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Dante & the Unorthodox

The Aesthetics of Transgression

James Miller

Publication Year: 2005

During his lifetime, Dante was condemned as corrupt and banned from Florence on pain of death. But in 1329, eight years after his death, he was again viciously condemned—this time as a heretic and false prophet—by Friar Guido Vernani. From Vernani’s inquisitorial viewpoint, the author of the Commedia “seduced” his readers by offering them “a vessel of demonic poison” mixed with poetic fantasies designed to destroy the “healthful truth” of Catholicism. Thanks to such pious vituperations, a sulphurous fume of unorthodoxy has persistently clung to the mantle of Dante’s poetic fame.

The primary critical purpose of Dante & the Unorthodox is to examine the aesthetic impulses behind the theological and political reasons for Dante’s allegory of mid-life divergence from the papally prescribed “way of salvation.” Marking the septicentennial of his exile, the book’s eighteen critical essays, three excerpts from an allegorical drama, and a portfolio of fourteen contemporary artworks address the issue of the poet’s conflicted relation to orthodoxy.

By bringing the unorthodox out of the realm of “secret things,” by uncensoring them at every turn, Dante dared to oppose the censorious regime of Latin Christianity with a transgressive zeal more threatening to papal authority than the demonic hostility feared by Friar Vernani.

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

So many guides and spirits have kept me on track in the long journey towards publication of this volume that I must try to compress an oltraggio of thanks within the duri margini of a few paragraphs. Fortunately my gratitude can be succinctly expressed -- and spiritually expanded -- in accordance with Dante's fourfold method of ...

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Introduction: Retheologizing Dante

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pp. 1-62

The Dantean keyword for this volume is oltraggio. Mere "abundance" doesn't capture its meaning. Nor does "superabundance," which stumbles towards it abstractly in a thudding divinity-school way. Since Dante uses it with the ecstatically redundant qualifier tanto, it must signify a limitless plenitude "so great" ...

Part 1: Trapassar

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Dante's Limbo: At the Margins of Orthodoxy

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pp. 63-82

Virgil subsequently describes their lot as a life of hopeless longing: "we have no hope and yet we live in longing" [sanza speme vivemo in disio] (Inf. 4.42). Within this Limbo a separate area is reserved for the great-hearted pagans of the past, the magnanimi, who live in a "noble castle" [nobile castello] (Inf. 4.106) illuminated ...

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Saving Virgil

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pp. 83-106

Virgil is the only soul in Limbo who appears to suffer damnation twice: first, after his death, when Minos assigns his shade to the First Circle; and second, after his ascent to the Earthly Paradise, when Beatrice not only displaces him as Dante's guide but "disappears" him as a continuing character at the literal level of ...

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Sacrificing Virgil

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pp. 107-120

Hope gives rise to hermeneutics in the Commedia, as Dante discovers on beholding the verses inscribed over the Gate of Hell. "Master, their meaning is hard for me," he complains to Virgil [Maestro, il senso lor m'è duro] (Inf. 3.12).1 Even before Dante has stepped over the initiatory threshold of the Inferno, which ....

Part 2: Trasmutar

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Dido Alighieri: Gender Inversion in the Francesca Episode

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pp. 121-150

Driven by desire like the doves of Venus, Francesca and her lover Paolo fly towards Dante and Virgil out of the schiera of Dido: "cotali uscir de la schiera ov'è Dido" [so did these issue from the troop where Dido is] (Inf. 5.85). A schiera is a mobilized group whose members have something in common -- at the very least a ...

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Fuming Accidie: The Sin of Dante's Gurglers

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pp. 151-169

When Dante and Virgil arrive at the marshy bank of the Styx, they observe the shades of the Wrathful thrashing about in the water and continually striking each other with hands and head and chest and feet and teeth. As Virgil points out to Dante, there are also souls hidden under the Stygian mire. Their garbled ...

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Heresy and Politics in Inferno 10

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pp. 170-181

Though the tenth canto of the Inferno has provoked a great deal of commentary in the past two centuries, three major streams of interpretation can be clearly identified in chronological order. The first is the late Romantic reading, emanating from the pen of Francesco De Sanctis.1 According to the great critic from ...

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Original Skin: Nudity and Obscenity in Dante's Inferno

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pp. 182-206

"He whose tracks you see me trample, though he goes naked and peeled, was of greater degree than you think," Jacopo Rusticucci haughtily insists, as Dante looks down on him and his fellow Sodomites from the stony bank of Phlegethon. Wheeling ahead of Jacopo on the burning sands of the Seventh Circle ...

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Anti-Dante: Bataille in the Ninth Bolgia

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pp. 207-248

"I don't know Dante's Inferno particularly well," admitted Georges Bataille in a heated discussion following the reading of his paper "The Surrealist Religion" at the Club Maintenant in Paris on February 24, 1948.1 He was not being modest. His knowledge of Dante was sketchy and indirect, mediated primarily through ...

Part 3: Trasumanar

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Rainbow Bodies: The Erotics of Diversity in Dante's Catholicism

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pp. 249-289

Ascending from one level of enlightenment to another is Dante's chief ritual action and constant mystical aim throughout Purgatorio and Paradiso. It is also the insidious goal of heretical doomsday cults bent on escaping the erotic complexities of life in the body. Does the pilgrim who achieves liftoff from the Holy Mountain ...

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Dante/Fante: Embryology in Purgatory and Paradise

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pp. 290-309

The stairway between the Sixth and Seventh Cornice of Mount Purgatory is so narrow that it literally "unpairs the climbers" [i salitor dispaia] (Purg. 25.9).1 As a result, Dante, Virgil, and Statius must climb it in single file. Any pairings formed below -- Dante with Virgil, Virgil with Statius, Statius with Dante ...

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The Cyprian Redeemed: Venereal Influence in Paradiso

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pp. 310-326

That this mad love originated not with the planet alone but with the love goddess born on the waves off Cyprus was, in the poet's judgment, the "ancient error" [antico errore] (Par. 8.6) that led the ancients to worship Venus along with her son Cupid and mother Dione. From the pagan madonna-and-child image enshrined ...

Part 4: Traslatar

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"Dantescan Light": Ezra Pound and Eccentric Dante Scholars

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pp. 327-345

Pound's Dante is bound to appear a little strange to an Italian, I suppose, 1 but it is a version of the Dante that he would have encountered at Hamilton College and the University of Pennsylvania in the first decade of the twentieth century.2 While an Italian might approach Dante as a fellow European, or as a lapsed Catholic, ...

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Ezra Pound in the Earthly Paradise

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pp. 346-366

On January 22, 1913, the English magazine Punch ran a skit on contemporary American poets. Amid a gaggle of sneers at colourful, now mainly forgotten names -- Raphael Pumpelly, Volney Streamer, John Kendrick Bangs -- appears the following couplet: "The bays that formerly old DANTE crowned / Are worn today by ...

Part 5: Tralucere

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Dante and Cinema: Film across a Chasm

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pp. 367-393

Dante and cinema? The Commedia and cinema? The discussion has hardly begun -- yet several film artists have already spoken first, and spoken of an abyssal chasm of time. What follows is a series of hazardous notes concerning three "artist's films": Stan Brakhage's The Dante Quarte> (1987); Michelangelo Antonioni's ...

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"Moving Visual Thinking": Dante, Brakhage, and the Works of Energeia

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pp. 394-449

Brakhage released The Dante Quartet in 1987. Though this extraordinary film runs for only six-and-a-quarter minutes, it was years in the making -- thirty-seven years, in fact, if we include the decades Brakhage spent studying the Commedia. He had worked on the preparation of the film itself nearly daily for ...

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Driftworks, Pulseworks, Lightworks: The Letter to Dr. Henderson

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pp. 450-488

The Dantean universe was once a domain of intense creativity. In the Empyrean, from which all the artistic or formative energy in Creation was supposed to spring, Divine Love could beget an excess of light in a brief "flash" [fulgore] (Par. 33.141).1 What ever happened to the Empyrean? Was it swiftly bombed by ...

Part 6: Trasmodar

Calling Dante: An Exhibition of Sculptures, Drawings, and Installations

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pp. 489

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Calling Dante: Prophet of the Paragone

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pp. 490-504

"Enter into my breast," Dante audaciously commands Apollo, "and breathe there as when you drew Marsyas from the sheath of his limbs." With this excoriating Ovidian conceit, the poet calls upon the god to inspire him as he enters into his third cantica, an imaginary "arena" [aringo] (Par. 1.18) where his ...

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Calling Dante: Notes on the Artists

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pp. 505-508

The healing arts, the liberal arts, and the fine arts converge in the European tradition of the humanist doctor, a tradition which has survived the sea-change of North American immigration and professionalization in the remarkable career of Andrew Pawlowski. Physician, author, sculptor -- Pawlowski has succeeded ...

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Calling Dante: A Portolio of Words and Images

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pp. 509-516

The seven quotations from Dante accompanying Andrew Pawlowski's images were selected by the artist himself as textual glosses on his art, while the translations and annotations were provided by exhibition curator James Miller. By contrast, the seven quotations from Dante accompanying Zbigniew Pospieszynski's images ...

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Calling Dante: From Dante on the Steps of Immortality

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pp. 517-530

Lately I have spent all my vacations in Italy. I was attracted by this country's beauties and fascinated by its history and art. I was pursuing the shade of Dante who would appear to me at times only to disappear. I was tracing his steps, eager to find him in books -- the thousands of publications on Dante and ...

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Notes on Contributors

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pp. 531-534

R. BRUCE ELDER is an internationally acclaimed filmmaker, critic, and professor of film studies in the School of Image Arts at Ryerson University in Toronto. Retrospectives of his work have been mounted by the Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), Cinémathèque Québécoise (Montreal), Senzatitolo (Trento, Italy) and ...


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pp. 535-566

E-ISBN-13: 9780889209275
Print-ISBN-13: 9780889204577
Print-ISBN-10: 0889204578

Page Count: 576
Publication Year: 2005