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Irene Belperio: “Dante’s Story of Redemption and the Commedia’s Guide Complex”
Dante pilgrim’s journey in the Commedia begins on Good Friday in the year 1300. While the poem has variously been referred to as a spiritual self-help manual (Hollander), a guide to a Dantean utopia (Ferrante), a real life vision (Barolini), a metaphysical adventure story, a personal odyssey, an encyclopaedic guide to the schematics of the afterlife and a quest beyond the grave for a visionary beauty (Hirsch), it is ultimately a story of spiritual redemption. The proposed paper seeks to examine Dante poet’s exploration of this theme through his treatment of the pilgrim’s “passive” and “active” guides.
As a Christian poet, Dante’s notion of redemption hinges on two fundamental Christian mysteries: the Incarnation and the Trinity. The Incarnation refers to the union of human and divine natures in the figure of Jesus Christ (Vettori). In the Commedia, redemption is possible through knowledge and the reconciliation of humanity’s mortal and divine elements. This knowledge can only be obtained through the gift of illuminating grace. The divine is represented in the Christian faith by the Trinity. The Trinity is the composite of the three figures of Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Hawkins). Dante pilgrim’s journey in the Commedia ends with a vision of the Godhead.
The dual nature of the Incarnation and the three figures of the Trinity can be seen both structurally and contextually throughout the Commedia: for example, in the pairs of contrasting similes that Dante poet employs to describe the pilgrim’s journey, through the division of the voyage into the “realms” of Virgil and Beatrice, in the separating of the poem into three cantiche, and the thirty-three cantos that constitute the three territories of the dead. These two fundamental Christian mysteries are also visible in the Commedia’s guide figures. There appear to be two sets of guides in the poem: “active” and “passive”. The pilgrim’s “active” guides are Virgil, Beatrice and St Bernard of Clairvaux. These figures actively assist and take part in the pilgrim’s journey at various stages of the poem. The pilgrim’s “passive” guides are Ovid, Santa Lucia and the Virgin. They are equally, if not more influential, in the telling of Dante wayfarer’s story and in the success of the voyage than their more “active” counterparts, yet they are seldom directly mentioned by Dante poet.
The proposed paper seeks to examine how Dante poet utilises these guide figures in his discussion of Christian rebirth and redemption. In particular, I intend to explore the way in which manipulation of the structure of the guide complex illuminates differing aspects of Dante poet’s redemption dialogue. An exploration of the significance of a Trinity composed of the three figures of Mary, Beatrice and Santa Lucia would yield a very different result to one consisting of Virgil, Ovid and St Bernard of Clairvaux. Finally, the proposed paper will go some way in addressing the gap in Dante scholarship’s understanding of Dante poet’s “passive” guides and the Commedia’s guide complex.
Guy Carney: “The Pilgrim’s Feet”
This paper addresses a recurrent image in the Inferno – the pilgrim’s feet in a state of sliding – to propose that the Inferno canticle is deliberately divided into three parts as prophecy for the structure of the Commedia as a whole. It was for John Freccero to clarify the meaning of the pilgrim’s “halted foot” or pié fermo of Inferno 1.30 by identifying its link with the Platonic tradition representing the mind walking on the two “feet” of will and intellect: hence the pilgrim “limps” because his will drags behind his reason. What this does not account for, however, is that this image fits into a regular pattern of the sliding foot as a means of transition between different areas over the Inferno: 1.30 → 12.30 → 23.52 → 34.94. In their context, Dante uses these images as a means to present the course of the relationship between the pilgrim and Virgil, and also as a means of bodily transition in the narrative (or, in the case of canto 1, abortive transition).
While this paper identifies the functions served by each image of sliding feet in their context, the focus is on the strategic placement of these images throughout the Inferno. The image of the feet sliding down an embankment or landslide, placed at regular intervals of 11 cantos, divides the canticle into 3 parts: 1-12, 12-23, 23-34. Dante employs this division, I suggest, as a means of making the Inferno canticle prophetic of the Commedia as a whole by its structure. This suggests another means by which Dante sought to imitate God’s mode of writing, namely Old Testament prophecies of New Testament events. Dante’s interest in the exegetical relationship between the Old and New Testaments as a map for structuring his works is evident in the link between the 42 Stations of the Exodus and structure of the Vita Nuova, a link identified by Julia Bolton Holloway. In the Commedia itself, similarly, Dante’s interest in this link is evident by his use of this structural pattern, further to more traditional links between the literal/historical and the allegorical/spiritual dimensions of his poem.
Flavia Coassin: “Dante bucolico”
Il paesaggio e le immagini tratte dalla natura che abbondano nella Commedia, sono invece assenti nelle liriche dantesche, con l’eccezione del paesaggio invernale delle petrose e della cosidetta canzone montanina. Assenti dunque sia il locus amoenus che l’hortus conclusus della poesia cortese.
In questo luogo si volge l’attenzione a Virgilio “autore de’ bucolici carmi” come fonte d’ispirazione per la immissione del paesaggio nel poetabile, e in particolare per i valori della parola-rima “ombra” nella sestina e nella Commedia.
Marina Della Putta Johnston: “The Poetry of Science: Dante in the Scientific Notes of Leonardo Da Vinci”
Dante was deeply steeped in the scientific knowledge of his time, from astronomy to optics, to medicine, which thoroughly informs the Commedia. Yet, he is still primarily known as a poetic model and as a source of imagery for later writers and visual artists. The Quaestio de aqua et terra remains marginal, and his poetry is generally not analyzed for its scientific content and for the appeal it may have held for writers of scientific texts. My paper discusses Dante as a scientific authorial model for Leonardo da Vinci. After a general discussion of Leonardo’s knowledge of the poet, I look in particular at a note from Codex Madirid I on mechanics. I propose that a reference to “la caduta di Simon mago,” in a programmatic passage accompanying the drawing of a device to break a man's fall from a height, has its source in Inferno 19. The third bolgia presented Leonardo with a vivid ironic example of the fall of bodies and of the effects of percussion, as well as some literary ammunition in his ongoing attack on poetry and in favour of science. Leonardo seems to imply that, while Dante may have shown the moral reason why Simon Mago fell into hell, he can fully demonstrate the physics of his fall and explain why the Simonists get progressively pressed farther down into their holes by every new falling body. The natural philosopher defines his authorial persona vis-à-vis the poet whom, however, he recognizes as a valuable source of scientific information.
Frances Di Lauro: “Redeeming Dante: Evidence for non-Islamic Precursors in the Commedia”
Early last century, Boswell described La Divina Commedia as “the poem which stands high among the supreme achievements of the human intellect (Boswell).” It was a fitting qualifier to his thesis that Dante was inspired by indigenous Irish ‘otherworld’ themes and motifs. Within a decade, Asin ascribed a Muslim origin to the Commedia and all elements of other Christian “legends,” including Boswell’s Irish precursors. Asin’s claims resurface from time to time, most recently and pejoratively in a 2000 article in which Asin’s ‘voluminous evidence’ is cited in support of a charge of plagiarism against Dante. This paper will review the validity of Asin’s evidence in light of early Christian eschatological and medieval penitential texts not previously identified as precursors.
Mary Dwyer: “Patterns of Virgilian Citations in the Comedy”
Citations from Virgil's works in the Comedy have been noted since the earliest commentaries and listed famously by Edward Moore in 1896 and more recently by Robert Hollander (1993). This paper will develop further some brief comments made in an earlier paper regarding patterns observable in these citations.
Diana Glenn: “‘The Dance of Memory and Death’: Narratives of Life, Death and Salvation in Purgatorio V”
By employing the vehicle of fictionalised personal testimony to present the case of the three Negligent souls in Purgatorio V, Jacopo del Cassero, Bonconte da Montefeltro and Pia, Dante-poet is able to convey, in surprising and tantalising ways, the necessity of sincere contrition as a surety for the soul's final reward in heaven.
Dugald McLellan: “The Budapest Dante: A Demonstration Manuscript at the Genesis of a Pictorial Tradition”
The extensively illuminated manuscript of the Commedia now held in the University Library at Budapest has been dated to the 1340s, making it one of the earliest of the illuminated manuscripts of the poem. Generally attributed to an illuminator working in Venice, the manuscript shows a strong influence of the earlier, prevailing Bolognese tradition. The manuscript is unique in that it has blocks of illustrations that are at different stages of completion which allows an unprecedented opportunity to examine the process of book illumination, and, more particularly, to plot the interaction between text and image, and to understand the evolution of a distinctive iconography of the Commedia.
Diana Modesto: “The Classifications of the Circle of Violence in Dante's Inferno: Canto XI revisited”
The traditional interpretation of Dante's Circle 7, the circle of the "violenti" relies on the reading of Inferno XI:28-51. The circle is divided up into three smaller "gironi" and because of this, each "girone" is generally considered as a separate entity instead of being seen as parts of the same circle with elements in common with each other. It is normally considered a simple task to marry up the description in Canto XI to the sins punished in Cantos XII and XIII, but problems have arisen with the definition of the sins of the four cantos (XIV-XVII) dealing with the "minor giron" of the "violenti contro Dio". This paper will unpack the descriptions in Canto XI and will show that Cantos XII and XIII actually shed considerable light on the way that the description of the "violenti contro Dio" may be considered.
Em. Prof. John Scott (Keynote Address): “Dante’s Heaven of Justice”
Sky-writing and surprises galore – including medieval sky-writing and a garrulous bird - for visitors to Dante's Heaven of Justice.
John Scott will attempt to take a fresh look at Paradiso 18-20
Lawrence Warner: “The Episcopal Apostates of Bari and Dante’s Vision of Mohammed”
In the early twelfth century, two wildly different narratives — one a Hebrew autobiography written by a convert, the other a standard crusade chronicle emanating from the Abbey of Monte Cassino — related that an archbishop of Bari had apostasized. Not the same archbishop: the Hebrew text attributes the action to Andreas, who embraced Judaism; the Latin to his successor Urso, who went to Egypt where he served under a Muslim caliph. This is a remarkable coincidence, and suggests both that the two narratives share a common source and that the absence of other traces of either story — especially given that one of them seems very reputable as a historical account—arises from a combination of the chance survival of documents and sheer embarrassment. This paper explores the possibility that Dante was aware of such rumours or events, and that they informed in particular his depiction of Mohammed (Inf. XXVIII). Even if Dante did not know the story, it is instructive to read his poem in the context of Italian history even where the poet does not record that history and attempts to direct his readers’ minds elsewhere.
Pamela Williams: “Francesca da Rimini and the nature of love”
My paper focuses on the famous ‘Amore’ terzine in Francesca’s first speech and in particular on the two lines which advance her general claims on behalf of Love, line 100 which all but asserts the identity of love and the gentle heart and line 103 which declares that Love exempts no one beloved from loving. The two lines serve as a way through selected aspects of the vast subject of love in the Comedy, a poem which in its vision of human reality fully recognizes the dynamic interconnection of different kinds of loving. My overall purpose is to clarify by highlighting the most significant elements in five kinds of Christian love: eros, philia, nomos, agape, and caritas. The clarification is designed to illuminate fundamental issues in the Comedy and to provide an interpretation of Inferno 5 itself, an episode in which Dante has seen to it that any reader’s reactions are not straightforward but mixed.