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Vertical Readings in Dante's Comedy. Volume 2

George Corbett
Heather Webb


George Corbett et Heather Webb

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1The programme of mosaics in the cupola of the Florentine baptistery, which illustrates the cover of this second volume of Vertical Readings in Dante’s ‘Comedy’, presents the complex history of Christian salvation in one unified vision. Imprinted on Dante’s imagination as a child, it seems plausible that the programme might have served as a visual inspiration for his own Christian poetics. Dante, indeed, could not emphasize more strongly in the Comedy the connection between his faith, the Florentine baptistery, and his poetic vocation. In the upper reaches of Paradiso, and just before the staged encounter with Saint James, Dante opens the twenty-fifth canto as follows:

     Se mai continga che ‘l poema sacro
al quale ha posto mano e cielo e terra
sì che m’ha fatto per molti anni macro,
     vinca la crudeltà che fuor mi serra
del bello ovile ov’io dormi’ agnello,
nimico ai lupi che li dànno guerra;
     con altra voce omai, con altro vello
ritornerò poeta, e in sul fonte
del mio battesmo prenderò ’l cappello;
     però che ne la fede, che fa conte
l’anime a Dio, quivi intra’io, e poi
Pietro per lei sì mi girò la fronte.
(Par., xxv. 1–12)

[If it should ever happen that the sacred poem, to which both Heaven and earth have set their hand, so that for many years it has made me lean, vanquish the cruelty that locks me out of the lovely sheepfold where I slept as a lamb, an enemy of the wolves that make war on it, with other voice by then, with other fleece I shall return as poet, and at the font of my baptism I shall accept the wreath: for there I entered the faith that makes souls known to God, and later Peter so circled my brow because of it.]

2When Dante writes these lines, he knows that he may never return to Florence in his lifetime. And yet he emphasises that, were he to return, he would do so in this way, as a poet crowned with the laurel wreath, and in this place, at the font of the Florentine Baptistery where he was received into the Christian faith.

  • 1 See especially Christopher Kleinhenz, ‘On Dante and the Visual Arts’, in Dante for the New Millenni (...)

3If we too were to transport ourselves imaginatively into this extraordinarily beautiful space and look up, we would be struck by a particular feature of the central series of sixty mosaics that occupies five walls of the eight-sided cupola: namely, that it is arranged in four tiers of fifteen biblical scenes, thereby encouraging us to view the programme both horizontally and vertically.1 Thus, at a ‘horizontal’ level, we are invited to follow the narrative of creation to the flood, the story of Joseph and his eleven brothers, the life of Christ, and the life of St John the Baptist, in a series of mosaics which synthesises accounts in various biblical episodes (from the Old and New Testaments). But we are also invited to read up and down, whereby one of these narratives foreshadows, enriches or completes another. For example, the first mosaics in the four storylines — God’s creation of the world, Joseph’s first dream, the Annunciation to Mary, and the Annunciation to Zachariah respectively — are clearly interrelated. Thus God created the world in time and then, at the Annunciation, entered into time to usher in the new creation through Mary. The Annunciation to Zachariah foreshadows that to Mary: while Zachariah fails to believe the angel’s message that his elderly wife is pregnant and is consequently struck dumb, Mary believes the angel’s even more astounding message that, although a virgin, she is to conceive. Joseph, moreover, is an archetypal figure for Christ, and the vertical perspective draws out these typological connections across the fifteen scenes. These vertical parallels, then, are intended as part of the baptistery’s pictorial scheme.

  • 2 For videos of the public lectures, see ‘Cambridge Vertical Readings in Dante’s Comedy’, https://sms (...)
  • 3 ‘Introduction’, in Vertical Readings in Dante’s ‘Comedy’: Volume 1, ed. by George and Heather Webb (...)
  • 4 We would like to think all those who participated in the round-table discussion: John Bugbee, Ambro (...)

4If we transpose this visual mode of interpretation onto the poetics of the Comedy, the three canticles may be interpreted horizontally (reading each canto in turn) and also vertically (reading upwards from Inferno to Paradiso or downwards from Paradiso to Inferno). Beginning in 2012 and concluding in 2016, a series of public lectures held in Trinity College at the University of Cambridge has accomplished the task of applying ‘vertical readings’ systematically to the whole of Dante’s Comedy.2 The first volume of Vertical Readings in Dante’s ‘Comedy’, published during the 750th anniversary of Dante’s birth, presented our series within the history of the poem’s reception, then, as a collaborative experiment. In the first volume’s introduction, we outlined the method, history and some interpretative justifications of vertical reading.3 In the introduction to the second volume, it seems productive to explore some of the new directions that are emerging as part of this shared scholarly endeavour. In so doing, we draw especially on the round-table discussion that preceded the final lecture concluding our series on 21 April 2016.4

5We asked the scholars involved to discuss what opportunities and limitations had emerged through the vertical approach, and to explore some possible implications for further work in Dante Studies. One of the most salient features of the series that arose from this discussion was how the exercise of vertical reading has challenged us to reconsider what might be the most effective ‘format’ for reading Dante’s poem. In particular, scholars have explored what we might be liable to miss in the ‘canto-by-canto’ reading characteristic of the conventional Lectura Dantis and the commentary tradition. The very notion of a ‘vertical reading’ immediately offers the opportunity to interrogate the structure, architecture and relationality of the poem, even requiring us to conceptualise a before, after, above and below: the dimensionality of the ‘di qua, di là, di sù, di giù’. Whereas art historians have many interpretative resources for these different kinds of perspectives, and for them it is normative to gaze on a painting or cycle of frescos with a sensitivity to the horizontal, diagonal and vertical relationships, readers of the Commedia — especially when confronted with the narrative and hermeneutic complexity of the text — have often allowed themselves to remain within the confines of a section of the poem or a canto or a theme or a figure. The vertical reading method, by contrast, encourages readers to always keep the three canticles in dialogue with each other and can provide opportunities to search for interpretative answers (even to hermeneutical cruces of particular individual cantos) in relation to the poem as a whole.

6Vertical readings have thus implicitly or explicitly addressed the question of structure, in this case, the way in which the three canticles relate to one another. Various essays in the first two volumes have worked through different metaphors to envision the poem and the interconnections between canticles. Historically, the poem has been spoken of as a ‘gothic cathedral’ or a spiral, or more specifically, a DNA-like helix. Catherine Keen’s lecture spoke of staircases; Christian Moevs and Tristan Kay write of columns. Some scholars present at the discussion, most forcefully George Ferzoco, argued for Dante’s ‘systematic’ vertical approach (‘it is a vertical poem, Dante fully intended it in this way, and it has taken us seven hundred years to fully realize this’), while others were more comfortable with a ‘partial’ vertical reading. Whether in favour of a more systematic or partial interpretation of Dante’s vertical strategy, scholars concurred in emphasizing that although some vertical ‘columns’ may be weight-bearing, not all verticals, of necessity, can bear the same structural burden.

7Almost all scholars in our series seem to consider that Dante intended some of the same-numbered cantos to be read together, and that he therefore constructed particular connections between them. As Christian Moevs highlights in the first vertical reading in this second volume, however, we cannot know how many sets might have such intentionally conceived connections unless we first look systematically. While highlighting multiples of three (‘the Threes, Sixes, Nines, Twenty-Sevens, Thirty-Threes’) as particularly closely related, Moevs strongly affirms the value of exploring to what extent the other sets might have similar parallels. And he emphasises that approaching cantos through a vertical perspective ‘brings new details and themes into relief’ even where correspondences may not have been consciously constructed by Dante.

  • 5 The term ‘retrospective readings’ is taken, of course, from John Freccero. See John Freccero, ‘The (...)

8In freeing the vertical reader from the reiteration of the narrative as typical in the Lectura Dantis format, the exercise of vertical reading naturally opens up more meta-poetical issues. In the second volume, a tendency to favour a broader vertical reading emerged particularly strongly: thus Simone Marchesi and Manuele Gragnolati consider the Fifteens alongside the Sixteens and Giuseppe Ledda interprets the Twenty-Twos in relation to the Twenty-Ones. The vertical may extend most fruitfully beyond the strictly co-numerary to include a wider ‘column’ of cantos (to continue with the architectural metaphors). Would it, then, be productive to broaden the scope of the vertical reading still further to include more varied kinds of retrospective modes of correspondence that emerge in the poem?5

9A typology of some of the correspondences that have emerged so far in the series might include: theme, image patterns, shared metaphors, verbal echoing, situational parallels, prominent intertexts, shared rhymes and rhyme words, parallel liturgical situations, shared concerns with the metapoetic and modes of reader address, with time, eternity and prophecy, parallel names or family connections, inter-relationship of characters, place and geography, and numerological connections. Vertical reading, in this wider sense, may encourage a greater sensitivity to the multiple connections, both prospective and retrospective, across the poem as a whole. Even a single word (and not necessarily a shared rhyme word) in one section of the poem, as we know, can be more fully understood in relation to how Dante uses the word in other contexts; in many cases, indeed, Dante seems to enrich a word with meaning in the course of writing the poem. K P Clarke’s focus on rhyme words in his chapter on the Tens has led him to focus on rhyme across the whole poem, and, indeed, to explore a list of key Dante words, as touchstones for the poem.

  • 6 Matthew Collins, ‘Virgil’ s Digression and Dante’s Comedìa’, Dante Notes, 7 February 2016, https:// (...)
  • 7 Filippo Gianferrari, ‘Pride and Tyranny: An Unnoted Parallel between Purgatorio 12 and Policraticus(...)

10It has been a pleasure to see new vertical readings springing up outside the bounds of these volumes. For example, in the latter stages of preparing his chapter for this volume, Robert Wilson came across a vertical reading of the Thirteens as part of a Lectura of Purgatorio xiii in L’Alighieri (2015). Two recent ‘Dante Notes’, published online by the Dante Society of America, have also used vertical evidence to support their arguments. Matthew Collins works through the issue of Virgil’s digression in Inferno xx and the poet’s editing of Virgil in Inferno xxi by considering Purgatorio and Paradiso xx and xxi as ‘critical contextualisation’.6 Filippo Gianferrari uses what we might call a ‘flexible vertical’, referring to Inferno xii and Paradiso xiii to support a political reading of Purgatorio xii.7 There is, in this way, a sense that scholars are finding that verticals are providing another set of scholarly tools to be drawn upon for contextual or interpretative evidence.

  • 8 Brenda Deen Schildgen, ed., Pedagogy 17.3 (forthcoming September 2017). See also Brenda Deen Schild (...)

11Vertical readings are beginning to be discussed within scholarly work on Dante Studies pedagogy as well. It has long been the fate of students to begin reading Inferno in undergraduate classes and then never to move on from there. Vertical readings in the classroom can help to ensure that students develop the methodological skills to analyse the poem at a deeper level of complexity. And, at the very least, it leads them to learn something of Purgatorio and Paradiso, perhaps offering them a way into the concerns of the canticles that they often find, at first, most challenging. A special issue of the Journal of Pedagogy on teaching Dante, edited by Brenda Deen Schildgen, features four vertical readings that examine the pedagogical possibilities of studying the Fifteens, the Nineteens, the Twenty-Threes and the three antepenultimate cantos (Inf., xxxii, Purg., xxxi, and Par., xxxi) together.8

12This second volume comes into being, therefore, as vertical readings are proliferating and becoming part of the language of Dante Studies. ‘Verticality’ offers itself as a tool to engage with methodological concerns about modes of reading the poem, and as another way to ensure that studies of specific lines or cantos of the poem benefit from a broader consideration of the structuring concerns of the poem as a whole. The essays in this volume pick up on the theoretical questions of the first volume with the increased depth of reference that the cumulative conversation offers.

13By highlighting the principal narrative and thematic elements of the Twelves, Christian Moevs is able to reflect, first of all, on the implications of these elements for the canto on its own terms. Thus he presents a reading of the Minotaur’s distorted commingling of reason and animality in relation to the Incarnation, with further parallels between pagan heroes (such as Theseus and Hercules) and Christ. He then explores how these more descriptive elements may or may not be a feature across all three cantos. Moevs analyses a number of different kinds of correspondence. For example, he emphasizes the numerical parallel of 1 + 12 in the Twelves and how this implies, in each case, a relation of comparison and contrast with Christ and his twelve disciples: in Inferno xii, twelve creatures (whether human souls or Centaurs) are subject to Chiron; in Purgatorio xii, the twelve individual examples of pride culminate in the paradigmatic example of Troy; in Paradiso xii, twelve blessed souls are introduced alongside St Dominic by Bonaventure. While registering many further parallels, in terms also of theme (violence or pride), type of personages (bloody tyrants), or particular events (two kings killed during worship), Moevs focuses on the nexus around the four terms of art, representation, language and pride. This, in turn, leads to an original interpretation of the theology of Incarnation in Dante’s works. Contextualising his vertical reading within wider structural units and vertical columns, Moevs contrasts the prideful, and ‘competitive’ pursuit of excellence to inflate the self, with the collaborative enterprise of St Dominic and St Francis in directing souls to God.

14Robert Wilson’s contribution begins by addressing some of the key methodological issues involved in vertical or parallel reading in dialogue with previous studies, including the first volume of Vertical Readings (and with a particularly helpful analysis of Richard Kay’s approach). For example, Wilson is the first contributor to compare line lengths or canto divisions in a vertical set of cantos. This methodological concern develops throughout the chapter, and there are a number of critical observations about issues involved in the conventional Lectura Dantis as well. The first main part considers a series of potential justifications for vertical readings and explores whether such justifications, or approaches, might be appropriate to the canto set of the Thirteens. The second main part analyses some potential connections between the Thirteens, including a sustained reflection on envy.

15Catherine Keen’s contribution is the first to privilege explicitly the spatial and geographical implications of the metaphor of vertical reading. The Fourteens, she suggests, each open ‘an atlas page on which north-south and east-west axes are laid out with topographical precision’. Temporal, rhetorical and moral references serve further to locate, and interrelate, the three same-numbered cantos in her reading. Thus, for example, three temporal perspectives are brought to bear on a shared concern with politics: the rise and fall of pagan empires (Inf., xiv), the Christian eternal perspective of crusading martyrdom (Par., xiv), and the local, contemporary conflict in the Italian peninsula (Purg., xiv). Keen contrasts the predominant rhetorical emphases of the three cantos, with multiple classical allusions prevailing in Inferno xiv, the sermo humilis of Scripture informing Paradiso xiv, and a sharp historical, geographical consciousness, alongside the literary forms of satire and invective, shaping Purgatorio xiv. Although the vertical perspective lends a sense of the differing characters of the three cantos (and, arguably, of the three canticles), Keen also shows how the situation is more complex, subtle and multilayered. Thus, for example, a Christianized interpretation of the Old Man of Crete as the Old Adam is enriched through comparison with the presentation of Christ crucified as the New Adam in Paradiso xiv, and through reflection on the shared intertext of Paul’s i Corinthians. Messianic and Christianised readings, in other words, are invariably implicit as interpretative possibilities in Dante’s polysemous Inferno, while the more explicitly Christian themes of Paradiso cast an engaged, retrospective vista on the other two canticles.

16Simone Marchesi’s chapter opens by examining the apparent inconsistencies in Dante’s text, inconsistencies that have led scholars to suggest that Dante changed his mind about the structure and order of the poem during its composition. Marchesi thus emphasizes the need to read the poem in relation to its precise ‘timing’, as contingent upon a particular compositional history. He contends, moreover, that it is only with the final instalment in place (Paradiso), that the vertical connections move from virtuality to reality, from potentiality to act. In common with a number of vertical readings in the series, Marchesi initially finds two of the three cantos to be more obviously related. In the case of the Fifteens, he shows how the outer, or ‘external’, cantos, Inferno and Paradiso xv, clearly present good and bad fathers and fatherlands respectively. Marchesi also addresses, nonetheless, the less-obviously related central vertical canto, Purgatorio xv. Marchesi shows how it is Purgatorio xv which, in fact, presents the Scriptural precedent for ‘earthly and spiritual’ fatherhood and, also, brings to the fore the fatherland city of Jerusalem, setting up complex and ambiguous interpretative relationships to the Old Florence-New Florence, and Florence-Rome dyads dominant in the outer Fifteeens.

17Manuele Gragnolati highlights that the Sixteens are not self-standing but, instead, either form part of a diptych (Inf., xv–xvi) or a triptych (Purg., xvi–xviii and Par., xv–xvii). The ‘horizontal’ dimension, in other words, is especially important for these cantos which so clearly form part of larger narrative units beyond the single canto. Through a number of key themes, Gragnolati also emphasizes that the Sixteens are strongly related to other parts of the poem and to Dante’s other works. He focuses, then, on one theme that does seem particularly relevant to the vertical set of three cantos: the combined sense of nostalgia for the past and of the degeneracy of the present that prevails, he shows, in each of the Sixteens. Interestingly, as with Marchesi’s chapter on the Fifteens, Gragnolati finds it productive to consider the Purgatorio canto last. Where Inferno xvi might seem to present a contrast between the courtesy and valour of Florence’s recent past and the arrogance and excess characterizing a corrupt modern Florence, the vertical perspective of Paradiso xvi radically qualifies any over-valuation of the Florence of the mid-1200s. The idealization of Cacciaguida’s Old Florence in Paradiso xvi suggests, instead, a terminal decline, and Gragnolati presents new perspectives not only on the causes Dante assigns for this decline but on how these may give us further insight into Dante’s ambivalent relationship to the competing political systems of his day. Approaching the more theoretical discourses of Purgatorio xvi in light of the descriptions of different stages of Florence’s history in Inferno and Paradiso xvi, Gragnolati highlights Dante’s emphasis, not only on free will, but also on the necessity for political guidance if human beings are to be led to their earthly and heavenly happiness. This, in turn, sheds light back on Inferno xvi and the failure of the political leaders encountered there to guide their citizens to an eschatological goal (with a focus, instead, on earthly fame). On the other hand, even where the global institutions of Empire and Church are failing in the practical political arena, Gragnolati highlights that, for Dante, this does not excuse human moral failure.

18Although the main themes and styles of each of the Seventeens are different, Tristan Kay shows how each canto — in its structurally privileged halfway position in each canticle — presents a narrative watershed. Withholding the ‘intentionality’ question, Kay articulates numerological points (via Singleton and Logan), and considers some thematic and lexical threads such as ‘nautical imagery’, ‘weaving’, ‘alimentary metaphors’, and questions about the ‘pilgrim/poet autonomy’. The Seventeens, Kay shows, bear significant metapoetic weight for the poem as a whole. A reading of these conumerary cantos together reveals a sustained consideration of the poem’s status as ‘comedy’ as a centrally located ‘column’ within the poem. In Kay’s analysis, the surface appearance of thematic heterogeneity within this vertical overlays what is in fact a strongly linked series of metatextual considerations. In the final part of his contribution, Kay presents an ‘integrated reading’ of the Seventeens in terms of the key distinction between Christian ‘comedy’ and pagan ‘tragedy’.

19Anne Leone’s chapter proposes new modes of vertical reading, including the comparison with an adjacent canto and the notion of a triangular correspondence with a canto of another number. The chapter is also the first to begin by exploring a series of differences between the three cantos (in terms of topography, characters and activities, central issues, imagery and motifs), before focusing on a single important issue, in this case the treatment of women in the poem. In her reading of Inferno xviii and Purgatorio xviii and xix, Leone situates Dante’s representation of various seductresses in relation to classical sources. On the one hand, Dante seems to underline the positive reproductive roles of women while, on the other, he persistently presents the female sexual organs in order to evoke disgust and repulsion, rather than allure. In the second part, Leone brings in the figure of Lady Justice (or ‘Drittura’) from Dantes poem ‘Tre Donne intorno al cor’ as an important counterfoil to the presentation of the prostitute Thais (Inf., xviii) and the Siren (Purg., xix). Leone also shows how the polarity, in the Wisdom literature, between a personified Lady Wisdom (‘Sapientia’) and the figure of a harlot, between saints and seductresses, informs Dante’s presentation. It is disconcerting that, with the notable exception of Beatrice, Dante eschews the opportunity to celebrate virtuous, wise women in Paradiso xviii and, instead, represents women also in this canto as obstructing seductresses whom men must overcome in order to pursue their heroic deeds. This portrayal only reinforces the predominantly negative image of individual women given in Inferno xviii and Purgatorio xix. Leone argues that, in light of these narrative choices, Dante cannot be excused from charges of misogyny on the grounds that such views were common within his wider culture.

20Ambrogio Camozzi Pistoja’s chapter on the Nineteens is the first reading in our series that takes a literary genre — satire — as its vertical thread. Camozzi Pistoja provides an outline of medieval satire as a distinctive genre at work in Inferno xix and Purgatorio xix. Both cantos, strongly linked by their parallel considerations of avarice and simonist popes, combine elements of the rustic and the tragic, a juxtaposition that animates Dante’s brand of satire. Both cantos use the satirical image of the world upside down through the inverted bodies of the popes. Purgatorio xix thus reworks the material of Inferno xix in highly visible ways. The strong vertical between the first two canticles seems to disappear in Paradiso xix, but Camozzi Pistoja nonetheless shows that Paradiso xix provides a legitimisation of Dante’s satire in terms of his prophetic investiture from God. This insight provides an original way of considering Dante as prophet and satirist across the Nineteens and, indeed, throughout the poem.

21Claudia Rossignoli’s chapter on the Twenties also has strong intertextual and meta-literary dimensions. Rossignoli makes a strong case for the hermeneutic possibilities of vertical readings, linking formal and structural elements with the conceptual issue of the limits of human perception. As she shows, all three of these cantos interrogate the human mind’s power and limitations as applied to poetry, prophecy, and the delicate mixture of the two that Dante sets forth between scriptural and epic parameters. Rossignoli charts the preoccupation of the Twenties with the semantic field of eyes and sight, powers related in different ways in these three cantos to divinatory, intellectual and sapiential modes of knowing. Rossignoli also opens up new perspectives on how Dante’s poem relates to, and re-positions, its classical literary antecedents, emphasizing that a scriptural framework in the Twenties legitimizes the cultural and moral ambition of Dante’s poetic discourse.

22Corinna Salvadori Lonergan observes that all the protagonists in the Twenty-Ones are poets and, in Dante’s terms, ‘God’s beloved’: Virgil and Dante in Inferno xxi; Virgil, Dante and Statius in Purgatorio xxi; and Dante and Peter Damian in Paradiso xxi (with Virgil, in the preceding heaven of Jupiter, a great innominato). Through these central protagonists, Salvadori Lonergan explores issues of poetry, testimony, faith and preaching. In her analysis of the ‘black comedy’ of Inferno xxi, Lonergan pays close attention to the intricacies of language and speech, even down to the micro-details of the comic timing re-created by the rhythms of the hendecasyllables and hard-hitting rhymes. With regard to Virgil’s misplaced faith in Malacoda, Lonergan articulates Virgil’s limitations as a poetic guide as, more generally, a lack of scriptural knowledge. Sacred scripture is, then, the implicit subtext of Purgatorio xxi, and the vertical perspective allows new insights into the poetic relationship between Dante, Virgil and Statius. Finally, Lonergan presents Peter Damian as an alter-ego for Dante, drawing to a conclusion the chapter’s macro-argument about models of poetry in relation to the up/down relationship of contemplation and active preaching.

23The concluding chapter of the second volume fittingly brings together horizontal and vertical dimensions of reading the poem. Giuseppe Ledda highlights, indeed, that the twenty-second canto of each canticle forms a pair with the preceding one: the evil pocket (‘malebolgia’) of the barrators spans Inferno xxi and xxii, the ‘Statius cantos’ customarily refer to Purgatorio xxi and xxii, and the hagiographic diptych of the contemplatives St Benedict and St Peter Damian occurs in Paradiso xxi and xxii. While focusing on the Twenty-Twos, Ledda thus reads these three ‘closely-connected canto pairs’ together. Presenting a series of thematic correspondences and oppositions, Ledda exemplifies how inter-canticle analysis may lead to critical insights on each of the cantos and episodes examined. Ledda ties together intertextual interpretations of Dante’s treatment of truth and fraud, revelation and concealment, virtuous and vicious relationships to wealth, the ‘new preachers’ and the ancient poets with a presentation of Dante’s self-presentation and poetic mission.


1 See especially Christopher Kleinhenz, ‘On Dante and the Visual Arts’, in Dante for the New Millennium (New York: Fordham University Press, 2003), pp. 274–92 (p. 282). For a study relating the pictorial scheme of the Florentine baptistery to the historical-literal and spiritual senses of Scripture and to a vertical reading of Dante’s Comedy, see also George Corbett, ‘The Vertical Axis: Inferno x, Purgatorio x, and Paradiso x’, in Dante and Epicurus: A Dualistic Vision of Secular and Spiritual Fulfilment (Oxford: Legenda, 2013), pp. 80–85.

2 For videos of the public lectures, see ‘Cambridge Vertical Readings in Dante’s Comedy’,

3 ‘Introduction’, in Vertical Readings in Dante’s ‘Comedy’: Volume 1, ed. by George and Heather Webb (Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2015), pp. 1–11.

4 We would like to think all those who participated in the round-table discussion: John Bugbee, Ambrogio Camozzi Pistoja, K P Clarke, David Bowe, George Ferzoco, Robert Gordon, Malcolm Guite, Catherine Keen, Claire Honess, Robin Kirkpatrick, Geoffrey Kirkness, Corinna Salvadori Lonergan, Valentina Mele, Nicolò Morelli, Katherine Powlesland, Helena Phillips-Robins, Jennifer Rushworth, Brenda Deen Schildgen, Michael Tilby, Alessandra Tosi and Nicolò Crisafi.

5 The term ‘retrospective readings’ is taken, of course, from John Freccero. See John Freccero, ‘The Prologue Scene’, in Dante: The Poetics of Conversion, ed. by Rachel Jacoff (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986), pp. 1–28.

6 Matthew Collins, ‘Virgil’ s Digression and Dante’s Comedìa’, Dante Notes, 7 February 2016,

7 Filippo Gianferrari, ‘Pride and Tyranny: An Unnoted Parallel between Purgatorio 12 and Policraticus 8.20–21’, Dante Notes, 12 May 2016,

8 Brenda Deen Schildgen, ed., Pedagogy 17.3 (forthcoming September 2017). See also Brenda Deen Schildgen, ‘Civitas and Love: Looking Backward from Paradiso viii’, in Vertical Readings, I, pp. 161–80.


Lecturer in Theology, Imagination and the Arts in the School of Divinity, University of St Andrews. Prior to this, he was Junior Research Fellow of Trinity College and Affiliated Lecturer of the Department of Italian, University of Cambridge. He is the author of Dante and Epicurus: A Dualistic Vision of Secular and Spiritual Fulfilment (2013), and was the co-organiser, with Heather Webb, of the Cambridge Vertical Readings in Dante’s Comedy lecture series (2012–16).

University Lecturer in Italian at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Selwyn College. She is the author of The Medieval Heart (2010), Dante’s Persons: An Ethics of the Transhuman (2016) and articles on Dante, Catherine of Siena and others. She was co-organiser, with George Corbett, of the Cambridge Vertical Readings in Dante’s ‘Comedy’ lecture series (2012–16). She is co-editor, with Pierpaolo Antonello, of Mimesis, Desire, and the Novel: René Girard and Literary Criticism (2015).


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