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Dante and the Origins of Italian Literary Culture

Teodolinda Barolini

Publication Year: 2006

In this book, Teodolinda Barolini explores the sources of Italian literary culture in the figures of its lyric poets and its three crowns: Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. Barolini views the origins of Italian literary culture through four prisms: the ideological/philosophical, the intertextual/multicultural, the structural/formal, and the social.The essays in the first section treat the ideology of love and desire from the early lyric tradition to the Inferno and its antecedents in philosophy and theology. In the second, Barolini focuses on Dante as heir to both the Christian visionary and the classical pagan traditions (with emphasis on Vergil and Ovid). The essays in the third part analyze the narrative character of Dante's Vita nuova, Petrarch's lyric sequence, and Boccaccio's Decameron. Barolini also looks at the cultural implications of the editorial history of Dante's rime and at what sparso versus organico spells in the Italian imaginary. In the section on gender, she argues that the didactic texts intended for women's use and instruction, as explored by Guittone, Dante, and Boccaccio-but not by Petrarch-were more progressive than the courtly style for which the Italian tradition is celebrated.Moving from the lyric origins of the Divine Comedy in Dante and the Lyric Pastto Petrarch's regressive stance on gender in Notes toward a Gendered History of Italian Literature-and encompassing, among others, Giacomo da Lentini, Guido Cavalcanti, and Guittone d'Arezzo-these sixteen essays by one of our leading critics frame the literary culture of thirteenth-and fourteenth-century Italy in fresh, illuminating ways that will prove useful and instructive to students and scholars alike.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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Introduction Reading Against the Grain: Musings of an Italianist, from the Astral to the Artisanal

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pp. 1-20

One of the great pleasures of gathering my essays is the opportunity afforded, by looking back, to chart the maze and find its principles of order. The pillars of my critical praxis stand clear in the light of retrospection. One is the importance of learning from the reception, frequently with the goal of demystifying and deinstitutionalizing viewpoints

Part I. A Philosophy of Desire

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1. Dante and the Lyric Past

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pp. 23-45

Dante is heir to a complex and lively Italian lyric tradition that had its roots in the Provencal poetry nourished by the rivalling courts of twelfth-century southern France. The conventions of troubadour love poetry—based on the notion of the lover’s feudal service to ‘‘midons’’ (Italian, madonna), his lady, from...

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2. Guittone’s Ora parra, Dante’s Doglia mi reca, and the Commedia’s Anatomy of Desire

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pp. 47-69

Ora parra is well known as the canzone whose opening stanza so forcefully announces the transition from a poesis inspired by love to one driven by moral didacticism, or, in the terms of the manuscript headings, the transition from ‘‘Guittone’’ to ‘‘Frate Guittone.’’1 In the...

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3. Dante and Cavalcanti (On Making Distinctions in Matters of Love): Inferno 5 in Its Lyric and Autobiographical Context

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pp. 70-101

The lyric context of Inferno 5 is a great deal richer and more complex than the routine citations of Guido Guinizzelli’s Al cor gentil rempaira sempre amore vis-a`-vis Francesca’s ‘‘Amor, ch’al cor gentil ratto s’apprende’’ (Inf. 5.100) would...

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4. Medieval Multiculturalism and Dante’s Theology of Hell

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pp. 102-121

Turning to the article ‘‘Inferno’’ in the Enciclopedia Dantesca, we discover in microcosm one of the chief characteristics of the field we call ‘‘Dante studies’’: its immunity to the world outside the Commedia, in other words, its immunity to history. After a brief summary of the usage of the term inferno in Dante’s works, the entry turns to...

Part II. Christian and Pagan Intertexts

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5. Why Did Dante Write the Commedia? Dante and the Visionary Tradition

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pp. 125-131

The straightforward answer to the question ‘‘Why did Dante write the Commedia?’’ is Dante’s own: ‘‘Pero`, in pro del mondo che mal vive, / al carro tieni or li occhi, e quel che vedi, / ritornato di la`, fa che tu scrive’’ (Therefore, on behalf of the world that lives evilly,...

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6. Minos’s Tail: The Labor of Devising Hell (Aeneid 6.431–33 and Inferno 5.1–24)

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pp. 132-150

Inferno 5 elicited from the ancient commentators two basic views of its structure: while one group divides it into numerous small sections (Boccaccio opts for six, Benvenuto for five), Buti puts forth the suggestion that has proved more congenial to modern interpreters, namely...

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7. Q: Does Dante Hope for Vergil’s Salvation? A: Why Do We Care? For the Very Reason We Should Not Ask the Question

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pp. 151-157

The Commedia makes narrative believers of us all. By this I mean that we accept the possible world (as logicians call it) that Dante has invented; we do not question its premises or assumptions except on its own terms. We read the Commedia as fundamentalists read the Bible, as though it were true, and the fact that we do this is not connected...

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8. Arachne, Argus, and St. John: Transgressive Art in Dante and Ovid

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pp. 158-171

In lieu of the traditional portrayal of Dante as an ingenuous and filial devotee of his classical forerunners, American critics have recently proposed a less benign poet who deliberately revises the work of even his most beloved precursors. The paradigm that has emerged from this...

Part III. Ordering the Macrotext: Time and Narrative

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9. Cominciandomi dal principio infino a la fine: Forging Anti-narrative in the Vita nuova

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pp. 175-192

Dante’s view of the human experience as a linear path affording encounters with the new, a line of becoming intercepted by newness, may be extrapolated from a passage in the Paradiso that denies the faculty of memory to angels. Because angels never turn their faces...

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10. The Making of a Lyric Sequence: Time and Narrative in Petrarch’s Rerum vulgarium fragmenta

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pp. 193-223

This essay seeks to show that, in making his lyric sequence, and in forging the model that would be so variously imitated, Petrarch was above all concerned with what always concerned him most—the experience of the passing of time, the fact that he was dying with every...

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11. The Wheel of the Decameron

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pp. 224-244

From its first clause, indeed from its first word, the Decameron signals its nontranscendence: ‘‘Umana cosa e` aver compassione degli afflitti’’ (To take pity on people in distress is a human quality), begins the author, locating us in a rigorously secular context and defining its...

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12. Editing Dante’s Rime and Italian Cultural History: Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarca . . . Barbi, Contini, Foster-Boyde, De Robertis

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pp. 245-278

In this essay I will consider the great editions and commentaries of Dante’s rime that have been produced in the last century: the editions with commentary of Michele Barbi and Gianfranco Contini, the commentary of Kenelm Foster and Patrick Boyde, and the edition of...

Part IV. Gender

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13. Le parole son femmine e i fatti son maschi: Toward a Sexual Poetics of the Decameron (Decameron 2.9, 2.10, 5.10)

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pp. 281-303

I will begin with a proverb, one that the Dizionario comparato di proverbi e modi proverbiali gives in Latin, French, Spanish, German, and English, as well as Italian. It is ‘‘Le parole son femmine e i fatti son maschi’’ (or, in Florio’s 1598 translation from the Italian, ‘‘Wordes...

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14. Dante and Francesca da Rimini: Realpolitik, Romance, and Gender

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pp. 304-332

While we are accustomed to Dante’s appropriations and revisions of history, the case of Francesca da Rimini (Inf. 5.73–142) is rather different from the norm, since in her case no trace remains of the historical record that the poet could have appropriated. There is no completely independent documentation of Francesca’s story; we are...

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15. Sotto benda: Gender in the Lyrics of Dante and Guittone d’Arezzo (With a Brief Excursus on Cecco d’Ascoli)

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pp. 333-359

Dante’s poetic apprenticeship, both formal and ideological, occurred while he was a writer of lyric poems. The ninety or so lyrics that Dante wrote harbor the wellsprings of his ideological convictions,1 with the result that we must turn to these poems to analyze the...

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16. Notes toward a Gendered History of Italian Literature, with a Discussion of Dante’s Beatrix Loquax

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pp. 360-378

This paper sketches a paradigm for evaluating the treatment of women in early Italian literature. I will consider that well-worn trajectory— Italian literature from its lyric origins to Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio—from a less worn perspective, that of gender, and propose...


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pp. 379-466


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pp. 467-475

E-ISBN-13: 9780823247653
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823227044
Print-ISBN-10: 0823227049

Page Count: 496
Publication Year: 2006