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REVIEWS PETER DRONKE. Dante and Medieval Latin Traditions. Cambridge, London, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986. Pp. xiii, 153. $29.95. This small book consists of an introductory chapter and three readings, one from each of the canticles of the Commedia. The thesis of the introductory chapter is that various theoretical statements which can be extracted from the traditions of medieval Latin poetry provide clues to Dante's theory and practice in the Commedia, depending as they do on an implicit shared agreement with Dante on the nature of the poetic imagination. He goes, for example, to Geoffrey of Vinsauf to retrieve the concept of the "hidden comparison," which he sees as a more functional and inclusive way of talking about the imagery of medieval poetry than the more usual medi­ eval ways of talking about imagery as ornament. Three readings-of the Giants in the Inferno, of the Earthly Paradise at the end of the Purgatorio, and of the Circle of the Sun in the Paradiso-are loosely linked together as illustrations of the thesis but in fact stand on their own, both in relation to the thesis and to each other. Dronke himself, it should be noted, readily admits this-the degree of unity he claims for the book can be discerned by his prefatory remark that "the chapters that follow are in a sense only fragments of what would be, ideally, a more extended inquiry" (p. ix). In this book a learned scholar-critic reflects on interesting material. His impressive knowledge of medieval traditions allows him to bring a variety of primary texts to bear on the Commedia, and the juxtaposition is often interesting. The information from the book ofNimrod which he brings to his discussion of the Giants at the end of the Inferno (as well as a translation from the Liber Nimroth which he includes as an excursus appended to the text) is information which most Danteans will find useful. Dronke suggests that the method of using such traditional medieval material might begin to replace allegorical readings of the Commedia. While admitting that allegorical readings are necessary for some aspects of the poem, he objects to the way they have dominated criticism at the expense of other approaches. In so defining his divergence from what he takes to be the dominant critical attitude toward Dante, however, Dronke is perhaps tilting at a nonexistent windmill. The personification allegory which he perceives as an obstacle to better understanding of the Commedia is not one that represents a dominant critical point of view, at least on this side of the Atlantic: he is disagreeing with the kind of allegorical reading 209 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER that finds a this-for-that correspondence in the characters and events of the Commedia. He says in his preface that "there is a pervasive belief, sup­ ported by a consensus that begins with the early commentators and still flourishes today, that the most fitting approach to the Commedia lies in attempting a predominantly allegorical reading" (p. vii). T his ignores the extent to which contemporary allegorical readings differ in fundamental ways from the analyses of the early commentaries. In lumping all alle­ gorical readings together as though they were in fact the same method, he conspicuously ignores the accomplishments of Singleton, Freccero, Hol­ lander, and their many contemporaries and younger contemporaries who have shown with impressive erudition as well as sensitivity to the text that the biblical or theological system of fourfold allegory and the prefiguration-fulfillment pattern of history can be extremely fruitful. In a bibliographical note at the end of the book he says, "If secondary literature on Dante has been adducedsparsely, I hope that the documenta­ tion of primary sources, in particular of medieval Latin texts, is comprehen­ sive enough to be helpful to specialists and non-specialists alike" (p. 148). To choose primary texts over secondary is, in general, laudable, but in this case it contributes to a misreading that is deceptive to specialist and nonspecialist alike. It allows him as well to ignore the fact that these scholars, no less than Dronke himself, reject personification allegory as the linchpin for their own work. Moreover...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 209-212
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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