Dante and the Origins of Italian Literary Culture

Dante and the Origins of Italian Literary Culture

Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 496
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    Dante and the Origins of Italian Literary Culture
    Book Description:

    In this book, Teodolinda Barolini explores the sources of Italian literary culture in the figures of its lyric poets and its three crowns: Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. Barolini views the origins of Italian literary culture through four prisms: the ideological/philosophical, the intertextual/multicultural, the structural/formal, and the social.The essays in the first section treat the ideology of love and desire from the early lyric tradition to the Inferno and its antecedents in philosophy and theology. In the second, Barolini focuses on Dante as heir to both the Christian visionary and the classical pagan traditions (with emphasis on Vergil and Ovid). The essays in the third part analyze the narrative character of Dante's Vita nuova, Petrarch's lyric sequence, and Boccaccio's Decameron. Barolini also looks at the cultural implications of the editorial history of Dante's rime and at what sparso versus organico spells in the Italian imaginary. In the section on gender, she argues that the didactic texts intended for women's use and instruction, as explored by Guittone, Dante, and Boccaccio-but not by Petrarch-were more progressive than the courtly style for which the Italian tradition is celebrated.Moving from the lyric origins of the Divine Comedy in Dante and the Lyric Pastto Petrarch's regressive stance on gender in Notes toward a Gendered History of Italian Literature-and encompassing, among others, Giacomo da Lentini, Guido Cavalcanti, and Guittone d'Arezzo-these sixteen essays by one of our leading critics frame the literary culture of thirteenth-and fourteenth-century Italy in fresh, illuminating ways that will prove useful and instructive to students and scholars alike.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4765-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction Reading Against the Grain: Musings of an Italianist, from the Astral to the Artisanal
    (pp. 1-20)

    One of the great pleasures of gathering my essays is the opportunity afforded, by looking back, to chart the maze and find its principles of order. The pillars of my critical praxis stand clear in the light of retrospection. One is the importance of learning from the reception, frequently with the goal of demystifying and deinstitutionalizing view-points that have been given too much credence and authoritative weight by centuries of repetition. Perhaps this attitude was born in response to working on a text, Dante’sCommedia, which has produced masses of repetitive exegesis since the fourteenth century, and in the context...

    • CHAPTER 1 Dante and the Lyric Past
      (pp. 23-46)

      Dante is heir to a complex and lively Italian lyric tradition that had its roots in the Provençal poetry nourished by the rivalling courts of twelfth-century southern France. The conventions of troubadour love poetry—based on the notion of the lover’s feudal service to “midons” (Italian,madonna), his lady, from whom he expects a “guerdon” (Italian,guiderdone), or reward—were successfully transplanted to the court of Frederick II in Palermo. Palermo became the capital of the first group of Italian vernacular lyric poets, the so-called Sicilian School; the centralized imperial court did not offer a suitable venue for the transplantation...

    • CHAPTER 2 Guittone’s Ora parrà, Dante’s Doglia mi reca, and the Commedia’s Anatomy of Desire
      (pp. 47-69)

      Ora parràis well known as the canzone whose opening stanza so forcefully announces the transition from a poesis inspired by love to one driven by moral didacticism, or, in the terms of the manuscript headings, the transition from “Guittone” to “Frate Guittone.”¹ In the canzone’s first two stanzas, Guittone strikes a blow at the inherited courtly problem of the lover-poet’s conflicted allegiance, his oscillation between fealty to God and fealty to the lady. Guittone simply repudiates the courtly ethos, first by denying the courtly linkage between Love and worth, especially poetic worth:

      Ora parrà s’eo saverò cantare

      e s’eo...

    • CHAPTER 3 Dante and Cavalcanti (On Making Distinctions in Matters of Love): Inferno 5 in Its Lyric and Autobiographical Context
      (pp. 70-101)

      The lyric context ofInferno5 is a great deal richer and more complex than the routine citations of Guido Guinizzelli’sAl cor gentil rempaira sempre amorevis-à-vis Francesca’s “Amor, ch’al cor gentil ratto s’apprende’’ (Inf. 5. 100) would suggest.¹ While we have integrated Francesca’s self-congratulatory exploitation of Guinizzellian principles on love and inborn nobility into our reading ofInferno5, her blatant citational tactics seem to have obscured the importance of the lyric tradition for other parts of the canto. I will attempt in this essay to cast a wider net with respect toInferno5 and the Italian...

    • CHAPTER 4 Medieval Multiculturalism and Dante’s Theology of Hell
      (pp. 102-122)

      Turning to the article “Inferno” in theEnciclopedia Dantesca,we discover in microcosm one of the chief characteristics of the field we call “Dante studies”: its immunity to the world outside theCommedia, in other words, its immunity to history. After a brief summary of the usage of the terminfernoin Dante’s works, the entry turns to “L’Inferno nellaCommedia,” a rubric from which it thenceforth does not stray. Adhering to the topic Dante scholars have traditionally labeled “la struttura morale dell’inferno,” the author treats Dante’s hell as though it were a totally self-contained and self-generated Platonic idea, uncontaminated...

    • CHAPTER 5 Why Did Dante Write the Commedia? Dante and the Visionary Tradition
      (pp. 125-131)

      The straightforward answer to the question “Why did Dante write theCommedia?” is Dante’s own: “Però, in pro del mondo che mal vive, / al carro tieni or li occhi, e quel che vedi, / ritornato di là, fa che tu scrive” (Therefore, on behalf of the world that lives evilly, keep your eyes now on the chariot, and once you have returned over there be sure that you write what you see) (Purg. 32.103–5). Exchanging the chariot with any of the other sights that the pilgrim encounters on his journey, any of the othercose novehe sees...

    • CHAPTER 6 Minos’s Tail: The Labor of Devising Hell (Aeneid 6. 431–33 and Inferno 5.1–24)
      (pp. 132-150)

      Inferno5 elicited from the ancient commentators two basic views of its structure: while one group divides it into numerous small sections (Boccaccio opts for six, Benvenuto for five), Buti puts forth the suggestion that has proved more congenial to modern interpreters, namely that the canto falls into two parts.² Indeed, likeInferno1, which is also sundered by a dramatic encounter that divides the narrative into two halves—pre-Vergil and post-Vergil—soInferno5 pivots around the central tercet that paves the way for its monumental encounter with Francesca da Rimini. The first half of canto 5 thus prepares...

    • CHAPTER 7 Q: Does Dante Hope for Vergil’s Salvation? A: Why Do We Care? For the Very Reason We Should Not Ask the Question
      (pp. 151-157)

      TheCommediamakes narrative believers of us all. By this I mean that we accept the possible world (as logicians call it) that Dante has invented; we do not question its premises or assumptions except on its own terms. We read theCommediaas fundamentalists read the Bible, as though it were true, and the fact that we do this is not connected to our religious beliefs; for, on a narrative level, we believe theCommediawithout knowing that we do so. Whatever else Dante may have had in mind, this fact constitutes his essential “allegory of theologians”; indeed, it...

    • CHAPTER 8 Arachne, Argus, and St. John: Transgressive Art in Dante and Ovid
      (pp. 158-172)

      In lieu of the traditional portrayal of Dante as an ingenuous and filial devotee of his classical forerunners, American critics have recently proposed a less benign poet who deliberately revises the work of even his most beloved precursors. The paradigm that has emerged from this recent critical interest in Dante’s relations with his classical precursors, not to mention his relations with precursors in general, is a spiral-like configuration of confiscation and correction, whereby Dante avails himself of the genius of classical antiquity while at the same time revising it in such a way as to demonstrate its defects and limitations,...

    • CHAPTER 9 Cominciandomi dal principio infino a la fine: Forging Anti-narrative in the Vita nuova
      (pp. 175-192)

      Dante’s view of the human experience as a linear path affording encounters with the new, a line of becoming intercepted by newness, may be extrapolated from a passage in theParadisothat denies the faculty of memory to angels. Because angels never turn their faces from the face of God and see all things in his eternal present, their sight is uninterrupted by new things, and they have no need of memory (which we use to store the new things once they are no longer new):¹

      Queste sustanze, poi che fur gioconde

      de la faccia di Dio, non volser viso...

    • CHAPTER 10 The Making of a Lyric Sequence: Time and Narrative in Petrarch’s Rerum vulgarium fragmenta
      (pp. 193-223)

      This essay seeks to show that, in making his lyric sequence, and in forging the model that would be so variously imitated, Petrarch was above all concerned with what always concerned him most—the experience of the passing of time, the fact that he was dying with every word he wrote:

      Having reached this point in the letter, I was wondering what more to say or not to say, and meanwhile, as is my custom, I was tapping the blank paper with my pen. This action provided me with a subject, for I considered how, during the briefest of intervals,...

    • CHAPTER 11 The Wheel of the Decameron
      (pp. 224-244)

      From its first clause, indeed from its first word, theDecameronsignals its nontranscendence: “Umana cosa è aver compassione degli afflitti” (To take pity on people in distress is a human quality), begins the author, locating us in a rigorously secular context and defining its parameters.¹ At this point,compassione degli afflittibelongs to an amorous register, referring to Boccaccio’s past affliction as a lover for whom his friends felt pity; thus, he claims that he is writing theDecameronto repay their kindness, since “la gratitudine, secondo che io credo, trall’altre virtù è sommamente da commendare” (it is my...

    • CHAPTER 12 Editing Dante’s Rime and Italian Cultural History: Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarca . . . Barbi, Contini, Foster-Boyde, De Robertis
      (pp. 245-278)

      In this essay I will consider the great editions and commentaries of Dante’srimethat have been produced in the last century: the editions with commentary of Michele Barbi and Gianfranco Contini, the commentary of Kenelm Foster and Patrick Boyde, and the edition of Domenico De Robertis. The result of my undertaking a commentary of therimefor theBiblioteca Universale Rizzoli,¹ this paper tracks an experience that has opened up intellectual and cultural vistas that extend far beyond the philological domain to which it might have seemed limited. As I immersed myself in the editorial history of therime,...

    • CHAPTER 13 Le parole son femmine e i fatti sono maschi: Toward a Sexual Poetics of the Decameron (Decameron 2.9, 2.10, 5.10)
      (pp. 281-303)

      I will begin with a proverb, one that theDizionario comparato di proverbi e modi proverbialigives in Latin, French, Spanish, German, and English, as well as Italian. It is “Le parole son femmine e i fatti son maschi” (or, in Florio’s 1598 translation from the Italian, “Wordes they are women, and deeds they are men”), and I will be using it as a rubric and point of departure for conceptualizing a pervasive Decameronian thematic regarding the relation of words to deeds and of both to gender. Indeed, the proverb is particularly apt for investigating such concerns since it addresses...

    • CHAPTER 14 Dante and Francesca da Rimini: Realpolitik, Romance, Gender
      (pp. 304-332)

      While we are accustomed to Dante’s appropriations and revisions of history, the case of Francesca da Rimini (Inf. 5.73–142) is rather different from the norm, since in her case no trace remains of the historical record that the poet could have appropriated. There is no completely independent documentation of Francesca’s story; we are indebted for what we know to Dante and to his commentators. A fourteenth-century chronicler of Rimini, Marco Battagli, alludes in passing to the event, but his history was written in 1352, thus postdating by three decades Dante’s death in 1321.² Two factors come into play when...

    • CHAPTER 15 Sotto benda: Gender in the Lyrics of Dante and Guittone d’Arezzo (With a Brief Excursus on Cecco d’Ascoli)
      (pp. 333-359)

      Dante’s poetic apprenticeship, both formal and ideological, occurred while he was a writer of lyric poems. The ninety or so lyrics that Dante wrote harbor the wellsprings of his ideological convictions,¹ with the result that we must turn to these poems to analyze the paths that Dante took to becoming the poet of theCommedia. The lyrics contain implicit and at times explicit debates on cultural and societal issues of great immediacy for Dante’s mercantile audience: issues such as the nature of chivalry and nobility, the desire for wealth and its relationship to avarice, the limits and constraints of political...

    • CHAPTER 16 Notes toward a Gendered History of Italian Literature, with a Discussion of Dante’s Beatrix Loquax
      (pp. 360-378)

      This paper sketches a paradigm for evaluating the treatment of women in early Italian literature. I will consider that well-worn trajectory—Italian literature from its lyric origins to Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio—from a less worn perspective, that of gender, and propose a framework for thinking about what we see.

      Let me begin by explaining, because I think there is heuristic value in the explanation, how a critic with a long track record of working on these authors from a nongendered perspective arrived at this particular intellectual crossroads. The issue of gender is central in early Italian literature and is...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 379-466)
  9. Index
    (pp. 467-475)