We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

The Ancient Flame

Dante and the Poets

Winthrop Wetherbee

Publication Year: 2008

While the structure and themes of the Divine Comedy are defined by the narrative of a spiritual pilgrimage guided by Christian truth, Winthrop Wetherbee’s remarkable new study reveals that Dante’s engagement with the great Latin poets Vergil, Ovid, Lucan, and Statius constitutes a second, complementary narrative centered on psychological and artistic self-discovery. This fresh, illuminating approach departs from the usual treatment of classical poets in Dante criticism, which assigns them a merely allegorical function. Their true importance to Dante’s project is much greater. As Wetherbee meticulously shows, Dante’s use of the poets is grounded in an astute understanding of their historical situation and a deeply sympathetic reading of their poetry. Dante may have been motivated to correct pagan thought and imagery, but more pervasive was his desire to recreate classical style and to restore classical auctoritas to his own times. Dante’s journey in the Commedia, beginning with the pilgrim’s assumption of a tragic view of the human condition, progresses with the great poetry of the classical past as an intrinsic component of—not just a foil to—the spiritual experience. Dante ultimately recognizes classical poetry as an essential means to his discovery of truth. A stunning contribution by one of the nation’s leading medievalists, Wetherbee’s investigation of the poem’s classicism makes possible an ethical and spiritual but non-Christian reading of Dante, one that will spur new research and become an indispensable tool for teaching the Commedia.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press


pdf iconDownload PDF (44.0 KB)
pp. vii

read more

About the William and Katherine Devers Series in Dante Studies

pdf iconDownload PDF (45.0 KB)
pp. ix

The William and Katherine Devers Program in Dante Studies at the University of Notre Dame supports rare book acquisitions in the university’s John A. Zahm Dante collections, funds an annual visiting professorship in Dante studies, and supports electronic and print publication of scholarly research in the field. ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (38.7 KB)
pp. xi

When a lifelong amateur Dantista tries in his golden years to make a contribution to Dante studies he is bound to need a lot of help. The friends who have sat through trial versions of my ideas or stimulated me with theirs are many, ...

read more

1 Introduction: Dante and Classical Poetry

pdf iconDownload PDF (108.1 KB)
pp. 1-24

In the Old French Eneas there is an elaborate account of the tomb of the beautiful warrior Camille, Vergil’s Camilla, slain while seeking to defend Italy against the Trojans. Suspended over the bier by a golden chain is a lamp filled with a rare oil, which, if undisturbed, will burn forever. ...

read more

2 Vergil in the Inferno

pdf iconDownload PDF (155.6 KB)
pp. 25-60

The power of poetic language, and the language of Vergil in particular, plays a crucial role in our introduction to Dante’s underworld. Canto 3 of the Inferno has rightly been called the “canto virgiliano per eccellenza”1 for it not only inaugurates the descent into hell, ...

read more

3 Lucan and Vergil: Judgment and Poetic Authority in Dis

pdf iconDownload PDF (151.8 KB)
pp. 61-96

As suggested by Lucan’s fleeting appearance as the last of the “bella scola” in Limbo and the dismissive naming of him in Inferno 25, Dante’s appropriation of Lucan differs fundamentally from his use of Vergil, but Lucan plays an important role in his imagining of hell. ...

read more

4 Cato's Grotto

pdf iconDownload PDF (108.0 KB)
pp. 97-116

Lucan is not a significant presence in the last cantos of the Inferno, and it is obvious that he must cease to play a major role once Dante has left the underworld, as befits a poet for whom hope is a delusion and spiritual aspiration virtually unimaginable. In saying this I am aware that Dante’s most sustained ...

read more

5 Ovid and Vergil in Purgatory

pdf iconDownload PDF (164.6 KB)
pp. 117-158

Typically Dantisti treat the relationship of Ovid and Dante as the medieval schools approached the Metamorphoses, by a process of segmentation, dealing separately with Dante’s reworkings of particular myths without attempting to characterize his response to the larger movement, ...

read more

6 Statius

pdf iconDownload PDF (169.9 KB)
pp. 159-202

The long speech of Hugh Capet in Canto 20 brings to a climax the Purgatorio’s concern with history and politics. The major themes will reemerge in the powerful symbolism of the pageant at the summit of the mountain, but in the meantime Dante will shift his attention to questions of individual virtue, ...

read more

7 Lust, Poetry, and the Earthly Paradise

pdf iconDownload PDF (116.2 KB)
pp. 203-226

Despite his seeming neglect of Vergil and Statius in Cantos 23 and 24, his striking declaration to Bonagiunta that he is guided by the inner voice of love, and the clear signs of his growing independence, Dante remains close to the ancient poets as they proceed, and identifies his experience with theirs. ...

read more

8 Paradiso

pdf iconDownload PDF (186.3 KB)
pp. 227-278

In the Paradiso the world of classical poetry remains significantly present. In this realm where all is “transhuman,” and much is beyond Dante’s power to comprehend or represent, the discourse of the saints and soldiers of the heavenly city is nonetheless focused to a remarkable degree on the human world. ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (86.6 KB)
pp. 279-290

Index of Passages Discussed

pdf iconDownload PDF (49.2 KB)
pp. 291-294

General Index

pdf iconDownload PDF (60.6 KB)
pp. 295-304

E-ISBN-13: 9780268096595
E-ISBN-10: 0268096597
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268044121
Print-ISBN-10: 0268044120

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2008