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Vertical Readings in Dante's Comedy. Volume 2

George Corbett
Heather Webb

15. Dante’s Fatherlands

Simone Marchesi

Texte intégral

  • 1 T. S. Eliot, The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism (London: Methuen, 1920), p. 99.

Dante does not analyse the emotion so much as he exhibits its relation to other emotions. You cannot, that is, understand the Inferno without the Purgatorio and the Paradiso.1

1Performing a canto-by-canto vertical reading of Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso xv requires a double commitment. On the one hand, it is an exercise that invites us to re-imagine the tradition of reading the Commedia in independent installments, in an attempt to elucidate each of the hundredths that make up the whole of the poem as a relatively (if not absolutely) selfstanding unit. On the other hand, by reading as sets texts that are vertically arranged in numerical patterns across each third of the poem, we are invited to refocus our attention on the way each unit in Dante’s text builds upon its antecedents to construct meaning, on how the poem signifies through the interaction of progressively larger contexts. This double hermeneutical call to interpret the canto units — as well as the contexts each completed section of the poem builds for the next — requires a fine tuning of the theoretical framework for the reading exercise, and a reconsideration of our task as readers which is perhaps best placed before we work our way through the three cantos and their interconnections.

2The first clause in the reading contract we may want to adopt before performing a reading of the poem in triads, looking for connections among cantos bearing the same number, is that such reading is not necessarily predicated upon a potentially radical notion of authorial design. To be sure, our enterprise is based on a set of pointed observations that have been in circulation for a while now, and which may be used as a theoretical foundation, or more modestly an operating principle, for the work at hand. The idea that there are strong elements connecting the three proemcantos of the poem or the three political cantos — those numbered vi, for instance — is not new. Yet, the idea of extending the same detailed mapping of correspondences across the whole body of the Commedia should not be taken to imply that we understand the author’s compositional control over his poem as not only absolute (which it is), but also preliminary (which it probably was not). As we look for interconnections between distant cantos, in other words, we are also invited to consider the possibility that the layout of the poem was, for Dante, not clear from the start; in particular, that such a plan did not include the double reading perspective that we will be practicing when we read vertically. It would be a dangerous assumption to credit Dante with a blueprint for the poem, in which the forward thrust of the narrative is also balanced by a stringent system of proleptic signposts, marking out reciprocally relating areas of the text.

  • 2 See Alberto Casadei, Dante oltre la ‘Commedia’ (Bologna: Il Mulino, 2015), pp. 45–76. On the issue (...)
  • 3 See, for instance, the compositional corollaries attached to the so-called diceria di Boccaccio, as (...)

3The theoretical and prejudicial question just formulated is not simply abstract and preemptive. Objections to the interpretive validity of a vertical reading of the kind that implies the assumption of a strong authorial design are not without merit. There are actually moments in Dante’s text that militate against conceptualizing the vertical reading along strong proleptic lines. Admittedly, we know fairly little — almost nothing — about the compositional history of the poem and its early dissemination.2 Yet we do have indications that different plans may have been adopted in the course of its making, and we can also see that some expectations created at a certain point in the text were never fulfilled.3 Both phenomena in the text seem to question the internal coherence of the work to the point of discounting the possibility of an holistic hermeneutic for the poem.

4For instance, a case of apparent change in plans may be found in Inferno xv, which displays an anticipation with no fulfilment. When Brunetto Latini gives Dante one more warning about the imminent demise of the White Guelph party in Florence, now formulated as a personal prophecy of struggle, defeat, and exile, the protagonist provides us with what will eventually become an abandoned narrative prolexis:

      ‘Ciò che narrate di mio corso scrivo,
e serbolo a chiosar con altro testo
a donna che saprà, s’a lei arrivo’.
(Inf., xv. 88–90)

[What you narrate about my path I am writing down and keeping to be glossed, with other texts, by a lady who will know, if I reach her.]

  • 4 On this instance of internal authorial glossing in the poem, see Simone Marchesi, ‘Dante’s Self-com (...)

5As it has long been noted, such a projected episode does not make it into the poem as planned and forecasted in Inferno. In Paradiso xv, Dante does not learn about his future from Beatrice, but from Cacciaguida. And it is his ancestor, not his guide, who explains in canto xvii the real ‘meaning’ of Dante’s exile, along with the ethical and poetic mission associated with it.4 The return of the technical term ‘gloss’ explicitly marks the unfulfilled and displaced connection:

     Poi giunse: ‘Figlio, queste son le chiose
di quel che ti fu detto; ecco le ’nsidie
che dietro a pochi giri son nascose’. (Par., xvii. 94–96)

[Then he added: ‘Son, these are the glosses on what was said to you: behold the snares that are hidden beyond a few turnings of the heavens’.]

6The narrative ellipsis is particularly interesting in a cross-canto reading, since in Purgatorio xv — in the context of a different argument, one about free will and the appropriate use of material goods — Virgil creates a second (and parallel) proleptic reference to Beatrice’s authority in doctrinal matters and foreshadows an intervention on her part:

      ‘E se la mia ragion non ti disfama,
vedrai Beatrice, ed ella pienamente
ti torrà questa e ciascun’ altra brama’. (Purg., xv. 76–78)

[And if my explanation does not satisfy your hunger, you will see Beatrice, and she will fully remove this and every other yearning.]

  • 5 Attempts to reconcile Dante with himself have been made. Benvenuto da Imola, for example, proposes (...)
  • 6 There are, of course, other examples of apparent changes in Dante’s compositional plan for the poem (...)

7Some possible reasons for this change of plans have been proposed, but they all fall into the realm of speculation.5 It could instead be more interesting to point out that, whatever the reason for the shift, the change in plans most likely took place after the writing of Purgatorio xv. The issue of timing in compositional decisions is not a moot point, and we will have to come back to questions of dating in due course. For now it may suffice to note that such proleptic inconsistencies are indeed present in the poem.6 Apparently, the narrative was not immune from twists and turns: the moments in which the text folds upon itself or allows ellipses and eclipses seem to indicate that Dante could and would eventually contradict himself. Possibly the effect of a redirection of the narrative that took place in corso d’opera, while the composition of the poem was ongoing and its publication in progress, these textual corrugations suggest that, when we attempt a vertical reading, we should not base it on the assumption of total and preliminary authorial control.

8Adopted as caveats, the considerations developed thus far may help us respond to Dante’s stratified text with a renewed critical awareness and help us to bring into focus an essential feature of our engagement with the poem: namely, that the writing and reading of the Commedia are both processes unfolding in time. As such, the compositional and interpretive phenomena involved in the disposition of elements on the vertical axis exist in the linear proceeding of the poem’s writing and reading, and complicate it at each stage in new ways. A practical interpretive decision ensues from this awareness: all phenomena detected by a vertical gaze should be studied as elements in a process unfolding in time and progressively producing sense, rather than as a set of data charged with meaning, forever residing in the semiotic reservoir of the text. Dante’s Fifteens offer, I believe, the opportunity to practice such phenomenological hermeneutics with significant dividends, at least for one particular aspect of all the three co-numeraries: the connection they all build between two related elements, father figures and imaginary fatherlands. In order to gauge the dynamic interplay of these elements in the cantos, we have to move, finally, into their text.


  • 7 On Dante’s cultural debt to Brunetto, see Francesco Mazzoni, ‘Brunetto in Dante’, in Il Tesoretto. (...)

9Inferno xv is part of a diptych: together with the next canto, it is dedicated to the third ring in the circle of violence. The circle is reserved for the punishment of violence against God, exerted indirectly. As Virgil explains in canto xi, this is the violence one does to things that emanate from the creator — which is to say, violence against nature and art. As we know, the next ring punishes the usurers, who have sinned against God’s grandchild — human art — in the way they have put money to work and dispensed with work themselves. The environment here is the same as in the preceding canto, where we find the blasphemers, violent against God Himself: a barren, scorched plain, perpetually under a rain of fire, and it does not change for the next ring either. Groups of sinners run incessantly under flakes of fire that burn their aerial bodies and disfigure them almost beyond recognition. The central character in the canto is Brunetto Latini, a Florentine intellectual of the generation before Dante’s. Traditionally presented as Dante’s teacher — and Dante acknowledges that he was taught by Brunetto ‘come l’uom s’etterna’ [how man makes himself eternal] — he is also cast as a father figure for the protagonist, who still cherishes his former ‘cara imagine paterna’ [his beloved paternal image] (ll. 85 and 83).7

  • 8 It remains controversial as to which of his texts Brunetto is supposed to refer with the tag ‘il mi (...)

10The episode in which Brunetto stars begins with the protagonist’s surprise: ‘Siete voi qui Ser Brunetto?’ [Are you here, ser Brunetto] (l. 30), an utterance in which he uses the honorific ‘voi’, reserved to a few characters throughout the poem: only two more in Inferno (Farinata and Cavalcante) and one in Paradiso (Cacciaguida). The protagonist has a long conversation with Brunetto on topics ranging from Florentine civic politics to his own future, an exchange which includes a series of biblically styled prophetic utterances on Brunetto’s part. In this most Florentine and vernacular episode, Virgil is somewhat marginalised. His only speaking part consists in a single approving remark ‘Bene ascolta chi la nota’ [He listens well who takes note] (l. 99), underlying the righteousness of Dante’s stance before the misfortunes awaiting him. The canto concludes with a list of other sinners, all intellectuals and members of the ‘cherci’ [clergy] (l. 107), and with Brunetto’s plea to be remembered for a literary work, his ‘Tesoro’ — which is to say the vernacular visionary poem we now call the Tesoretto, to distinguish it from his other, and more massive work, the encyclopedic treatise in Old French, entitled Le Tresor.8

  • 9 The debate dates back to the 1950s, when Andre Pézard published a long essay insisting that Brunett (...)

11The type of sin committed by Brunetto and his ilk has also been the object of some controversy.9 While Virgil had made clear in Inferno xi that violence against nature is associated with Sodom, there have been alternative hypotheses to identifying Brunetto’s fault directly with homosexuality. One proposal has to do with Brunetto’s choice of writing his magnum opus, the Tresor, in French. By doing so, it has been argued, Brunetto went against nature: he betrayed his ‘natural’ native idiom for another that was foreign to him. The matter is difficult to adjudicate, but one element that our vertical gaze brings to the fore is that language, in particular vernacular language, does indeed play an important part both in Inferno xv and in Paradiso xv.

  • 10 Critical attention has focused on the nature of the vision given to the protagonist. See, for insta (...)
  • 11 We are in the presence of one of the moments in which Virgil is perhaps overanxious to assert his a (...)

12Purgatorio xv apparently plays a different role in the poem. Unlike its predecessor, which revolved around a singular encounter and a pause in the narrative progress (or at least a slowing down of its pace), this is a canto of transition.10 Protagonist and guide are moving from the ledge of envy, to the ledge of wrath, the last of the vices engendered by love directed to a wrong object. The canto is composed of four distinct movements. The first comprises the encounter with the angel of mercy. The angel performs for Dante the ritual transition out of the ledge of envy, cleansing one of the seven P’s from the protagonist’s forehead. The second movement is an andante riflessivo, encompassing a question from the protagonist about what exactly was meant by Marco Lombardo, the last soul with whom he talked in the previous canto, when he said that we should not direct our desires ‘là ’v’è mestier di consorzio il divieto’ [in such things that cannot be held in common] (Purg., xiv. 87). This is followed by Virgil’s lengthy and passionate explanation of the difference between material and spiritual goods, the latter being subject to multiplication rather than division when shared. The third movement is the arrival on the ledge of wrath, and the exposure of the protagonist to the new set of examples — of mercy or meekness, the virtue opposing the vice being purged on the new ledge. The examples offered through a new means of delivery — ecstatic visions — start, as is customary, with Mary, mother of Jesus. The episode encapsulated in the vision centres on the sweetness with which Mary scolds her son, whom she and Joseph had lost in the throng of pilgrims gathered in Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover. The next two examples are from Greek history (Pisistratus, tyrant of Athens of the sixth century BC) and early Christian history (the stoning of Saint Stephen, proto martyr, in Jerusalem). The final section of the canto consists again of a lively exchange, a conversation in which Virgil explains to Dante what he knows all too well; namely, that what the protagonist has been given are exemplary visions inciting to mercy. He tries to convince Dante that he knows a lot (perhaps too much) about what is going on in his pupil’s mind.11

13Paradiso xv is based, as is Inferno xv, on a single, prominent character. The protagonist in this case is Dante’s ancestor, the soldier-martyr Cacciaguida (1091–1148). The canto opens with the protagonist already situated in the Heaven of Mars, where militant souls show themselves to Dante as lights forming a cross on which, mysteriously, shines Christ (we have learned all this in the previous canto). One of these martial and militant souls descends towards Dante, and the text reminds the reader of a classical parallel; namely, how Anchises came forward to welcome his son Aeneas in the Elysian Fields. In the same breath, however, the text also adds a qualifying statement ‘se fede merta nostra maggior musa’ [if we can trust our greatest source of inspiration] (Par., xv. 26), addressing Virgil’s reliability in otherworldly matters. Perhaps in line with the classical paradigm just evoked, the soul, adding sound to the jubilation of light and movement, pronounces a full tercet in Latin:

      ‘O sanguis meus, o superinfusa
gratïa Deï sicut tibi cui
bis umquam celi ianüa reclusa?’
(Par., xv. 28–30)

[O my blood! O poured out from above grace of God! To whom as to you has the gate of Heaven ever been twice opened?]

14Latin, however, is apparently not sufficient to discharge the affective tension. The soul is so overjoyed that the meaning of his second outburst goes beyond human understanding — and we are left to wonder if this is a question of content or of idiom. The text begs the question, that is, whether we are meant to understand that Cacciaguida still spoke in Latin, but about incomprehensible things, or whether he said something in the language souls use in Heaven (whatever that is), but the content of which was outside human grasp. Whatever the answer to the linguistic question about the part of Cacciaguida’s speech that the text does not include, we are told that the character eventually moves to a level of diction or to a language geographically akin to that of his interlocutor. Once the heat of the affection has decreased, Cacciaguida moves to praise God in the vernacular: ‘Benedetto sie tu, trino e uno / che nel mio seme se’ tanto cortese’ [Blessed are you, triune God, who have shown such grace to my progeny] (Par., xv. 47–48). It is in that language, finally, that he turns to address Dante, welcoming him and calling him ‘figlio’ [my son]. The protagonist answers by asking his name and, in a circumlocution, describes the welcoming he has just received as a fatherly welcoming: ‘paterna festa’ [paternal rejoicing] (Par., xv. 84).

  • 12 On the theme, see Charles T. Davis, ‘Il buon tempo antico’, in Florentine Studies: Politics and Soc (...)

15In the ensuing dialogue, Dante comes to know the identity of the soul as that of his ancestor, the root of the tree of which he is a branch. In the framework of an autobiography, Cacciaguida also gives Dante a summary of their family history, a portrait of the city of Florence in his past, and a brief account of his life and death as a crusader. The most extended section of his biographical presentation, which is taken up again in an even more extended form in the next canto, contains the description of the city. Cacciaguida here sketches the portrait of a city imagined in an idealized, peaceful, modest, socially healthy setting. From his account a past emerges, in which people mattered more than things, where certainty about one’s role in society was a given, where origins were reflected in the present. This was a city in which economic and social stability meant that generations could grow and age together in harmony, that no wife would be deserted, left alone in her bed because of her husband’s business trips to France: ‘nulla / era per Francia nel letto diserta’ (Par., xv. 119–20).12

16Some recurrent themes and images emerge from this survey of the three cantos. First, there are issues of language, with Inferno and Paradiso concerning themselves with the relative value of the various vernaculars of Latin, and of trans-linguistic utterances. Recurring cases of plant imagery also constellate the texts: thus, in the speeches of both Brunetto and Cacciaguida, the reader’s attention is focused on the relation between seed, root and branches. There are pointed indications that the role and authority of Virgil, the first guide (in Purgatorio), and of his text, the Aeneid (in Paradiso) are to be subjected to certain limitations. Most prominently, however, the three cantos contain questions surrounding civic life and concerns with models of paternity. A vertical reading of the poem allows us to bring these recurrences into sharper focus. It also helps us to see that what recurs are elements in a cluster of ideas, connected to one another and not only each to its own repetition. The ramifications uniting these recursive connections will concern us for the rest of our reading.


17The first recursive connection between co-numerary cantos is macroscopic: both Inferno and Paradiso xv talk about fathers. The connection is also literal. Brunetto is presented as a ‘cara imagine paterna’ […][dear, kind paternal image] (Inf., xv. 83) and Cacciaguida’s welcoming is defined as a ‘paterna festa’ […] [paternal rejoicing] (Par., xv. 84). These are not the only fathers Dante adopts in the Comedy: other salient figures addressed with this title are Virgil, Guido Guinizzelli, Saint Peter, Adam and Saint Bernard. A lexical curiosity, however, may be relevant: the adjective ‘paterna’ in the feminine appears only twice in the poem, in the coordinated passages from Inferno and Paradiso:

      ‘Ché ’n la mente m’è fitta, e or m’accora,
la cara e buona imagine paterna
di voi quando nel mondo ad ora ad ora
     m’insegnavate come l’om s’etterna’.
(Inf., xv. 82–85)

[For in my memory is fixed, and now it weighs on my heart, the dear, kind paternal image of you when, in the world, from time to time you used to teach me how man makes himself eternal.]

      ‘Ond’io, che son mortal, mi sento in questa
disagguaglianza, e però non ringrazio
se non col core a la paterna festa’. (Par., xv. 82–84)

[And therefore I, who am mortal, am caught in that inequality and can only thank you in my heart for your paternal rejoicing.]

  • 13 Other lexical connections unite Cacciaguida and Brunetto beyond the essential but not impervious bo (...)

18The next (and only other) occurrence in the poem is in the masculine, in the phrase ‘amor paterno’ in Paradiso, xvii. 34, which again refers to Cacciaguida. The connection on this point is one that is not difficult to interpret. Readers are asked to construct an oppositional pair from the two episodes and their protagonists. In one corner we find Brunetto Latini, the paternal man of letters, burned by the rain of fire in Hell, earthly in the support he would have offered to Dante’s mission, limited in the scope of his teachings. (After all, earthly fame is for him a viable surrogate of eternity, as his last words to Dante attest.) Opposite Latini stands Cacciaguida, the fatherly martyr, fully immersed in the glory of God, yearning for, and yet peacefully awaiting in Heaven, the encounter with Dante. He stands poised to give the protagonist a new perspective on work and fame, time and eternity, martyrdom and peace.13

19The system of oppositions built in and across Inferno and Paradiso xv is so neat that Purgatorio xv may risk being bypassed. The connections that Purgatorio has with both extremes, however, should not be overshadowed. Readers should not need to ‘leap over’ from Inferno to Paradiso; neither should Paradiso xv be forced to ‘fold back’ right onto Inferno xv, skipping the in-between canto. Fathers (and also, for that matter, treasures) are, in fact, not absent from Purgatorio xv. In that canto, there is first of all Virgil, who is twice addressed as ‘dolce padre’ [sweet father] (Purg., xv. 25 and 124), first when Dante asks him about the angel they are approaching and then again when Dante tries to explain to him the nature of his ecstatic experience. More importantly, however, wedged between the two addresses to Virgil, we find a third instance of the word ‘padre’ [father], which should actually count for two. It is a passage that, through the unambiguous evocation of a clear biblical antecedent, draws attention to a dichotomy in paternity. It is a passage in which we are called to recognize two fathers, the distinction between which is actually the model for the systematic opposition that the poem invites readers to perceive between Infernal and Paradisal types of paternity. We find the term in the first example of meekness, when the text reproduces Mary’s words to Jesus, whom she and Joseph find in the temple, after having searched for him frantically for three days:

      ‘Ecco, dolenti, lo tuo padre e io
ti cercavamo’. E come qui si tacque,
ciò che pareva prima, dispario. (Purg., xv. 91–93)

[‘Behold, your father and I, grieving, have been searching for you’. And as she fell silent here, what first appeared disappeared.]

20The relevant passage in the Vulgate and in the English Standard Version reads as follows:

Et dixit mater eius ad illum fili quid fecisti nobis sic ecce pater tuus et ego dolentes quaerebamus te. et ait ad illos quid est quod me quaerebatis nesciebatis quia in his quae Patris mei sunt oportet me esse. et ipsi non intellexerunt verbum quod locutus est ad illos. (Luke 2.48–50)

[And his mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety’. And he said to them, ‘Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he said to them.]

21In Dante’s text, Mary frames Jesus’s paternity in terms of earthly cares ‘Ecco, dolenti, lo tuo padre e io, ti cercavamo’, a strict translation of the Latin of the Vulgate (as Dante consistently provides for Mary’s words). In the original context, Jesus replies by alluding to a different plane on which his actions may be understood. Jesus’s words remain outside Dante’s text. But he did not need to include them, since they would have been embedded in the memory of his first readers. Their meaning is mysterious: the Gospel of Luke states explicitly that Mary and Joseph were unable to understand what was meant by them. But it soon becomes clear that Jesus’s words point to a different father, whose work Jesus is soon going to assume. But not just yet; thus far, the promise remains unfulfilled, the language obscure, a foreboding that has not become a foretelling. What remains significant is that Dante could count on his readers’ awareness of the contrast between the earthly and heavenly paternity of Jesus. Although confined to one detail in its plot, we may see, then, that Purgatorio xv is actually not indifferent to paternity.


22A discourse on fathers naturally leads to talk of fatherlands: Padri e patrie, fathers and fatherlands have more than just an etymological connection in Dante. The second macroscopic intersection between Inferno and Paradiso xv is that both cantos tell a tale of two cities. Actually, once we read them vertically, we can see that the cantos numbered fifteen tell a tale of several pairs of cities. The first level of urban analysis may be found in the tale of degeneration that is told in the poem by way of a hermeneutic suggestion. The vertical perspective invites readers to move backward from the Florence of the good old days that we find in Paradiso xv and xvi to the corrupt Florence of the present depicted in Inferno xv and xvi. Florence, Brunetto explains to the protagonist, is currently under the rule of the same vices diagnosed in Inferno vi by Ciacco: pride, envy and avarice, the vices of civic dissension and societal dissection. A side-by-side reading of the two passages reveals their connection:

      ‘Vecchia fama nel mondo li chiama orbi;
gent’ è avara, invidiosa e superba:
dai lor costumi fa che tu ti forbi’. (
Inf., xv. 67–69)

[Ancient fame in the world calls them blind: they are a people avaricious, envious, and proud: see that you keep yourself clean of their customs.]

      ‘Giusti son due, e non vi sono intesi;
superbia, invidia e avarizia sono
le tre faville c’hanno i cuori accesi’. (Inf., vi. 73–75)

[Two are just, and no one heeds them; pride, envy, and greed are the three sparks that have set hearts ablaze.]

23The three mortal sins identified by Ciacco and Brunetto are perhaps best seen in a precise constellation, not simply as added one on top of the other. In formulating a diagnosis for Florence’s political sickness, Dante is apparently adopting the common medieval perspective of the sermones ad status, the sermons preached to specific audiences which associated a particular sin to a precise stratum in society. In the parallel speeches of Cantos vi and xv, pride may be taken as the sin typifying the Black Guelphs (who preach, and frequently put into practice, an aristocratic and warlike ethos). On the other hand, greed may be taken as the sin typifying the White Guelphs (who are merchants at heart and in practice, more inclined to peace negotiations than to military action). Envy, then, would be the sin opposing each party to the other. The White Guelphs envy the Black Guelphs’ status, which they see as based on pride — as it actually is. The Black Guelphs envy the White Guelph’s affluence, which they see as based on greed — as it actually is. Ciacco and Brunetto’s diagnoses focus on the political situation leading up to and including the year 1302, the disastrous year when Charles de Valois entered the city of Florence as a peacekeeper on a papal mandate (from Pope Boniface VIII). Charles gave free rein to the Black Guelphs in their bloody campaign of proscriptions against their adversaries, one of whom was Dante himself.

24The contrast between the city of the present and that of the past is essentially ethical. In the way Cacciaguida describes the Florence he was born into and that he knew growing up, we find exactly the virtues opposing the vices for which we have heard the city being indicted by Brunetto. In the triad of adjectives that he uses to describe his quasi-heavenly Florence, we can see a point-by-point response to the social vices Brunetto and Ciacco had individuated:

      ‘Fiorenza dentro da la cerchia antica,
ond’ ella toglie ancora e terza e nona,
si stava in pace, sobria e pudica’. (Par., xv. 97–99)

[Florence within the ancient circle from which she still takes both tierce and nones dwelt in peace, sober and modest.]

25In the span of a few generations, envy will destroy peace, avarice will overcome restraint or sobriety, and pride will shatter modesty. Dante’s interest in the past is neither nostalgic nor archeological. The city of the past is evoked only in order to address the present. The Florence of Cacciaguida exists and is ideally visited, in order not only to elicit a reaction from the reader, but also to trigger an authentic ideological reaction in the text, precipitating a counter-model to the city of the present.

26The scheme of associations is easy to detect in the external or outer co-numeraries: in Inferno xv, we have the bad version of a father discussing the bad side of the common fatherland in Hell; then, in Paradiso xv, we have the good version of a father, reminiscing about the good version of the common fatherland in Paradise. Both cantos, incidentally, also have a coda, with that of Inferno xvi devoted to the noble, harmonious homosexuals that inquire about the current state of the city and lament its demise (ll. 64–78), and the coda of Paradiso xvi similarly devoted to an even more detailed account of the harmony that characterized the life of the nobility in the city of Cacciaguida’s times (ll. 40–147).

27At first sight, Purgatorio xv does not seem to have much to contribute to the clear-cut dichotomy that Inferno and Paradiso establish. There is, however, one tercet that, although only incidentally, may be brought to bear on the ethical framing of civic dissension that Dante constructs in the episodes of Brunetto and Cacciaguida. There is at least one lexical element that allows the connection to be proposed, the reappearance of the term ‘invidia’. It may be found in Virgil’s explanation of the words that Guido del Duca had uttered on the previous ledge to decry the predominance of human sinful desires in the world:

      ‘Perché s’appuntano i vostri disiri
dove per compagnia parte si scema,
invidia move il mantaco a’ sospiri’. (Purg., xv. 49–51)

[Because your desires point to where sharing lessens each one’s portion, envy moves the bellows to sighing.]

28Virgil’s intervention is perhaps simply recasting (more than recapitulating) the categorization of Inferno in the new moral system of Purgatorio, where the three essential sins of civic life are to be found in different groups: pride and envy in the lower terraces, among the vices of misdirected love, while avarice is still to come at this point in the text, categorized as it is in terms of excessive love for an earthly good. Although the context is generally political (and Purgatorio xiv had indeed contained a more pointed review of civic vices), the connection thus established is arguably tenuous. We should resign ourselves, perhaps, to having reached a hermeneutical dead end — and there is nothing wrong with that.

29The old and new Florence of which Brunetto and Cacciaguida offer a description are not the only cities about which Dante tells a dyadic story. In the speeches of Brunetto and Cacciaguida, there is a constant reference to Rome as the positive model to which the lost city of Florence should, but tragically fails to, conform itself. Both Brunetto and Cacciaguida insist on the necessary, biological connection of Florence to Rome — and both evoke the fall of Fiesole as the city’s myth of origin. The mixing of the Roman-Florentine stock with the Fiesolani is a moment of downfall which is revisited and repeated by modern Florentines, who have allowed their city to grow too much, inviting in the populace from neighbouring towns and the countryside. The Florence of the past and that of the present are both measured by the ideal of Rome. And Brunetto and Cacciaguida make the point rather forcefully. Brunetto twice accuses Florence of having been contaminated ab origine by the mixing of races with the people from Fiesole, the city which was guilty of having supported Catiline in his attempt to overthrow the Roman Republic (as Cicero tells the story). The theme is sounded twice in a short span of lines:

      ‘Ma quello ingrato popolo malign
che discese di Fiesole
ab antico,
e tiene ancor del monte e del macigno,
     ti si farà, per tuo ben far, nimico;
ed è ragion, ché tra li lazzi sorbi
si disconvien fruttare al dolce fico’. (
Inf., xv. 61–63)

[But that ungrateful, malicious people who came down from Fiesole of old, and still smack of the mountain and the granite, will become your enemies because of your just actions; and that is reasonable, for among the sour crab apples it is not fitting that the sweet fig bear its fruit.]

      ‘Faccian le bestie fiesolane strame
di lor medesme, e non tocchin la pianta,
s’alcuna surge ancora in lor letame,
     in cui riviva la sementa santa
di que’ Roman che vi rimaser quando
fu fatto il nido di malizia tanta’. (Inf., xv. 73–78)

[Let the Fiesolan beasts make straw of each other, but let them not touch the plant, if any still sprout in their manure, in which may live again the holy seed of the Romans who remained there when that nest of so much malice was built.]

30L’Ottimo commento provides a synthetic explanation of the legend behind the Roman foundation myth of Florence:

Qui è da notare che facta la battaglia con Cathelina in campo piceno, li Romani assediarono Fiesole. Et però che l’assedio fue lungo, certi nobili romani s’acasarono giù al piano in più parti. Et poi arrenduti per fame li fiesolani li fecioro tornare al piano et di loro et di quelli che de l’hoste di Romani vi volloro rimanere edificaro la cittade di Firenze, assignando a quelli nobili romani campi et terre de rubelli fiesolani. Pare che ser Burnetto voglia se et Dante mettere nel numero di quelli romani. (Ottimo commento, ad Inf., xv. 73–78)

[Note that after the battle against Catiline at Campo Piceno, the Romans put Fiesole under siege. Since the siege was a long one, some Romans set up their habitations in the valley; once the Fiesolani surrendered, they were forced down the hill. The city of Florence was populated with them and the Roman veterans who decided to stay. The noble Romans received fields and lands confiscated from the Fiesolani rebels. It seems that Ser Brunetto would like us to count him and Dante among those Romans.]

31Cacciaguida lends his authoritative support to this foundation myth through a summarized version. In describing the Florence of his time, he recounts how women, while spinning wool, ‘favoleggiavan con la sua famiglia / de’ Troiani, di Fiesole e di Roma’ [would tell their families the legends of the Trojans, of Fiesole, and of Rome] (Par., xv. 124–26). It may be that, in attributing to the women of ancient Florence fabulous, and fable-like versions, the text prompts us to question the credibility of the city’s mythical origins. However, the potential of Rome to provide a city with an ideal, and not impractical, model for the formation of her citizens is reasserted in the following lines. In Cacciaguida’s good old days, ‘people would have marvelled at vicious characters like Lapo Saltarello or Cianghella’ (a barrator and an adulteress, respectively) ‘as they would now marvel at seeing Cincinnatus or Cornelia’ (models, respectively, of civic rectitude and modesty from the Roman Republican past (Par., xv. 127–29). The Florence-Rome axis is, in sum, the main historical trajectory Dante adopts for his poem. The Rome that was and the Florence that might have been are what keeps the civic idealism of the poem going. The passages in which the positive juxtaposition of the two cities is offered speak clearly, in stark moralistic terms.

  • 14 For an overview of the Roman lineage argument, see Christopher Kleinhenz, Dante intertestuale e int (...)

32At the core of both Dante’s idealization and his denouncement of his fatherland, however, lies an often undetected difficulty. The ideal Florence-Rome connection established in Inferno and Paradiso xv by the two paternal figures is so central to the historical and political ideology of the poem that it has naturalized itself, but that association did not come as naturally or as unproblematically to medieval minds as it came to Dante. Rome is not unqualifiedly, that is, a good model for a city.14 There is a third set of cities that is mobilized in the Fifteens, a new and perhaps even more radically opposed dyad, and it is perhaps only in virtue of the intervening co-numerary Purgatorio xv that we are able to recognize it.

33If the Florence of the present is opposed to the Florence of the past in Inferno and Paradiso xv, and both cities ideally project a polarized connection to Rome in the poem, in the wider Christian culture Rome is, in turn, opposed to Jerusalem. And Rome is not the positive pole in the system. In constructing the opposing models of an earthly and heavenly city in his De civitate Dei, Augustine forever pitted the two cities against one another: the old pagan Rome, all-too-earthly and destined to disappear in the new age of the son, against the New Jerusalem prophesied by Ezekiel and existing as the militant church in the here and now of the new Christian dispensation. These two cities Augustine called the City of Man and the City of God. This is not the place to rehearse again the debate about the role that Dante’s political classicism may have played in the formation of his conflictual Augustinianism. For the present reading, it will suffice to remind ourselves of the presence of another model city in Dante’s culture and of the conflicted relation it was construed to have with the idealized image of ancient Rome central to the poem’s political propaganda. The Florence-Rome/Rome-Jerusalem system of opposition may serve here to focalise the presence of the last city in the background of Purgatorio xv.

34Let us return to the episode of the young Jesus in the Temple in the text of the Vulgate, examining now the larger context of the verbal exchange, one half of which Dante reports as an example of meekness:

Et ibant parentes eius per omnes annos in Hierusalem in die sollemni paschae et cum factus esset annorum duodecim ascendentibus illis in Hierosolymam secundum consuetudinem diei festi consummatisque diebus cum redirent remansit puer Iesus in Hierusalem et non cognoverunt parentes eius existimantes autem illum esse in comitatu venerunt iter diei et requirebant eum inter cognatos et notos et non invenientes regressi sunt in Hierusalem requirentes eum et factum est post triduum invenerunt illum in templo sedentem in medio doctorum audientem illos et interrogantem stupebant autem omnes qui eum audiebant super prudentia et responsis eius et videntes admirati sunt et dixit mater eius ad illum fili quid fecisti nobis sic ecce pater tuus et ego dolentes quaerebamus te et ait ad illos quid est quod me quaerebatis nesciebatis quia in his quae Patris mei sunt oportet me esse et ipsi non intellexerunt verbum quod locutus est ad illos. (Luke 2.41–51)

[Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress’. And he said to them, ‘Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them.]

35The city of Jerusalem emerges from this passage as the central trope of the story, suggesting both the holiness of the city in itself and the centrality it assumes in God’s plan. In the economical narrative of the Gospel of Luke, the connection of city and temple acts as catalyst for the story. Living under the Law, Joseph and Mary participate in the ritual convergence of the Jews in Jerusalem for Passover, a pilgrimage that has the worship at the temple as its core. At the end of the festival, Joseph and Mary leave the city, but Jesus stays behind; when they realize he is not in the caravan, they go back to the city and look for him there; on the third day, they finally find him in the temple. That building is, as the young Jesus obscurely says, the house of his Father — the place on earth where God’s presence is most concrete. At once marking continuity and a break with it, Jesus starts revealing himself right in the centre of the religious capital of Judaism.

36With the example of Jesus in the temple, the Purgatorio episode allows the model of this holy city to emerge in Dante’s text. The problem is that this model is not the one that the texts of Inferno and Paradiso xv so brazenly adopt and propose in co-numerary cantos. Even if Florence is not Rome, as Brunetto and Cacciaguida explicitly remark, and Rome is the positive polarity in the imaginary system, Rome still exists in another polarised system as the foil for Jerusalem. Should Florence not strive, in that case, to be a new Jerusalem? Or should we, as readers, find a way (any way) to write this third model city off the poem? Are we supposed to search for a way to bypass Jerusalem and the context of Purgatorio xv, in order to keep Dante’s classicising Roman-ness alive? The answer is no. I don’t think we can, and nor should we.

  • 15 The trope has been explored most recently by Claire E. Honess in ‘“Ritornerò poeta”: Florence, Exil (...)
  • 16 On the highly contested quality of this political and cultural move, see most recently Federico Can (...)

37The Florence-Rome/Rome-Jerusalem nexus of connections is complicated by an alternative, and not necessarily secondary, set of associations, that of Florence to Babylon and Rome to Jerusalem, as spelled out in Dante’s Epistles.15 In this double dyadic system, Florence is cast as infernal Babylon, while Rome is linked to a heavenly Jerusalem. The Rome-as-Jerusalem pole thus constructed may be responsible for endowing Rome with positive connotations, which extend from the pre-Christian centre in the history of salvation to its new centre. The Christian-to-Jewish supersessionist typology that ensues is, in turn, a familiar one: Peter and Paul bridge the old and the new dispensations, as they move between Jerusalem (where they were united in textual work on the testaments) and Rome (where they were united in martyrdom: the Christian city is built, of course, on their relics). In this system, the exchange of connotations is mutual: the Eternal City intervenes as a better city than Jerusalem, surpassing at least for one element (its Christian identity) at least one aspect (its Jewishness) in the ambivalent portrait of its counterpart. This Rome, in other words, is fully Christian, and thus opposed to the obstinately Jewish Jerusalem; it is featured as the rightful centre of the new spiritual dispensation, as opposed to the old centre of the provisional, and carnal Holy City. Nonetheless, the Rome evoked by Dante in his poem seems to be more attached to the classical Rome than to the Apostolic one. This is a reaction, perhaps, to the recently activated papal rhetoric of centralized pilgrimage promoted by Boniface VIII, ideally replacing Jerusalem with Rome with the proclamation of the first jubilee.16

38There is one final element in our reading of the Fifteens that recommends a vertical, contextual meditation on the city at the centre of the first example of meekness offered in Purgatorio xv. While archeological evidence about the temple in Jerusalem was out of the reach of Dante and his contemporaries, there is a textual tradition that associates a specific number to the temple and, in particular, to the ascent to the temple in ritual pilgrimage. This number is pertinent to the triad of cantos we have been reading. In medieval numerology, fifteen is a number seldom commented upon, but when it is, the first and foremost connection that is established is with Jerusalem and the temple at its centre. In a short treatise attributed to Isidore of Seville on Numbers in the Bible, we read the following two interpretations of our number:

Recte ergo hic numerus societatem significant Testamentorum. Hinc est quod apostolus Paulus quindecim diebus in Jerosolymis cum Petro se commorasse testatur, ut cum eo utrumque Testamentum conferret […] Hic autem quindenarius numerus mystice dominico ascribitur templo. Quindecim gradus erant in circuitu templi, in quibus sacerdotes et Levitae secundum ordinem meritorum astabant, ad quorum etiam exemplum quindecim graduum cantica decantavit propheta, per quos a terrenis paulatim crescendo usque ad templum Jerusalem supernae conscenditur. (Isidore of Seville, De numeris xv. 78)

[Rightly, thus, this number signifies the unity of the Testaments. This is the reason why Paul the Apostle spent fifteen days in Jerusalem with Peter, as it is said, so that he could collate with him both Testaments.
But this number fifteen is also ascribed mystically to the Temple of the Lord. Fifteen were the steps around the temple, on which stood the priests and the Levites, according to the order of their merits. Modeled on those steps the Prophet also sung fifteen songs of the steps, the steps through which, gradually rising, one may complete the ascent to the Temple of the celestial Jerusalem.]

39In the twofold interpretation Isidore proposes for the number fifteen, we find the same elements which make the episode taking place in the temple of Jerusalem central for a canto bearing that number. The mystical number for the temple is fifteen — fifteen are the steps leading up to it; fifteen are the so-called gradual psalms (Ps. 119–33), which were traditionally sung during the ascent to the temple; and the temple of the earthly Jerusalem may be read tropologically as the sign of the celestial Jerusalem, to which we ascend via a moral progression. By virtue of the numerological link established in the poem, Jerusalem appears a counter model not only to Florence, but also to the Rome evoked in Inferno and Paradiso xv.

40This connection, like all numerological connections, should not be overburdened with interpretation no matter how tempting. The number fifteen is not the solution to the question of the many contrastive pairs of cities Dante presents as his fatherlands. Yet, the emerging of Jerusalem as a third positive model-city should at least give us pause for thought. The allusion to the city Augustine had chosen as the positive counterpart of Rome accords with the numerological setup of the poem, but it does not seem to sit well with the cantos that are vertically coordinated to it, both radically Roman-centred cantos. It is a situation that calls for interpretation, but the interpretations that may be advanced seem both equally valid and difficult to reconcile with one another. On the one hand, one could read the evocation of Jerusalem in the filigree of the canto as a manifestation of Dante’s ‘guilty’ cultural subconscious, which forces him to keep the Holy City of Jerusalem in the political picture (however slightly and obliquely), even when he is adhering to a fully imperial and philo-Roman platform in his ideological and ideal urban planning. Alternatively, we can read the allusion as a moment of radical in-itinere revision of the poem: Dante may be revisiting in Purgatorio a philo-Roman position he held during the composition of Inferno, which had eventually become difficult (if not untenable), while working through the co-numerary canto a few years later.

41The first hypothesis, which treats Jerusalem as repressed material, explains the almost perfect alignment of Inferno and Paradiso xv on the Roman model. The second one, which treats all elements in the vertical reading as fully intentional, requires that alignment to be the product of a second change of mind, with the revision of the Rome-Jerusalem system being rethought, in its turn, to follow up on the triumphantly imperial Roman sections of Paradiso, where Rome is the bearer of God’s sign and all its conquests are God-willed, part of a providential plan leading to the Incarnation and Passion of the Christ, as Paradiso vi amply demonstrates. At that juncture in Dante’s drafting of the poem (and his Monarchia), Roman history is treated as sacred history, and the city of Rome is Dante’s sacred city. Even this reading, however, is not immune to a counter reading. When we interpret Paradiso xv, we cannot dispense with the fact that the soul who speaks to Dante about lineage and paternity, about Florence and Rome, and about one’s mission in life, ended his life parable in the Holy Land. The Florentine Cacciaguida, knighted by a Holy Roman Emperor, actually died during the Second Crusade, when Jerusalem was the capital of a Christian kingdom. The instability of the system of signs constructed in the poem is such that either option is potentially misleading. Whatever option we choose, it leaves much to be desired, and we seem to be forced within a field of tensions and hermeneutic instability.


42The hermeneutic instability is perhaps not only local and not solely hermeneutic, but also philological. We may revisit at this point the framing questions articulated at the start of this reading. One of our goals was to reflect on how we should conceive of, and in turn interpret, vertically connected elements in the poem. From our close consideration of the case of the Fifteens, the connections linking the first two elements in this triad of cantos emerge as essentially retrospective, reaching back from the second to the first half of what philologists think must have been the first two-cantica authorial edition of the poem. Apparently, it is Purgatorio that makes Inferno its counterpart, canto by canto: in practical terms, and our specific case, it is the first example of meekness containing Jesus’s contrastive evocation of heavenly and earthly fathers that validates the paternal theme in Inferno xv and retrospectively signposts it, creating for it a slot in the correspondingly numbered canto in Paradiso. Similarly, the Jerusalem evoked in Purgatorio xv comes to nuance and contrast the Florence-Rome model set up in the previous canto xv and eventually revisited (if not revised) in Paradiso xv.

43What emerges from this theoretical setup is the related suggestion that the verticality of some of these connections passes from virtuality to reality, from potential to act, only with the final instalment of the poem in place. It is only with the third, final element, with the writing and reading of Paradiso that the triad becomes interpretable as such. It is perhaps only the instance of Cacciaguida that makes Brunetto his antecedent not only as an inadequate father figure but also as provisional participant in the common condemnation of the decline of Dante’s fatherland. This vertical connection does not seem to happen simply because of the ‘fortuitous’ presence of a father-question and a city-question in Purgatorio xv; rather it is intrinsically related to the fact that, in terms of city-models, the middle canto points in a somewhat different, perhaps strategically ambivalent, direction.


1 T. S. Eliot, The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism (London: Methuen, 1920), p. 99.

2 See Alberto Casadei, Dante oltre la ‘Commedia’ (Bologna: Il Mulino, 2015), pp. 45–76. On the issue of dating and preliminary editions, see also Enrico Fenzi, ‘Ancora a proposito dell’argomento barberiniano’, Tenzone 6 (2005), 97–116. In a more general vein, Giorgio Padoan, Il lungo cammino del ‘poema sacro’, Studi danteschi (Florence: Olschki, 1993), passim; and, in a most particular one, Lino Pertile, ‘Le Egloghe, Polifemo e il Paradiso’, Studi Danteschi 71 (2006), 285–30. For a counter-argument to Padoan, see Enrico Malato, Per una nuova edizione commentata delle Opere di Dante (Rome: Salerno, 2004), p. 100. See also John Ahern, ‘What did the First Copies of the Comedy Look Like?’, in Dante for the New Millennium, ed. by Teodolinda Barolini and H. Wayne Storey (New York: Fordham University Press, 2003), pp. 1–15.

3 See, for instance, the compositional corollaries attached to the so-called diceria di Boccaccio, as laid out in Giovanni Boccaccio, Esposizioni sopra la Comedia di Dante, ed., ad Inf., viii. 1 esp. litt. (Tutte le opere di G. Boccaccio, ed. by Giorgio Padoan, vol. 6 (Milan: Mondadori, 1965)). A revival has taken place in the first half of the last century, see Giovanni Ferretti, I due tempi della composizione della ‘Divina Commedia’ (Bari: Laterza, 1935). Contra, see Teodolinda Barolini, ‘Aristotle’s Mezzo, Courtly Misura, and Dante’s Canzone Le dolci rime: Humanism, Ethics, and Social Anxiety’, in Dante and the Greeks, ed. by Jan M. Ziolkowski (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014), pp. 163–79, who points to Inferno VII as markedly and dramatically Aristotelian, and hence already in line with the eventual moral structure of Hell.

4 On this instance of internal authorial glossing in the poem, see Simone Marchesi, ‘Dante’s Self-commentary in Paradiso’, in the proceedings of the conference The Medieval Self-Commentary: A Transnational Perspective, ed. by Aglae Pizzone and Ian Johnson (forthcoming).

5 Attempts to reconcile Dante with himself have been made. Benvenuto da Imola, for example, proposes that the contradiction is apparent but not actual, because the encounter between Dante and Cacciaguida is stage-managed so that Dante hears the response to the prophecies of both Farinata (Inferno x) and Brunetto Latini (Inferno xv) ‘a praedicto [Cacciaguida] mediante Beatrice’. Beatrice is, in other words, the ‘cause of, and the intermediary for, Cacciaguida’s response’. For this line of interpretation, which also emphasizes the precedent in Virgil’s authorial strategy in the Aeneid, see, for example, George Corbett, Dante and Epicurus: A Dualistic Vision of Secular and Spiritual Fulfilment (Oxford: Legenda, 2013), pp. 118–19.

6 There are, of course, other examples of apparent changes in Dante’s compositional plan for the poem. See, for instance, the curious disappearance of a mysterious Arrigo from the prosopography horizon of the poem: mentioned in Inferno vi. 79–81 as one among worthy citizens of an earlier Florence whom the protagonist will meet, he is actually nowhere to be found. A more complex, but perhaps complementary case of shifts in the poem’s personnel is the reduplication of Manto, at once seen and discussed in the bolgia of the diviners in Inferno xx and then mentioned again as among the limbo dwellers by Virgil in a conversation with Statius in Purgatorio xxii. They are both cases that produce a narrative discontinuity.

7 On Dante’s cultural debt to Brunetto, see Francesco Mazzoni, ‘Brunetto in Dante’, in Il Tesoretto. Il Favolello, by Brunetto Latini, ed. by Francesco Mazzoni (Alpignano: Tallone, 1967), pp. ix–xl. See also Peter Armour, ‘Dante’s Brunetto: The Paternal Paterine?’, Italian Studies 38 (1983), 1–38, and Madison U. Sowell, ‘Brunetto’s Tesoro in Dante’s Inferno’, Lectura Dantis 7 (1990), 60–71.

8 It remains controversial as to which of his texts Brunetto is supposed to refer with the tag ‘il mio Tesoro’, whether the Italian fictional poem or the Old French encyclopedia. See, for instance, the bibliographical survey in Robert Hollander’s commentary to Inferno xv. 119 in La ‘Commedia’di Dante Alighieri, ed. and tran. by Simone Marchesi (Florence: Olschki, 2011), to which one may add now Giovannella Desideri,Quelli che vince, non colui che perde. Brunetto nell’immaginario Dantesco’, in A scuola con Ser Brunetto: Indagini sulla ricezione di Brunetto Latini dal Medioevo al Rinascimento, ed. by Irene Maffia Scariati (Florence: SISMEL, 2008), pp. 381–400.

9 The debate dates back to the 1950s, when Andre Pézard published a long essay insisting that Brunetto’s sin has a linguistic rather than a sexual nature. An alternative hypothesis sees as problematic Brunetto’s political rather than linguistic proclivities. See André Pézard, Dante sous la pluie de feu (Paris: Vrin, 1950). An alternative proposal may be found in Richard Kay, ‘The Sin(s) of Brunetto Latini’, Dante Studies 112 (1994), 19–31; and Eugene Vance, ‘The Differing Seed: Dante’s Brunetto Latini’, in Marvelous Signals: Poetics and Sign Theory in the Middle Ages (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1986), pp. 230–55.

10 Critical attention has focused on the nature of the vision given to the protagonist. See, for instance, Arielle Saiber, ‘Virtual Reality’, in Lectura Dantis: Purgatorio, ed. by Allen Mandelbaum, Anthony Oldcorn and Charles Ross (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2008), pp. 151–66; and Christian Moevs, ‘God’s Feet and Hands (Paradiso 4.40–48): Non-duality and Non-false Errors’, Modern Language Notes 114 (1999), 1–13.

11 We are in the presence of one of the moments in which Virgil is perhaps overanxious to assert his authority as a competent guide to the Christian afterlife, an authority that he often phrases in terms of his ability to ‘read’ the mind of the protagonist. On this issue, see the debate between Mark Musa, ‘Virgil Reads the Pilgrim’s Mind’, Dante Studies 95 (1977), 149–52, and Robert Hollander, ‘Virgil and Dante as Mind-Readers (Inferno xxi and xxiii)’, Medioevo romanzo 9 (1984), 85–100.

12 On the theme, see Charles T. Davis, ‘Il buon tempo antico’, in Florentine Studies: Politics and Society in Renaissance Florence, ed. by Nicolai Rubinstein (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1968), pp. 45–69; and Jeffrey T. Schnapp, The Transfiguration of History at the Center of Dante’s Paradise (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986). On Cacciaguida’s multifarious speech and his vernaculars, see André Pézard, ‘Les trois langues de Cacciaguida’, Revue des Études Italiennes 13 (1967), 217–38.

13 Other lexical connections unite Cacciaguida and Brunetto beyond the essential but not impervious borders of the canto. The poem redeploys a second keyword for Cacciaguida, once again lifting it from the protagonist’s encounter with Brunetto: the term Tesoro. In Inferno xv ‘il mio Tesoro’ indicates Brunetto’s literary work, in which he sees his only hope for a posthumous life. The same phrase, ‘il mio Tesoro’ appears in Paradiso xvii for Cacciaguida, who is described as ‘la luce in che rideva il mio Tesoro’ [the light in which my treasury shone forth]. The transvaluation from earthly to divine the term has undergone is, of course, radical. See the discussion of the recurrence in John Freccero, ‘The Eternal Image of the Father’, in The Poetry of Allusion: Virgil and Ovid in Dante’s ‘Commedia’, ed. by Rachel Jacoff and Jeffrey T. Schnapp (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1991), pp. 62–76.

14 For an overview of the Roman lineage argument, see Christopher Kleinhenz, Dante intertestuale e interdisciplinare (Florence: Società Dantesca Italiana, 2015), pp. 67–79, and his ‘The City of Rome in Dante’s Divine Comedy’, Essays in Medieval Studies 28 (2012), 51–68. On Augustinian dissent registered in the Guelph political discourse, see most recently Elisa Brilli, ‘I romani virtuosi del Convivio. Lettori e modalità di lettura del De civitate Dei di Agostino nei primi anni del Trecento’, in Il “Convivio” di Dante, ed. by Johannes Bartuschat and Andrea A. Robiglio (Ravenna: Longo, 2015), pp. 135–56. On the wider dialogue with Augustine on matters of history as well as its literary representation, see Selene Sarteschi, Per la ‘Commedia’ e non per essa soltanto (Rome: Bulzoni, 2002), esp. the chapter ‘Sant’ Agostino in Dante e nell’età di Dante’, pp. 1075–98; Luigi Franco Pizzolato, ‘Presenza e assenza di Agostino in Dante’, Testo 61–62 (2011), 17–34; and Simone Marchesi, Dante and Augustine: Linguistics, Poetics, Hermeneutics (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011).

15 The trope has been explored most recently by Claire E. Honess in ‘“Ritornerò poeta”: Florence, Exile, and Hope’, in Se mai continga…: Exile, Politics and Theology in Dante, ed. by Claire E. Honess and Matthew Treherne (Ravenna: Longo, 2013), pp. 85–103.

16 On the highly contested quality of this political and cultural move, see most recently Federico Canaccini, Al cuore del primo giubileo. Bonifacio VII e l’Antiquorum habet (Rome: Lateran University Press, 2016); for a stricter focus on Dante, see also the collection of essays in Dante e il Giubileo, ed. by Enzo Esposito (Florence: Oslchki, 2000).


Associate Professor of French and Italian Studies at Princeton University. His main research interests are medieval classicism and translation studies. He is the author of two monographs on medieval Italian authors: Stratigrafie decameroniane (2004) and Dante and Augustine: Linguistics, Poetics, Hermeneutics (2011). Recently, he has edited and translated into Italian Robert Hollander’s commentary to Dante’s Commedia (2011 and 2016).


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