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Reviewed by:
  • Dante's 'Commedia': Theology as Poetry ed. by Vittorio Montemaggi and Matthew Treherne
  • Julie Robarts
Montemaggi, Vittorio and Matthew Treherne, eds, Dante's 'Commedia': Theology as Poetry (The William and Katherine Devers Series in Dante Studies), Notre Dame, IN, University of Notre Dame Press, 2010; paperback; pp. 400; R.R.P. US$40.00; ISBN 9780268035198.

Dante's 'Commedia': Theology as Poetry, edited by Vittorio Montemaggi and Matthew Traherne, contains eleven essays, an Introduction, and two Afterwords. It is the result of a 2003 conference held in Cambridge at which theologians and Dante scholars discussed 'the theological implications of Dante's poetic narrative' (p. 1) and the ways in which theological considerations could illuminate the Commedia as a literary text.

It is a collection for a specialist audience, which would include scholars and graduate students of Dante, medieval literature, and theology. Robin Kirkpatrick's conversational opening essay 'Polemics of Praise: Theology as Text, Narrative and Rhetoric in Dante's Commedia', which frames the collection, seems to suggest that literary critics who find a place for first-order discourse in their engagement with texts (and the audience they write for) need not do so at the cost of critical or historical rigor, and that love must be the ethical basis of any critical tradition which has a claim on the future, as a response to the problem of what is the tenable posture of those of us who live off words.

My short review of the essays places them in four thematic groups: Images, language, philosophy, and liturgy. Peter Hawkings sees the image of the smile as an important contribution made by the Commedia to subsequent religious iconography, while Paula Nasti considers Dante's intertwining of strands of medieval ecclesiology centred on caritas, and the bride of the Song of Songs as he creates his image of the true church in Paradise. Christian Moevs explores the recurring image of 'il punto che me vinse', the point of creation, and dilation or expansion of self-knowledge and knowledge of God. In addition to the focus on language in Kirkpatrick's essay, Vittorio Montemaggi explores Dante's conception of language as our means of both engaging in and expressing what is knowable and unknowable about God, while Theresa Federici presents Dante's self-fashioning as a scribe of God in the image of King David. Oliver Davies presents a reading of the Commedia from the perspective of systematic theology.

Douglas Hedley explores Dante's neo-Platonism, and includes a reassessment of Romantic reception of the Commedia, while Piero Boitani considers Dante's notion of creation, of people and the world, and the ways in which the poetics of the Commedia encompass and surpass the work's classical philosophical and scriptural sources. [End Page 331]

Matthew Treherne argues that Dante's innovation in the configuration of Purgatory and Heaven can be understood through the liturgical performance of the characters in those realms, respectively penitence and praise. Denys Turner proposes to read the poetry of the Commedia, in dialogue with the theological methods of Thomas Aquinas and Meister Eckhart, as sacrament, seeking to 'effect what it signifies', especially in its apophatic mode.

Dante scholarship for the non-dantista is often awe-inspiring in the way its critical discourses wrestle with the depth, breadth, and complexity of the Commedia. This collection is no exception.

Julie Robarts
Italian Studies, School of Languages and Linguistics
The University of Melbourne


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pp. 331-332
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