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Guido Cavalcanti

Guido Cavalcanti: The Other Middle Ages

  • Book Info
    Guido Cavalcanti
    Book Description:

    Guido Cavalcanti (d. 1300) is one of the greatest Italian poets of all time. His legacy consists of some fifty poems, of which his canzone on the nature of love,Donna me prega(A lady asks me) is the most famously difficult and complex. The poem is important not only because it sheds light on fundamental intellectual debates during the time of Dante, but also because of its influence on generations of poets and philosophers. In this study, Maria Luisa Ardizzone setsDonna me pregain an entirely new light - first, by examining its role in Cavalcanti's poetic practice, and second, by placing it in the context of ancient and medieval science and philosophy. The book deals with issues that are part of the intellectual history of Europe in the thirteenth century. Cavalcanti's work is interpreted by reconstructing the debate of ideas in which it partecipates, and the new model of poetry devised by Cavalcanti is one of the subjects of this book.

    For Cavalcanti, as for Dante, Aristotle was a master. But unlike Dante, who followed a more orthodox interpretation of Aristotle's text, Cavalcanti preferred the Aristotelianism which derived from the Arabic commentator Averroes, whose approach was responsible for introducing a radical rereading of Aristotle incompatible with basic tenets of the Christian faith. In this alternative view, human desires and difficulties were resolved not through theology but through biology, natural philosophy, and medicine. While other scholars have noted Cavalcanti's Averroism, Ardizzone is the first to analyse it in light of sciences such as optics or logic, focusing on new issues of intellectual debate of Cavalcanti's time, as, for instance, the medieval theory of matter.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7556-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Note on Editions of Guido Cavalcanti’s Texts
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-16)

    According to Dante, Guido Cavalcanti leads us into a territory demarcated by John the Baptist, the fiery precursor, thevox clamantis in deserto. Although we have no idea what Cavalcanti looked like (to my knowledge, no synchronous portraits of him are extant), we nonetheless see him vividly depicted in Boccaccio’sDecameron(VI, 9). There, emerging from behind the graves and leaping over them, he refuses to speak with those to whom he says, ‘Voi mi potete dire a casa vostra ciò che vi piace’ (Gentlemen, you may say anything you wish to me in your home). Cavalcanti thereby suggests that...

  6. Chapter One Love as a Metaphor: The Discourse and the Method
    (pp. 17-46)

    Guido Cavalcanti introduces into the medieval imagination the physical perception of a light that shines so strongly that it brings a tremor into the air. He associates this tremor with the approach of a woman:

    Chi è questa che vèn, ch’ogn’om la mira,

    che fa tremar di chiaritate l’âre.

    (Who is she who comes, that every one looks at her, who makes the air tremble with clarity)

    The image seems related on the one hand to theSong of Songs, with its emphasis on the interrogative form (Contini,Poeti del Duecento), and on the other (because of the termtremar)...

  7. Chapter Two Vision and Logic
    (pp. 47-70)

    In this chapter, I propose a rethinking of Cavalcanti’s canzone on the basis of his identification of love with accident and on the notion of accident itself insofar as it is necessary for a comprehension of the nature of love. I will examine the following lines:

    In quella parte – dove sta memora

    prende suo stato, – sì formato, – come

    diaffan da lume, – d’una scuritate,

    la qual da Marte – vène, e fa demora;

    (In that part where memory resides, [love] takes its state, formed like diaphanous from light on shade, that comes from Mars and dwells there.)...

  8. Chapter Three Love as Passion
    (pp. 71-102)

    A text largely responsible for Cavalcanti’s fame as a natural philosopher is the important commentary onDonna me pregawritten by Dante’s contemporary, the Florentine doctor Dino del Garbo, who died in 1327, six years after Dante. In his commentary – a crucial text for reconstructing the meaning of Cavalcanti’s major canzone – del Garbo asserts something that should not be taken for granted, namely, that the theme ofDonna me pregais passion.¹ In addition, it is interesting that, for del Garbo, to identify this theme of passion with love is to give it a namead placitum.


  9. Chapter Four Pleasure and Intellectual Happiness: Guido Cavalcanti and Giacomo da Pistoia
    (pp. 103-133)

    During the 1950s, Paul Oskar Kristeller found in the library at Stuttgart a treatise written by Magister Jacobus de Pistoia and dedicated to Guido Cavalcanti. This treatise was theQuaestio de felicitate. Kristeller assumed it to be a document of radical Aristotelianism, as had Martin Grabmann before him, who had found the same text in another codex in the Vatican Library. Unlike the Stuttgart codex, the Vatican manuscript did not contain a dedication to the Tuscan poet Guido Cavalcanti. The text was published by Kristeller in the 1950s as part of a collection of studies in honour of the famous...

  10. Chapter Five Cavalcanti at the Centre of the Western Canon: Ezra Pound as Reader of Donna me prega
    (pp. 134-164)

    For Ezra Pound, Cavalcanti’s poetry was at the centre of the Western canon that he, Pound, would reshape by introducing a criterion of beauty and alternative values that he judged to be at the centre of Western culture. Pound’s Canto 73 (written in Italian) opens with the image of Guido Cavalcanti riding at a gallop as he returns from a 600-year exile. Pound’s invention here aims at creating a correspondence between Cavalcanti’s name and its literal Italian meaning – Cavalcanti being the equivalent of a rider.¹ But the major contribution is a subtle suggestion that the image of Cavalcanti riding...

  11. Appendix A: Donna me prega: The Italian Text and an English Translation
    (pp. 165-168)
  12. Appendix B: The Letters of Ezra Pound and Etienne Gilson
    (pp. 169-174)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 175-214)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 215-226)
  15. Index
    (pp. 227-231)