Erotic Spirituality: The Integrative Tradition from Leone Ebreo to John Donne

By T. Anthony Perry | Go to book overview
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Chapter 2
The Dialoghi d'amore as Literature: The Uses of Dialogue

On its literary level Leone Ebreo Dialoghi d'amore is presented as a long courtship between an ardent lover, Filone, and his reluctant mistress, Sofia. At one point the clever lady summarizes their respective attitudes by the casual observation that she is more interested in the theory of love, while Filone is more bent on the practice thereof. 1 This wry comment is a capsule of the entire work, for it explains not only the constant narrative shift between amorous language and philosophical investigation, but also the basic paradox that pervades the entire Dialoghi, that of speculation versus action, which appears as the tension between Filone's amorous involvement and Sofia's aloofness but especially as the opposition between the contemplative life and the active life. 2 In this chapter I shall suggest that Leone Ebreo's work may be defined as a dialogue between two philosophies of life or two kinds of people, the contemplative man and the active man, and that these two human types are represented by the two interlocutors, Filone and Sofia. This view will require revision of the usual critical approaches to the Dialoghi. For one thing, if we take Leone's title seriously and consider the work as a true dialogue, as a confrontation of two substantially divergent points of view, then it is difficult to describe it as essentially a monologue in which only one of the characters--Filone--expresses the author's ideas. Moreover, in addition to the purely philosophical argument, we shall have to pay close attention both to the psychological nature of the characters and to the precise levels of their allegorization. In short, we shall no longer be able to neglect the work's literary nature. 3


Master and Disciple

The commonly held view that in the Dialoghi d'amore "Filone is the author himself" ( Caramella, in Dialoghi, p. 427) denies any substantive meaning to the concept of dialogue as either a philosophical or a literary device. The pattern for such a view is Ibn Gabirol Fons Vitae, "a dialogue that nothing interrupts or diverts and that, far from all human contingencies,

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