Dante: Contemporary Perspectives


299 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-7736-6
DDC 851'.1




Edited by Amilcare A. Iannucci
Reviewed by Andrew Taylor

Andrew Taylor is a professor of English specializing in Medieval Studies
at the University of Saskatchewan.


This anthology assembles 14 essays that sum up a great deal of
Anglo-American Dante criticism from the last decade. The essays cover
medieval poetics, Dante’s use of the classics and the bible, politics,
mysticism, and major episodes such as those of Ulysses and Paolo and
Francesca. They concentrate on the Commedia, especially with respect to
its formal qualities, intertextual relations, and reception (both
popular and learned). The authors have all published extensively on
Dante, and their essays are strong and diverse.

As Iannucci notes in his introduction, with the exception of the Bible,
no single Western text has generated as much commentary as the Commedia.
Nor, it might be added, could any other major medieval vernacular poet
have claimed to be a theologian in his own right. Dante commentary is,
appropriately enough, copious and philosophically weighty. The essays in
this collection always manage to be lucid, but only a few of them are
sprightly. In general, they offer a judicious summary of earlier
commentary and a balanced analysis of their own, but the weight of
references to earlier critics sometimes makes them ponderous.

The collection is not intended for readers approaching Dante for the
first time; however, for advanced students it will provide a valuable
guide. Given the resurgence of interest in medieval theories of
authorship, several of the essays will be of interest to many
medievalists. Steven Botterill, for example, challenges the prevailing
tendency in romance philology to see medieval poems as explorations of
the uncertainty of language, and argues that the Commedia both expresses
and requires “absolute confidence in the power of poetic language”
to communicate. William Franke approaches the Commedia though
Bultmann’s existentialist hermeneutics to reach a more nuanced
conclusion. When literary critics explore hermeneutics and
signification, they usually end up with destabilizing readings; it is
refreshing to see essays that tend in the other direction, reasserting
rather than deconstructing poetic truth.


“Dante: Contemporary Perspectives,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 14, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/30237.