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Fall Focus on the Arts and Humanities; Figurando Il Paradiso: Medieval Spatial Thought and the Figure of Aeneas in Dante’s Commedia

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Fall Focus on the Arts and Humanities; Figurando Il Paradiso: Medieval Spatial Thought and the Figure of Aeneas in Dante’s Commedia
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Journal of Undergraduate Research
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Cantrell, Catelyn J.
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St. Augustine once wrote, "Maior noster orbis terrarum est," meaning, "The world is our greater book." He recognized this conflation between text and space throughout his writings, which was a central paradigm in medieval spatial thought. The compulsion to "read the world" drove the study of both scripture and nature in the Middle Ages. Dante wrote during a time split between a concern for authority and an interest in discovery. Thus, he is not only concerned with reading the world, but also with writing it. Dante describes himself as “figurando il Paradiso”—“figuring forth Paradise”—which concisely reflects his own embrace of the conflation between text and space. In this study, I explore the relationship between the figure of Aeneas and the image of the book of the world in Dante’s Commedia. Through this exploration, I illustrate how Dante uses the figure of Aeneas to comment upon how text can shape a space, just as individuals tailor a text to match a location’s features.

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University of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Research | Volume 1 6 , Issue 1 | Fall 2014 1 Figurando Il Paradiso : Medieval Spatial Thought and the Figure of Aeneas in Dante’s Commedia Catelyn J. Cantrell College of Liberal Arts and Sciences , University of Florida St. Augustine once wrote, " Maior noster orbis terrarum est ," meaning, "The world is our greater book." He recognized this conflation between text and space throughout his writings , which was a central paradigm in medieval spatial thought. The compulsion to "read the world" drove the study of both scripture and nature in the Middl e Ages. Dante wrote during a time split between a concern for authority and an interest in discovery. Thus , he is not only concerned with reading the world, but also with writing it. Dante describes himself as “ figurando il Paradiso” —“figuring forth Paradi se” — which concisely reflects his own embrace of the conflation between text and space. In this study, I explore the relationship between the figure of Aeneas and the image of the book of the world in Dante’s Commedia . Through this exploration, I illustrate how Dante uses the figure of Aeneas to comment upon how text can shape a space, just as individuals tailor a text to match a location’s features. INTRODUCTION: THE WORLD AND THE BOOK In the Middle Ages, no single discrete geographic discipline existed. Studying the world through the lenses of classical works and scripture was a staple of medieval spatial thought . This practice allowed the book to illuminate the world. Studies that we today would cl assify as geography instead took place across a wide variety of disciplines. The Bible served as the foundation f or many disciplines during the E arly Middle Ages. It pro mpted questions about the world while also providing a guide towards the answer to othe r questions. Simply put, in order “t o compose their image of the world, they [scholars] turned to texts; to explain the world, they treated it like a text" ( Lozovsky 138). This trend reflected a tendency to rely on the image of the book in the language use d to talk about the world. The rise of scholasticism and the resultant renewal of interest in classical authority during the High Middle Ages only encouraged this “reading of the world.” The burgeoning humanism developing over the course of the twelfth c entury gave rise to “a new imagery of the book” (Curtius 315). In his classic European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages , Ernst Robert Curtius dismisses the notion that individuals did not begin trying to “read in the book of the world” until the Renaissance, and instead insists that this practice began in the Middle Ages. The Commedia of Dante Alighieri exemplifies this in that it is informed by a concern with authority and an increasing in terest in discovery. As these two impulses co nverged, Dante need ed a means of re chart ing the dichotomous into a single, ordered world. The world of the Commedia thus models not only the topologies of medieval thought, but also the way in which an individual cope s with how time strains and ultimately rearranges those associations. Nowhere else is this characteristic more apparent than in the blending that occurs between the world Dante lived in and the one he in which he wrote . Dante imports his knowledge of the Italian landscape into his description of the spaces of the afterlife, while at the same time attempting to bring his own vision into existence. For example, when the poet is “figuring forth Paradise, ” the poem reaches a point when it “must leap over, like one who finds his path cut off” ( Par . 23, 6163, p. 461). This moment emphasizes that the world of Dante’s poem gains its form from the poet. There comes a point at which the writer must relate his world image through figures and mediation, rather than trying to capture a space literally and e xactly. The poem and the map, for Dante, serve similar functions in that both render imagined space into a more literal, consumable form. However, that new form binds a once seemingly infinite idea—giving it clear points of beginning and end. Denis Wood, in The Power of Maps , explains the concept of the themes of a map by comparing the map and the novel: Seen this way, it is not that the general reference map lacks a theme, but that it has too many or that they are too deeply interwoven, that the map is more subtle than simple, too complex to bear in a single word—which words are dispensed with altogether, as great novels today get along without the subtitles that adumbrate the themes of earlier ones. (Denis 24) Here, the book and the map share a certain complexity. The power of what is left unsaid in literature can be compared to the power of the map. Perhaps even more useful here is Wood’s use of “interwoven,” which relates directly to the etymology of “text.” Text comes from the Latin verb texuare, me aning “to weave.” In its history, “text” carries a

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CATELYN J. CANTRELL University of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Research | Volume 1 6 , Issue 1 | Fall 2014 2 sense of reconciliation. To create a text means to weave disparate parts together with the hope of creating a coherent whole. The link between the book and the map can be detected in language itself. One example is “cartography,” which contains two roots related to the act of writing. Charta, in Latin, refers to paper and, in turn, anything that may be written on a leaf of paper. The other root hearkens to the Greek graphia, a word referring to the acts of writing and describing. It also relates to the Latin graphicus , which refers to a stylus used in writing on wax tablets. This image suggests that description is something beyond simple reflection, for it also leaves its own impression on the very world it intends to depict. Thus, the term cartography refers to something beyond the exact reproduction of a particular space. By engaging in the cartographic process, we participate in the construction of a world. To explore this question, I will focus on the f igure of Aeneas in the Inferno. Through Aeneas, Dante begins to reconcile the worlds once known with the knowledge that inevitably results from discovery. The model reflects its subject, but individuals also mold the world in the image of the models to whi ch they subscribe. In short, the map both splinters and unites the world around us. What interests me is how Dante copes with this seeming paradox. Let us look then at select passages from the Aeneid of Virgil that feature this tension between the model developed by the mind and the reality it represents. Virgil’s epic opens with a description of the plan Juno held for the world — she maps out a world presided over by Carthage ( Aen . I, 24 29, p. 2). However, Virgil’s poem follows the story of Aeneas, who initiates a series of events leading to the founding of Rome and, eventually, the fall of Tyre. In other words, the Aeneid is, in part, the story of how competing images of the world interact and shape the space they r epresent. In the sixth book of the Aeneid , Virgil reveals how Rome is destined to reorganize the world. Although Virgil presents this model as inevitable and the result of divine ordination, it is also linked with moments of inconstancy and alteration. For example, while conversing with the Sybil, Aeneas asks the prophetess not to “entrust” her verses to the leaves, “lest they fly off in disarray” ( Aen . VI, 104106, p. 134). Aeneas recognizes that the act of writing irrevocably changes that which is being w ritten about. He asks the Sibyl to chant her words because he wants to receive them in the most unaltered state possible. This pattern also surfaces during the conversation between Anchises and Aeneas during their reunion in the underworld. Anchises expre sses how he longed to reveal the future of his descendants to Aeneas, so that he could find even more joy in “finding” Italy. Anchises says, “ quo magis Italia mecum laetere reperta” ( Aen . 6. 117).i Virgil uses a form of the Latin reperio , which can refer t o the acts of finding, discovering , and inventing. Aeneas is thus not only finding Italy, but also inventing it. Once again, the description of the world —what we today consider geography —situates itself near the language of alteration, creation , and revisi on. The challenge Aeneas faces is that however close he may come to realizing this vision, he can never perfectly replicate it. Let us turn to the New Testament , where world as book appears in the letters of St. Paul . He explains how the unperceivable can be, at least in part, understood through other media. Although these media have certain limits, they remain useful. In Romans 1:20, he explains creation as a means of understanding the unseen qualities of God—a relationship not unlike that of a reader, an author , and text. It is important to recall that Paul is writing to an audience familiar with Virgil and the Aeneid . He writes, “For the invisible things of H im, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are ma de; H is eternal power also, and divinit y: so that they are inexcusable ” ( Romans 1:20). In St. Paul’s concept ualization , not only is the world legible, but so too are its creatures. The space that cannot be perceived, in short, is modeled through the element s of a more tangible one —the book. Although this concept retains the notion that everything is directed by a single principle, each part of the book of the world seems to begin to take on its own trajectory as well. Over the course of the medieval p eriod, the notion of “our book” splintered into something akin to “our books” —each with its own annotations and images of the world. This fracture corresponds with the growing splintering of the medieval image of the world at the start of the High Middle A ges. Despite this tension between the collective and individual visions of the earth, there remained a notion of the world as a single volume, bound by God. BOOK METAPHORS AND DANTE STUDIES The image of the book of the world has served and continues to serve as a core element of studies on Dante. For example, in his approach to allegory in Dante’s Commedia , Charles Singleton explains that , although the poet lacks the creative power possessed by God alone, the poet still has the capacity to imitate divine authorship (Singleton 15). Dante’s poem models the divine allegory, meaning that all of its parts are directed towards a single vision. Singleton also emphasizes, “The Word of God can count on the eye of a faithful reader who will be reading for his salvation, ever mindful of our journey here while he reads a Psalm of the Exodus” (15). Singleton thus recognizes the poet’s awareness of the limits of the maps drawn by men and, moreover, the need to draw maps of the otherwise ineffable. During the medieval period, there remained a notion that Heaven, Hell , and Purgatory could be studied and plotted in terrestr ial terms. In the Commedia , Dante presents his own “solution” to the problem of locating t he sites of Eden

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FIGURANDO IL PARADISO: ME DIEVAL SPATIAL THOUGHT AND THE FIGURE OF AENEAS I N DANTE’S COMMEDIA University of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Research | Volume 1 6 , Issue 1 | Fall 2014 3 and Purgatory —a commonly addressed question for those whom we might consider medieval geographers. The poet tries to reconcile what he read with the world he knows. Discovery and invention come hand in hand for Dante, just as they did for Aeneas. Peter Hawkins describes Dante’s Commedia as an announcement of a discovery ( Hawkins 268). Dante positions the purgatorial mount in the Southern hemisphere, setting its location as the diametric opposite of Jerusalem. Atop this mountain, he places t he Earthly Paradise, making “Jerusalem and Eden share a common horizon line on the globe of Dante’s imagining, so that geography shows the redeeming link between one Testament of Scripture and the other” (269). By presenting his new geography, Dante draws a line across the Earth, revealing a topology —between not only places, but texts — that remains a critical part of his vision. The function of geographical description in poetry is often much more than simple exposition. Dante’s solution to this longstandi ng geographical quandary is not mere description. It is one of the many annotations Dante scrawled upon his own world. Dante’s new geography could be considered, as Hawkins puts it, “an act of myth making” and a “blend of topography, sacred history, and be lief —a treatment of geography as a kind of scriptural exegesis —that links Dante to the cartographers of the mappaemundi ” (269). In this vein, describing the world is linked to the application of scripture. Just as scripture allows us to read the world, it is also illuminate d by the study of the world. This line between text and subject becomes blurred , demonstrating the constant tension between the model and its subject. Pe rhaps looming larger for the industry of Dante studies is the questionable validity of charting Dante’s other world for hermeneutic purposes. In “Mismapping the Underworld,” John Kliner questions why modern scholars carefully chart Hell in editions of Inferno, but look down upon describing hell in terms of measurement ( Kleiner 1). Medieval culture exhibited the same fascination with proportion and ratio as the Renaissance did (4). The hope was, in part, to trace signs of divine design in the poem, just as they did with the world around them. It was more interested in signifiers than accur acy. Theodore Cachey , Jr. has recommended that the recent focus in the relationship between these “two cartographies” should include a return to the issues and values of mapping Dante’s poem and, particularly, Inferno . Such a cartographic approach , Cachey posits, holds more value than what other modern scholars hav e suggested (Cachey 325). By deploying cartographic writin g as a literary device, Dante achieves something beyond the mimetic and verisimilar. Moreover, in these moments the poet exhibits an aware ness of the flexibility of the librum mundi image and the possibility of a single space in multiple ways. THE FIGURE OF AENEAS IN INFERNO To say that the figure of Aeneas looms large for Dante’s Commedia is by no means an understatement, but neither is i t a statement that can be taken uncritically. Although Dante injects numerous figures with aspects of Aeneas, both the name and the figure are almost absent —despite the poet’s reliance on the sixth book of Virgil’s Aeneid as a template for his own renderin g of the world below. Though muted, the figure tends to surface at moments of the concerned with alteration or fraudulence. This tendency illustrates an awareness on the part of the poet of the capacity of the model to both shatter and reunite the individu al’s conception of creation. I turn then to the very first canto of the Commedia , particularly to the appearance of Virgil, who identifies himself as, among other things, a poet who “sang of that just son of Anchises who came from Troy” ( Inf . I, 73 74, p. 31). Although not mentioned by name, Aeneas serves as a reference— his identity points the pilgrim toward understanding precisely who Virgil is. Indirect references to Aeneas continue well into Inferno 2. The pilgrim says: “ You say that the f ather of Silvius, / still in corruptible flesh, went to the immortal/realm and was there wi th his senses” ( Inf . II, 13 15, p. 40). The pilgrim thus continues to struggle with the idea of being worthy of a journey comparable to that of Aeneas. At the beginnin g of Inferno 2, the pilgrim prepares himself for “ la guerra s del camm ino e s de la pietate ” ( Inf . II, 4 5, p. 40). The poet assures the reader that this struggle about which he speaks will be depicted by memory without error ( Inf . II, 5 6, p. 41). Aenea s is often paired with an acknowledgement of —or at least a nod to — the inevitable distortion imposed by representations generated by “la mente .” Despite this trend, the poet begins the descent by assuring the reader of the accuracy of the depiction that fol lows. The poet’s guarantee conflicts directly with the pilgrim’s doubt. The pilgrim does not hesitate to voice his doubts to Virgil. However, the sincerity of his insecurity remains perhaps one of the most notorious cruces in the poem. The pilgrim asks: “ But I, why come there? or who grants it? / I am not Aeneas, I am not Paul / neither I nor others would believe me worthy of that ” ( Inf . II, 31 33, p. 43). At last, the name of Virgil’s hero appears in the text of the poem. Be that as it may, his name appears at a moment of great uncertainty. The pilgrim insists that neither he nor anyone else would think him to be worthy of what was given to Aeneas or Paul, leaving the reader feeling unsure about how genuine the pilgrim’s self doubt actually is. Despite this seeming reluctance, the pilgrim fulfills the type of Aeneas throughout the poem and does so most explicitly in the early canti of Inferno . For example, Virgil

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CATELYN J. CANTRELL University of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Research | Volume 1 6 , Issue 1 | Fall 2014 4 prophesizes that Italy will be delivered from the evils embodied by the she wolf by a figure represented by the greyhound ( Inf . I, 94 102, p.3031). As Durling and Martinez note in their edition, the phrase umile Italia recalls Virgil’s Aeneid , in which Aeneas’ crew describes the shore of Italy as humilis , meaning “low lying” ( Inf . I, p. 39). Italy is, from this view, ripe for re mapping, just as it was upon the arrival of Aeneas. In his article “Cartographic Dante,” Theodore Cachey, Jr. suggests that Dante sets up the pilgrim as a new Aeneas, viewing the low lying hills of Italy from a vantage point comparable to a ship off the coast (Cachey 328). Although Aeneas is certainly evoked in this prophecy, the pilgrim does not fit the mold of Aeneas perfectly. Instead, the poet and Aeneas have more in co mmon. It is not the pilgrim, but rather the poe t engineering this prophecy regarding a humble Italy to be saved by the sacrifice of Italians. In Inferno 4, the poet explains that his topic is of such great scale that he cannot even begin to describe it fully. Instead, he must simply hit the high point s, while still acknowledging that “often the word falls short of the fact” ( Inf . IV, 145147, p. 77). This disclaimer comes immediately after the poet lists the spiriti magni he encounters in Limbo. One of these spirits is Aeneas himself. Although Aeneas f igures prominently in the first canti of Inferno, the character does not speak when he actually appears in the poem . In fact, his presence in Limbo is almost an afterthought, as he is just one of many. When the pilgrim asks about the disembodied voices in the wood of the suicides, Virgil advises him to break off a twig from one of the plants ( Inf . XIII, 28 31, p. 198 200). This action, as many commentators note, evokes one of the tasks given to Aeneas by the Sibyl of Cumae. The prophetess tells Aeneas that the only way he “may pass beneath earth’s secret spaces” is to pluck a bough from a golden tree. Dante evokes this image from the Aeneid just as he endeavors to develop a new space. However, the means of understanding the underworld remain the same. For th e pilgrim to realize from where the words he hears originate, he has to snap the twig. In order to enter the underworld and pass by Charon, Aeneas must retrieve and present the golden bough. Both images require that the subject be broken in order to be und erstood. This presages the deconstruction said to be pioneered by contemporary literary critics. Moreover, this act also precedes a moment in which the dead provide greater insight into the state of the Empire. Piero della Vigna tries to explain how losing the favor of the imperial court turned him against himself ( Inf . XIII, 72, p. 202). This matches with Anchises’ conversation with Aeneas in the underworld. ULYSSES AND AENEAS Dante forges a connection between the model and error that he uses not only to i llustrate the distortion inherent in the landscape of hell, but also to show that same quality in other figures of the poem. This distortion is often the result of multiple representations existing for a single location. Perhaps nowhere else does this appear more vividly than it does in Inferno 26, which features Ulysses, the last person to speak Aeneas’ name in the poem. Per Virgil’s request, Ulysses recounts the circumstances of his demise. He recalls being held by Circe at Gaeta “ prima che si Enea la nom asse ” ( Inf . XXVI, 9193, p. 402). Ulysses makes a point of presenting himself as the first to experience the journey. The desire for both knowledge and experience drives Dante’s rendering of Ulysses. Moreover, this Ulysses knows not only what preceded his journey, but also what succeeded it. He recalls sailing past the warnings left by Hercules at the strait of Gibraltar, but he also knows that Aeneas retraced a large portion of the journey detailed in the Homeric tradition. Ulysses wants to see the world for himself, to know his own image of the world. He sets off, in a sense, in search of the most accurate map, going beyond the lines of what is known. Although Dante recognizes the shortcomings of this approach to presenting the world, he has difficulty resisting it. The pilgrim tells Virgil of how he bends towards the flame of Ulysses with desire ( Inf . XXVI, 69, p. 401). He wishes to talk and, in turn, to know what came of Ulysses. I would suggest that Dante too seeks a more accurate image of the world. However, Dante also recognizes that the means by which Ulysses sought that knowledge prohibited him from returning. Here, Dante uses Ulysses to highlight the difference between a space and the names given to it. Yet again, th e poet situates placenaming near figures associated with falsehood and alteration. For example, as Ulysses begins to reply, his part of the flame shakes and his words are compared to the wind ( Inf . XXVI, 8587, p. 402403). The tip of the flame also moves continuously, never remaining in a single place ( Inf . XXVI, 88 89, p. 402403). His words, like the flame, cannot be contained in one location. The challenge Dante poses to himself here is the reconciliation of two figures whose journeys overlap both on the map and the page. It is as if Ulysses experiences an inversion of the anxiety of influence, in which he is not so concerned with what came before him, but rather what came after him. Dante puts both of their stories together, but leaves them unbound, a llowing the discrepancies between the two to remain .ii The pages of the book of the world lie scattered here in Inferno , yet will be rebound. Although Ulysses continuously revises the story of his journey, he fears being himself revised. Aeneas, however, has nothing to say. CONCLUDING THOUGHTS AND FUTURE WORK For Dante, redaction serves as a critical aspect of the poem. In fact, he structures his narrative as a recollection,

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FIGURANDO IL PARADISO: ME DIEVAL SPATIAL THOUGHT AND THE FIGURE OF AENEAS I N DANTE’S COMMEDIA University of Florida | Journal of Undergraduate Research | Volume 1 6 , Issue 1 | Fall 2014 5 allowing him to add— or remove —what he pleases. So I return to Inferno 4, in which Dante admits that he cannot recount all that he saw in Limbo, on account of the overwhelming length of his topic. Like a map, the text must capture someth ing that is in constant motion: like the waters of the river Montone, the flaming tongue of Ulysses or even the name given to a place. Things must be glossed over, cut out, added and changed in order to produce a coherent whole. This necessity, the need to invent the discovery, remains at the core of Dante’s rendering of Aeneas in Inferno and the other tw o cantiche . REFERENCES Alighieri, Dante. Inferno . Trans. Robert M. Durling. Ed. Robert M. Durling and Ronald R. Martinez. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Print. Alighieri, Dante. Paradiso . Trans. Robert M. Durling. Ed. Robert M. Durling and Ronald R. Martinez. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print. Cachey, Theodore J. "Cartographic Dante." Italica . 87.3 (2010): 325 354. Print. Curtius, Ernst R. European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages . New York: Pantheon Books, 1953. Print. "Douay -Rh eims Catholic Bible." Web. 25 Mar. 2012. . Hawkins, Peter S . Dante's Testaments: Essays in Scriptural Imagination . Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1999. Print. Kleiner, John.”Mismapping the Underworld: Daring and Error in Dante's Comedy”. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994. Print. Lozovsky, Natalia. The Earth Is Our Book: Geographical Knowledge in the Latin West Ca. 400 1000 . Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000. Print. Mazzotta, Giuseppe. Dante's Vision and the Circle of Knowledge . Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1993. Print. Singleton, Charles S. Dante Studies I . Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1954. Print. Vergil. "P. VERGILI MARONIS AENEIDOS LIBER SEXTVS." The Latin Library. Web. 9 Apr. 2014. . Virgil. The Aeneid of Virgil . Trans. Allen Mandelbaum. New York: Bantam Books, 2004. Print. Wood, Denis. The Power of Maps . New York: Guilford Press, 1992. Pr int. ENDNOTES i “In order that you may rejoice Italy having been discovered with me” (translation mine) ii Once again, Dante presages the ideas articulated by literary critics . This image seems to fit ideas put forth in Foucault’s theory of revisio n.