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Poetical vocabulary in Dante's Commedia: imitation, emulation, superseding and redemption of the classics

Zanoni, Veronica (2009) Poetical vocabulary in Dante's Commedia: imitation, emulation, superseding and redemption of the classics. MPhil(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

Dante’s relationship with his classical models has interested many scholars over the decades, especially because of the numerous references to classical literature in the Commedia, which suggest a profound knowledge of the auctores despite the little evidence for Dante’s actual education. Previous studies have focused on the modality and quality of classical reception in Dante as the work of a man living in a world that interpreted most pagan literature in Christian terms; on how and where Dante alludes and refers to classical literary material in the Commedia; on how Dante developed the genre of comedy from Antiquity; and finally on how Dante perceived classical literature as inadequate and insufficient compared to the thought and writings of Christianity. My research consists primarily in the analysis of the Commedia’s technical poetical vocabulary (i.e. genre, specific verbs and objects) and poetical topoi and images related to writing poetry that have their roots in classical literature (invocations, sailing similes, coronation with laurel, immortalization of the poet as vates, the effects of poetical song on the audience, ineffability). In addition to finding new literary correspondences between Dante and his auctores, I have attentively evaluated Dante’s dialogue with the Classics, pointing out that Dante’s ‘lungo studio’ and ‘grande amore’ are the literary foundation of the Commedia; and that although the relationship between Dante and his classical models is not definitely established from the encounter with Virgil, it develops in love, conflict, imitation, in-/dependence, superseding and redemption throughout his journey, as Dante’s personality evolves between his descent to Hell and his rise to Paradise. At the end of his poem there is no total refutation of his auctores; yet by incorporating them into his poetry to express even the essence of God, Dante gives them the chance to redeem themselves from paganism, to write Christian poetry through his own verses and to participate in the kingdom of God as poets. On this basis I have formulated a new interpretation of the allegorical ‘dark wood’ in If. 1: the dark wood becomes the literary place for Dante’s poetical orientation and definition of his own identity, and the meeting with Virgil represents the starting point of the Commedia as a work of poetry. Dante’s reception of the Classics is an issue of pressing interest not only for dantisti, yet for any scholar in the field of humanities, as it embodies the lively interaction between the Christian-based culture of Western society and its classical roots, which becomes more forcefully relevant today as cultural identities face both internal and external fragmentation. The composition of the Commedia starts with the reading of the auctores. Dante finds no more suitable models for his poem than the Latin poets, setting the literary foundations of the Commedia principally on their literature, even though he anachronistically gives them a Christian interpretation by reading them through the eyes of his culture. Dante evokes the ancient auctores in a dimension without time, or above time, where he can elevate himself and engage in dialogue with them transcending every boundary of faith or background. In the Commedia he sets them in the fortress of Limbo where the ‘bella scola’ is reunited in If. 4.94; Dante as a Christian could have not placed the auctores anywhere else and, even though he reluctantly damns them, he locates them in a place of stillness. Thus Dante sincerely intercedes for them by using their poetry to sing praises to God, leaving to Him the final judgment regarding their destiny, confident that God’s project of salvation spreads beyond human conception, and that man may experience Him in many ways that are not necessarily those of Christian faith, transcending the temporal and spatial limits of Christianity. Dante acts not like a man of the Middle Ages but like a modern Christian, believing that God can also reveal himself to the human being through the spirit and intellect, the ‘senno’, or λόγος, or verbum, with which man is endowed, and which is God’s fundamental nature: in principio erat Verbum, et Verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat Verbum (John 1.1).

Item Type: Thesis (MPhil(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Keywords: Classics, Reception, Dante, Classical Literature, Medieval Literature, Poetry, Religion
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BR Christianity
P Language and Literature > PA Classical philology
P Language and Literature > PQ Romance literatures
P Language and Literature > PC Romance languages
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Humanities > Classics
Supervisor's Name: Luke, Dr. Houghton
Date of Award: 2009
Depositing User: Ms Veronica Zanoni
Unique ID: glathesis:2009-1437
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 12 Jan 2010
Last Modified: 13 Mar 2013 11:14
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/1437

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