The present issue opens with an article on the moral complexities surrounding the practice of usury in the context of medieval Europe's growing monetary economy. In "Discovering the Moral Value of Money: Usurious Money and Medieval Academic Discourse in Parisian Quodlibets," Ian Wei explains that even after usurious money left the hands of the usurers, it might still be considered usurious and sinful. This money could therefore endanger the spiritual well-being of many others besides the usurer himself, including his otherwise innocent family members, employees, and business associates, as well as the recipients of any religious alms that may have originated in usurious profits. Thus, in a monetary economy, the practice of usury by some might—at least potentially—pose a threat to the entire community. And yet, the academic masters actually found certain moral and spiritual advantages to using money for business transactions. Wei offers a fascinating analysis of the moral problems posed by usury and money and how these problems were addressed in unexpected and even surprising ways in spiritual and academic discourse.
Discussions of demons who express regret and distress over their actions and their separation from God form the basis of the inquiry in the next article, "The Quest for Redemption: Penitent Demons Leading Christians to Salvation in Medieval Christian Exempla Literature," by Coree Newman. Writers of exempla literature recounted stories about such demons, and raised questions regarding whether or not there was any hope at all for them—that is, if there was anything these demons could possibly do in order to be one day reunited with God. Newman points out that while modern scholarship has tended to focus on demons as thoroughly evil beings, utterly beyond salvation, medieval depictions of demons were often much more complex and problematic. Newman finds that discussions of these "passive," "penitent," and "less evil" demons in exempla literature have much to tell us regarding medieval attitudes [End Page 1] about the limits of God's forgiveness, and anxieties over the poles of salvation and damnation (and good and evil), as well as the possibilities of an area in between—not just for demons, but for humans as well.
Federica Anichini's article "Inferno IX: Passing within City Walls and beneath the 'velame de li versi strani'" focuses on the topic of the medieval city and its walls as rhetorical tools that function in Dante's journey on multiple levels. Examining symbolic aspects of the urban landscape employed by Dante, Anichini offers a new reading of the passage in the fifth circle of the Inferno where the pilgrim and Virgil are temporarily stuck outside of the walls that encircle the infernal city, a moment that not only stops the forward motion of the pilgrim's physical/spiritual journey but that also openly challenges the readers' journey of interpretation. Anichini considers Dante's engagement with urban practices related to the city walls as well as (and in conjunction with) cultural and textual notions of margins, and she finds that the transformative power associated with passing through such boundaries has significant implications for Dante's poetry, for his relationship to his own exile, and for the pilgrim's and the readers' spiritual progress.
In "Boccaccio's Hellenism and the Foundations of Modernity," David Lummus examines Boccaccio's Genealogie Deorum Gentilium to delineate what is distinctively modern about the author—particularly regarding his approach to the past. Challenging the critical clichés of Petrarch as the first of the "moderns" and of "Boccaccio medievale" (as the author was famously and influentially characterized in a fundamental book by Vittore Branca), Lummus proposes a Boccaccio who despite devoting a great deal of attention to the past refuses to monumentalize it. Lummus shows that Boccaccio's Hellenism not only distinguishes him from the Latinity of Petrarch, but signals a new approach to both past and present culture.
Charles Carman's article "Alberti's Narcissus: 'Tutta la Storia'" assesses the importance of both Minerva and Narcissus in Alberti's discussions of single-point perspective in his 1435 treatise On Painting. Noting that in this work Alberti actually calls Narcissus "the inventor of painting," Carman shows how previous attempts to interpret this...