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Reviewed by:
  • Rime giovanili e della Vita Nuova ed. by Teodolinda Barolini
  • Jelena Todorović
Barolini, Teodolinda, ed. 2009. Dante Alighieri, Rime giovanili e della Vita Nuova. Milano: Rizzoli. ISBN 978-88-17-02879-0. 543 pages. Euro 11.50.

Teodolinda Barolini has been pointing out consistently that in order to better understand Italy’s early literary works we need both to know the scholarly record, the tradition, and in many cases to unlearn their centuries-long reception by removing the layers of interpretation and critical accretion from a work’s early circulation to its latest editions and critical studies. In The Undivine Comedy: Detheologizing Dante (1992) and in Dante and the Origins of Italian Literary Culture ([2006] a collection of Barolini’s revised essays that appeared between 1989 and 2004), Barolini returns to certain episodes from Dante’s opus to show how our interpretations depend, often subtly, on the views we were exposed to in the process of learning, so that when we read Dante today we do so through a prism of the received knowledge and “acquired views”. After this first step of distinguishing her own path from the mainstream of interpretation, Barolini offers a fresh point of view in her own analysis of Dante’s opus, or in her own words, of “the ways by which Dante became Dante” (2006: 38).

This volume of Dante’s Rime opens with an ample introduction, which includes a summary of the commentator’s observations on the editorial history of Dante’s poetry, and an informative overview of the poems recently attributed to Dante. Barolini summarizes the path of the poet’s experimentalism, both stylistic and ideological, individualizing characteristics of its various stages, from his early poetry to the Commedia.

Editing Dante’s lyrics is a complicated task. Even in the light of poems collected in his early Vita Nova (1292) and the three canzoni of his unfinished Convivio (1306), Dante’s lyrics do not represent one organic work: they are not a unified corpus, but rather poems scattered in different manuscripts, sometimes without any attribution or with mistaken assignment thanks later to Dante’s fame. Nevertheless, as Barolini points out, “Dante’s poetic apprenticeship — both formal and ideological — occurred while he was still a writer of lyric poems”, and therefore “the ninety or so lyrics that [End Page 143] Dante wrote harbor the wellsprings of his ideological convictions, with the result that we must turn to these poems to analyze the paths that Dante took to becoming the poet of the Commedia” (2006, 333). In the running commentary that we have before ourselves Barolini embarks on a journey whose goal is to support this claim with a careful analysis of the first fifty-eight poems from Dante’s lyric corpus.

The first decision she makes on the macro-level of this volume is the order in which to print the poems. Solutions offered by the works’ editorial histories are numerous, and the problem is compounded by complex manuscript traditions of Dante’s lyrics. Medieval anthologies of poetry tended to open with the more “noble” genre of the canzone, due in part to its longer development of themes, followed by shorter lyrics, including ballads and sonnets. In other words, lyric poetry tended to be organized in anthologies by genre, demonstrating already — as Barolini points out — the hand of the editor/compiler in the early Italian lyric tradition, not the author’s. Dante was among the first to break with this tradition and to mix poetic genres in his Vita Nova in a form of a “self-intervention”, as Barolini defines Dante’s decision to impose a process of selectio to include only certain poems in the Vita Nova and the Convivio. In the first printed edition of Dante’s poetry, published by the Giunti brothers in 1527, the poems belonging to the Vita Nova are printed in the first book, whereas the rest of the lyrics are grouped according to their genre and themes in the three remaining books of the 1527 edition. The more critical approach to the text in contemporary editions brought different solutions, but the traditional way of dedicating separate sections to different genres has generally been abandoned. By...


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