Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Accounting for Dante: Urban Readers and Writers in Late Medieval Italy

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Accounting for Dante: Urban Readers and Writers in Late Medieval Italy

Article excerpt

Justin Steinberg, Accounting for Dante: Urban Readers and Writers in Late Medieval Italy (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007). xiii + 234 pp.; 17 black-and-white figures and 1 table. ISBN 0-268-04122-9. $30.00.

Two manuscripts lie at the heart of this examination of the early circulation of Dante's poetry, and of Dante's reaction to and anticipation of his contemporary reception. From the end of the thirteenth century to the first quarter of the fourteenth, the Memoriali bolognesi, official registers of the Bolognese communal government that record social contracts and financial transactions, include in their margins and between contracts 'mini-anthologies' of vernacular rime. These provide the only extant transcriptions of Dante's poetry copied during his lifetime, and include the earliest lcnown fragments of the Divina Commedia. The second document, the thirteenth-century lyric anthology Vaticano Latino 3793, preserves more than half the Italian lyric corpus. Steinberg, relying on the notion that Dante would have access if not to this then to a similar anthology, argues that both documents offer crucial insight into Dante's own self-referentiality and self-anthologizing. The notarial nature of the first, and the mercantile nature of the second, are characteristic of urban professional documents, rather than of a traditional book culture. The great strength of this study is its examination of the political and social contexts surrounding the creation of these anthologies, in particular, the role and status of the notaries responsible for the transcriptions in the Memoriali bolognesi. Steinberg emphasizes the political and non-orthodox voices of the notaries, reading the transcription of lyrics in the Memoriali bolognesi as an expression of autonomy against cultural repression. He explores how poetic debates between Dante/Guinizelli and Guittone are played out in competing visions of society in the Memoriali bolognesi and Vatican anthology respectively The Memoriali bolognesi, he argues, create a literary canon similar to that expressed by Dante in the De vulgari eloquentia and Purgatorio. …

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