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  • Chapter 12 Imperative Persuasion:Educative Rectification in Dante’s Commedia
  • Tonia Bernardi Triggiano

The reader of Dante’s Commedia relies on a systematic narrative and quickly learns to recognize recurring motifs for their revelatory value; this is the pedagogical language of a poem that mirrors and sustains a divine order. Transparent instructions punctuate the poem in the form of invocations, addresses to the reader, and explicit directions. This paper offers a reading of four passages in the Commedia that employ the verb drizzare [to straighten] in an imperative to the pilgrim and demonstrates how Dante uses physical and mental straightening to mediate a process of moral and intellectual rectification in the pilgrim student. Further, the motif of rectification in the Commedia motivates the teleological purpose of the poem and journey, thus directing reader and pilgrim in their progression toward the same goal.

Rectification suggests a corrective measure, setting something right or restoring a situation to what is equitable; it also suggests straightening, realignment, and repositioning. What I have named the “metaphor of rectification” is a motif denoted by the word drizzare with the word torcere [to twist] within a span of ten verses (verbal, nominal, and adjectival variants are acceptable). There are twenty-one occurrences of this motif in the Commedia (eleven in the Paradiso, seven in the Purgatorio, and three in the Inferno). Many of these occurrences exhibit complementary effects in which twisting, bending, or folding of the body, mind, or vision results in straightening (unfolding, untwisting, aligning).1 Within this subset, four instances engage the verb drizzare in an imperative to the pilgrim: by Virgil (Inferno 20, lines 22–32), by a penitent (Purgatorio 19, lines 127–35), and by Beatrice (Paradiso 2, lines 22–30 and 7, lines 34–39). In the final part of my essay, I will discuss an imperative given by Bernard of Clairvaux: while this passage exhibits only the drizzare component of the torcere/drizzare paradigm, it is useful in fully understanding the function of the motif as a pedagogical tool. Taken together, the following textual analyses plot out five pivotal moments where verbal and gestural [End Page 179] exchanges aimed at straightening the body and mind mark the growth process of the pilgrim. The metaphor of rectification, as a recurring rhetorical device, reflects the poem’s promise to lead the pilgrim toward perfection.2

I begin by first considering some other descriptions of the learning program of the Commedia. Robert Hollander proposes four phases that correspond to the pilgrim’s developing will and intellect:

Inferno is entirely devoted to the correction of the will; Purgatorio I–XXVII, the last line of which has Virgil awarding Dante crown and mitre over himself, records the perfection of the will through the purgatorial experience of the sins experienced first in Hell; Purgatorio XXVIII shows us a Dante who, though morally fit, is of weak understanding (he immediately fails to understand Matelda in her true light, finding only that she is like pagan ladies of love), the correction of which moves to progressively higher spheres, until he reaches the river of light in Paradiso XXX; going beyond that barrier, his intellect is perfected in the last three cantos.3

Hollander amplifies his theory of a four-part schema by linking it to two additional contexts: the Commedia’s nine invocations and the four degrees of love described by Bernard of Clairvaux in his De diligendo Deo, in which the notion of deification forms the thread of a mystical progression to God.4 Steven Botterill examines this parallel and dedicates a chapter to analysis of Dante’s neologism “trasumanar” [to soar beyond the human] (Paradiso 1, line 70) and how it may or may not inform the phenomenon of the pilgrim’s deification in the last canticle.5 Botterill begins his chapter in reconsideration of an essay by Rosetta Migliorini Fissi in which she states, “trasumanar è infatti l’autentico correlativo poetico di una delle nozioni fondamentali della teologia mistica di San Bernardo, quella appunto di ‘deificatio,’ teorizzata nel De diligendo Deo” [(Dante’s) trasumanar is, in fact, the true poetic correlative of one of the fundamental notions of St. Bernard’s mystical theology, found precisely in the...


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