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Dante and Islam

Dante and Islam

Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Dante and Islam
    Book Description:

    Dante put Muhammad in one of the lowest circles of Hell. At the same time, the medieval Christian poet placed several Islamic philosophers much more honorably in Limbo. Furthermore, it has long been suggested that for much of the basic framework of the Divine Comedy Dante was indebted to apocryphal traditions about a "night journey" taken by Muhammad. Dante scholars have increasingly returned to the question of Islam to explore the often surprising encounters among religious traditions that the Middle Ages afforded. This collection of essays works through what was known of the Qur'an and of Islamic philosophy and science in Dante's day and explores the bases for Dante's images of Muhammad and Ali. It further compels us to look at key instances of engagement among Muslims, Jews, and Christians.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-6390-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-28)

    The title of this collection is not a wild novelty, because since 1921 the wording “Dante and Islam” has been pressed into service repeatedly in various languages as a heading for books, articles, and book reviews.¹ Nonetheless, the phrase may sound jarringly paradoxical, in pairing the poet most emblematic of medieval Christianity with the name of a rival religion. TheCommediapossesses a stature beyond being merely the foundational and preeminent masterpiece in the canon of Italian literature. It also stands more generally as a centerpiece in Western culture. Among other things, it constitutes a summa of medieval Christian culture...

  4. Approaches to a Controversy

    • Dante and Islam: History and Analysis of a Controversy
      (pp. 31-44)

      The question of Oriental influences on theCommediahas been one of the most controversial aspects of Dante scholarship during the last century.¹ The influence of Muslim eschatology on Dante’s conception of the otherworld as presented by Miguel Asín Palacios in 1919 and the discovery and publication of theLiber scale Machometi(Book of Muḥammad’s Ladder) in 1949, containing the Mohammedan legend of the prophet’s journey to the infernal regions and his subsequent ascension to Heaven, are the cornerstones in this controversy.

      The publications written on the subject since the appearance of Asin Palacios’s work, and even before, amount today...

    • Dante and Islamic Culture
      (pp. 45-64)

      Given the stimulating proximity and well-known contacts between the Catholic and Islamic worlds during the Middle Ages and during Dante’s own lifetime, a particular methodological rigor is needed to evaluate Arabic philosophical, mystical, and eschatological texts as sources for Dante’s writing.

      At the end of the thirteenth century, the relations between these two worlds grew closer in intriguing ways after a lively period in which Arabic works were translated into Latin. A great expansion of two large cultural centers—Sicily and Toledo (with its renowned Toledan school of translators)—also took place at this time. Sicily and Toledo were, not...

  5. Dante and Knowledge of the Qur’an

    • Translations of the Qur’an and Other Islamic Texts before Dante (Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries)
      (pp. 67-77)

      In the face of Islam’s rapid westward expansion the Christian world maintained an attitude of hostility and ignorance, favoring the rise of a complex network of legends and derogatory distortions that deformed reality and cast the Prophet Muḥammad as Christianity’s greatest and most powerful enemy. In its rapid spread through east and north Africa and early arrival in Spain, Islam had stolen from the Church entire communities that had previously been Christian. Muḥammad and his followers were considered to be the very incarnation of Satan and his demons—the incarnation of the Antichrist, as Peter the Venerable bluntly declares:


    • How an Italian Friar Read His Arabic Qur’an
      (pp. 78-92)

      That no one has undertaken any serious study of Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS Arabe 384, is a sign of how far the discipline of medieval studies is from exploring even the most remarkable sources surviving from the Middle Ages. This manuscript, a handsome though hardly ornate copy of the Qur’an in Arabic, apparently produced in Egypt or Syria in the late twelfth or early thirteenth centuries, has been part of what is now France’s national library since 1622 and has been well cataloged since late in the nineteenth century. The remarkable fact—which will preoccupy us here—that...

  6. Images of Islamic Philosophy and Learning in Dante

    • Philosophers, Theologians, and the Islamic Legacy in Dante: Inferno 4 versus Paradiso 4
      (pp. 95-113)

      In this essay I argue that the firstdubbi(Par. 4.8 “doubts”)¹ that Beatrice answers for Dante inParadiso4 relate two issues that constitute a retrospective consideration ofInferno4 and a recanting of some earlier philosophic positions found in theConvivio. These issues are the poet’s relationship to the learned traditions and poetic practices of ancient Greek and medieval Arab philosophy. Whereas in theConvivioDante had attempted to accommodate the differences about the relative influence of heavenly bodies on the human soul as outlined by ancient Greek and medieval Arabic philosophers, by the time of theCommedia...

    • Dante and the Falasifa: Religion as Imagination
      (pp. 114-132)

      In Canto 26 ofParadiso, in the third and final of the three “examinations” on the theological virtues that Dante must pass in order to attain the credentials requisite for continuing higher in his journey toward God, he is questioned by John the Evangelist on the topic of love. John asks Dante to identify the goal toward which his soul aims—in other words, the object of his love: “dì ove s’appunta / l’anima tua” (Par. 26.7–8 “declare the aim on which your soul is set”).¹ Dante answers, in brief, that his chief love is for the highest good,...

    • Falconry as a Transmutative Art: Dante, Frederick II, and Islam
      (pp. 133-156)

      When Dante the pilgrim is about to turn his gaze toward the first penitent souls he encounters inPurgatorio, Dante the author interrupts the narrative and addresses the reader. You should not, he argues, “smagar[ti] / di buon proponimento” (Purg. 10.106–7 “be turned from good resolution”) as you hear what the “formadel martire” (Purg. 10.109 “form of suffering”) is; you should instead focus on “la succession” (Purg. 10.110 “what follows”): the utter certainty that these soulsaresaved—no matter how frightening their present “martire” (“suffering”).

      The reader is thus left to contemplate the dilemma that Dante has...

  7. Images of Muḥammad in Dante

    • Dante’s Muḥammad: Parallels between Islam and Arianism
      (pp. 159-177)

      Many scholarly works tackle different issues connected with Dante’s Muḥammad, such as the question—first raised by Miguel Asín Palacios—of Muslim sources (themi‘rājmaterial in the traditional literature known as hadith) as inspirations or models for theCommediaor the significance of the Islamic figures Dante encounters in his journey beyond. Formal or stylistic influences of Arab poetry on medieval European poetry, Dante’s poetry included, have also received attention. Here, I explore Dante’s own understanding of the Prophet of Islam as encountered inInferno28 as a historical figure and religious leader.¹ The placement of Muḥammad in the...

    • Muḥammad in Hell
      (pp. 178-190)

      The title of this article nods to George Bernard Shaw’s play “Don Juan in Hell.” In every way that matters, of course, Dante’s Muḥammad and Shaw’s Don Juan differ. Don Juan, in Shaw’s Hell, derides Hell. He is contemplating a move to Heaven; this is possible in Shaw’s Hell. Juan’s companions—including Lucifer, who is there to pass the time with Juan, a renowned conversationalist—are shocked at Juan’s attitude. After all, everybody knows that Hell is the place to be. But Juan, wordy and remarkably dispassionate, argues his case with sangfroid. He finds Hell tedious, intellectually numbing; and he...

  8. Islam in Dante’s Italy

    • Mendicants and Muslims in Dante’s Florence
      (pp. 193-213)

      In the eleventh canto of theParadiso, Dante paints a vivid portrait of Francis of Assisi, a new rising sun in the Orient, analter Christus(“second Christ”) who married Lady Poverty and who toward the end of his life was marked with theultimo sigillo(“final seal”), the wounds that Christ had borne. A key episode in the spiritual itinerary of the saint is his preaching Christ in the “proud presence” of the sultan, into whose presence he was driven by his “thirst for martyrdom.”

      Francis of Assisi was thirteenth-century Europe’s best-known and most venerated saint, and Dante gives...

    • Dante and the Three Religions
      (pp. 214-234)

      Inklings of Dante’s interest in non-Christian religions and cultures began to make their way into the sphere of Dante studies around 1919–21. I refer specifically toLa escatología musulmana en la Divina Comedia(Muslim Eschatology in the Divine Comedy) by the Spanish Jesuit Miguel Asín Palacios, himself a student of Arab culture.¹ This work, which arrived in Italy during the celebrations commemorating the six-hundredth anniversary of Dante’s death, aimed to show that the basic conception of theCommediaand many of the ideas contained in it were found by Dante in Arab texts that narrated the voyage of Muḥammad...

    • The Last Muslims in Italy
      (pp. 235-250)

      During Dante’s lifetime, the only Muslim city on the Italian peninsula ceased to exist.¹ Dante does not mention Lucera Saracenorum (a Latin placename meaning “Lucera of the Saracens”) in his writings, despite his references to the struggle between the Angevins and first the Hohenstaufen, then the Aragonese (for instance, inPurgatorio6 and 7), or indeed his references to Muḥammad and to crusaders. And yet during its brief history of less than eighty years, up to its conquest by Charles II in 1300, Lucera was a source of controversy and of fascination, the seat of Christian rulers who employed the...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 251-344)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 345-346)
  11. List of Contributors
    (pp. 347-350)
  12. Index of References to Dante’s Major Works
    (pp. 351-354)
  13. General Index
    (pp. 355-374)