Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Dante and the Grammar of the Nursing Body

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Dante and the Grammar of the Nursing Body

Article excerpt

Gary P. Cestaro, Dante and the Grammar of the Nursing Body, The William and Katherine Devers Series in Dante Studies (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003). xii + 30; pp. ISBN 0-268-02554-3. $65.00.

Dante and the Grammar of the Nursing Body provides a comprehensive framework for a series of nursing images that occur within the Dantean corpus, and locates them not only at the heart of the Divina Commedia, but also at the heart of Dante's thinking on language, selfhood, and the path to eternal Christian truth.

Gary P. Cestaro emphasizes from the outset the importance of Julia Kristeva's meditations on the maternal semiotic as a source of inspiration, and although the titles of the book and chapters are suggestive of a theoretical approach, the study is grounded in close readings both of a broad range of classical and medieval texts, and of Dante's Commedia, with excellent observation of detail.

The first chapter examines classical and medieval accounts both of language acquisition (with particular focus on Augustine) and of grammatica, to highlight the fundamental connection of the image of the nursing body with thoughts about language. The author draws on visual and textual evidence to chart the rise of the medieval allegory of Lady Grammar, emphasizing her dual personality as nurturing mother and whip-wielding disciplinarian.

The second chapter considers Dante's early works against this background, and concludes that Dante left the De vulgare dnquentia unfinished because of his inability to reconcile his affinity with the mother tongue (that is, Italian vernacular) with the 'classical grammar of linguistic selfhood' that entails rejection of the nursing body.

The third and fourth chapters examine the influence of medieval allegorists on conceptions of the nursing body, and suggest that a maternalization of grammar takes place within Christian writing that contrasts strongly with the classical gendered dichotomy of mind and body, grammar and nurse. …

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