Dante and the Origins of Italian Literary Culture

Dante and the Origins of Italian Literary Culture

Dante and the Origins of Italian Literary Culture

Dante and the Origins of Italian Literary Culture

Synopsis

In this book, Teodolinda Barolini explores the sources of Italian literary culture in the figures of its lyric poets and its "three crowns": Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. Barolini views the origins of Italian literary culture through four prisms: the ideological/philosophical, the intertextual/multicultural, the structural/formal, and the social.The essays in the first section treat the ideology of love and desire from the early lyric tradition to the Inferno and its antecedents in philosophy and theology. In the second, Barolini focuses on Dante as heir to both the Christian visionary and the classical pagan traditions (with emphasis on Vergil and Ovid). The essays in the third part analyze the narrative character of Dante's Vita nuova, Petrarch's lyric sequence, and Boccaccio's Decameron. Barolini also looks at the cultural implications of the editorial history of Dante's rime and at what sparso versus organico spells in the Italian imaginary. In the section on gender, she argues that the didactic texts intended for women's use and instruction, as explored by Guittone, Dante, and Boccaccio--but not by Petrarch--were more progressive than the courtly style for which the Italian tradition is celebrated.Moving from the lyric origins of the Divine Comedy in "Dante and the Lyric Past" to Petrarch's regressive stance on gender in "Notes toward a Gendered History of Italian Literature"--and encompassing, among others, Giacomo da Lentini, Guido Cavalcanti, and Guittone d'Arezzo--these sixteen essays by one of our leading critics frame the literary culture of thirteenth-and fourteenth-century Italy in fresh, illuminating ways that will prove useful and instructive to students and scholars alike.

Excerpt

One of the great pleasures of gathering my essays is the opportunity afforded, by looking back, to chart the maze and find its principles of order. The pillars of my critical praxis stand clear in the light of retrospection. One is the importance of learning from the reception, frequently with the goal of demystifying and deinstitutionalizing viewpoints that have been given too much credence and authoritative weight by centuries of repetition. Perhaps this attitude was born in response to working on a text, Dante’s Commedia, which has produced masses of repetitive exegesis since the fourteenth century, and in the context of a culture—Italian—that invests excessively in the authority of tradition and indeed in the authority of authority itself. As a young scholar I conceived it my duty to learn what had been written, to wade through many commentaries and lecturae. Ultimately I learned not only to value the rare acuity of the fourteenth-century commentator Benvenuto da Imola or the acerbic wit of Ludovico Castelvetro in the sixteenth century but also how to learn from even the most repetitive and least original contributions—which involved less attention to the content of what was said, which had usually been said before, than to the fact of these commentaries’ existence. This authority-laden exegetical tradition taught me that a poet who takes God as his guarantor, like the poet of the Commedia, could generate a commentary tradition, and then exert a pull on his commentators not so dissimilar from that of the Bible. I responded by wanting to study and understand the modalities of how Dante went about constructing an authorial voice that could exert such control, a response that took me first in the direction of intertextuality in Dante’s Poets: Textuality and Truth in the “Comedy” and then of narrative theory in The Undivine Comedy: Detheologizing Dante.

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