the future (Pertile, ʹStileʹ 14–16):

    Come lʹaugello, intra lʹamate fronde,

    posato al nido deʹ suoi dolci nati

    la notte che le cose ci nasconde,

    che, per veder li aspettidisïati

    e per trovar lo cibo onde li pasca,

    in che gravi labor li sono aggrati,

    previene il tempo in su aperta frasca,

    e con ardenteaffettoil sole aspetta,

    fiso guardando pur che lʹalba nasca;

    cosí la donna mia stava eretta

    e attenta,...

  13. Dante and the Authority of Poetic Language
    (pp. 167-180)

    The question of authority in its many guises has provoked a good deal of reflection among readers of Dante in recent years – Ascoli (1989 and 1990) offers both an interesting illustration and a substantial bibliography – as it also has in medievalists with other specific interests (Brownlee and Stephens). It has long been established that the relevant terms (auctoritasand its cognates), like the concept to which they refer, were as fundamental in medieval literary culture as to the social and political structures with which that culture was associated (Stabile, Minnis); but Danteʹs writing – notably, though not exclusively,...

  14. Dante and Politics
    (pp. 181-194)

    Dante was involved with politics in his life and in his writing. He served in elective and appointive offices, negotiated in person, and harangued by letter; he suffered condemnation and exile from Florence for his positions, and found audiences throughout Italy and eventually the world for those positions through his prose and his poetry. American scholars, in contrast to their Italian and English colleagues, have generally been less interested in Danteʹs politics than in aesthetic, literary-historical, or doctrinal aspects of his work. The political issues that dominate Danteʹs writings are the role of the empire and of the church in...

  15. Dante and Androgyny
    (pp. 195-213)

    Androgyny, like heterosexual union and gestation, functions figuratively in a positive sense to express the containing of plurality in unity, the overcoming of division, the crossing of organic, psychological, and ontological boundaries. On a phenomenological level, androgyny represents the experience of becoming part of the other, of rendering the other part of the self. Positive androgyny (as Joan Ferranteʹs survey makes clear) appears in the exegetical writings, literature, and art of the high Middle Ages, affirming, in its fusion and confusion of male and female characteristics, the fecundity of sexual complementarity (Women as Image4–5).¹

    On the other hand,...

  16. Singing the Book: Orality in the Reception of Danteʹs Comedy
    (pp. 214-239)

    Franco Sacchetti tells how Dante twice rebuked singers of theComedy. Passing a blacksmith who hammered on an anvil and at the same time sang the poem ʹlike acantare,ʹ his Dante complained: ʹYou sing the book and do not say it as I made it; this is my only craft (arte) and you ruin itʹ (Novelle114). Afterwards the blacksmith sangcantariabout Tristan and Lancelot instead of theComedy. Another time an ass driver, as he sang the poem, shouted ʹarri,ʹ or ʹgee up!,ʹ every time he struck the animalʹs back. In retribution Dante struckhisback (Novelle...

  17. Interpreting the Commentary Tradition to the Comedy
    (pp. 240-258)

    Manuscripts of theInfernobegan circulating around the second half of 1314; copies ofPurgatorioabout a year later. The roughly six hundred extant manuscripts of the poem testify to its popularity. Nevertheless theComedypresented a number of interpretive challenges to its readers. The poemʹs wealth of doctrine and its many references to historical, theological, and ancient matters made it somewhat inaccessible, even to its first readers. It was a poem that required exposition and clarification, creating, in short, ʹa demand for commentaryʹ (Minnis 439). Hence from its first diffusion theComedygenerated a reaction that was immediate, voluminous,...

  18. Readerʹs Application and the Moment of Truth in Danteʹs Divine Comedy
    (pp. 259-280)

    The question of truth has riddled reception of Danteʹs poem from the beginning of a tradition of commentary as old as the poem itself. How are the truth-claims made by the poem to be taken? For a very numerous company of critics stretching from Danteʹs contemporaries to our own, they are typically poetic posturings, one more fine example of the art of self-staging which Dante masters to perfection. For no less imposing a constituency of interpreters, however, everything depends on recognizing that some kind of claim beyond the compass of poetic art is being made: a claim that actual historical...

  19. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 281-284)
  20. Index
    (pp. 285-299)