Academic journal article Medium Aevum

In the Light of Angels: Angelology and Cosmology in Dante's Divina Commedia

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

In the Light of Angels: Angelology and Cosmology in Dante's Divina Commedia

Article excerpt

Susanna Barsella, In the Light of Angels: Angelology and Cosmology in Dante's Divina Commedia (Florence: Leo S. Olschki Editore, 2010). xvi + 212 pp. ISBN 9-788822-259745. euro23.00.

This book offers a wide-ranging and important study of angelic operations as understood within the cosmological and ethical dimensions of Dante's Comedy. It is concerned to give angels a more significant place than has been done to date, by stressing how Dantean angelology is 'an essential element to the interpretation of the structure and the poetics of the Commedia' (p. ix). The book is divided into four main chapters (each minutely subdivided) which examine: contemporary debates in thirteenth-century intellectual history regarding angels; the interactions between the biblical and the Pseudo-Dionysian traditions; the relations between Dantean cosmology and angelology; and the role of various other kinds of angelic operations in the poem, especially the presence of angels in Purgatorio, Beatrice's status as an 'angel', and the 'messo celeste' of Inferno ix.79-103. The volume as a whole establishes the indebtedness of Dante to the traditions of medieval angelology as well as his innovative departures from, and reworkings of, related traditions.

There is much of value throughout the book which offers a sound résumé of scholastic doctrines and a good overall treatment of many of the relevant passages in the poem. Barsella very helpfully draws attention to the combined speculative and active operations of angels; the limitations of Dionysian conceptualizations for Dante; the way the poet adapts ideas from the PseudoDionysius to a vision of angels as movers of the celestial spheres; the complex intersections in Dante between cosmology, creation doctrine, and astrology; and the privileged role of angels as instruments of the Holy Spirit in the poem. She is illuminating on several areas in which Dante, in comparison with theologians of his time, breaks new ground: e.g. attribution of power to all angelic hierarchies; changes wrought to the Dionysian system (e.g. p. 45). Barsella is well steeped both in the relevant critical literature from Dante Studies and in twelfth- and thirteenth-century scholastic angelology, and adroitly handles these bodies of knowledge throughout her monograph. …

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