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Humility and the (P)arts of Art Essay

No reader can fail to feel the constant pull of the vertical and horizontal axes in Dante’s Comedìa. A cycle of readings alive to the vertical, then, is as welcome as it is stimulating. The poem’s comic trajectory moves upwards, from asperitas to prosperitas, from a beginning that is horribilis et fetida, to an end that is prospera, desiderabilis et grata.3 The figure of Dante in the Comedìa is continually in a state of opposing tensions between his corporeal downwardness and his (spiritually and morally) striving upwardness. Verticality exerts itself powerfully upon the imagination, both poetic and philosophical. Aristotle, in Book Four of the Physics, emphasized the importance of above (ἄνω) and below (κάτω), up being ‘where fire and what is light are carried’ , while down is ‘where what has weight and what is made of earth are carried’ . The vertical axis is deeply imbricated even in the simplest and most quotidien words: ‘up’ and ‘down’ are counted amongst those essential ‘orientational’ Metaphors We Live By studied by Lakoff and Johnson.

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The privileging of the vertical axis is also felt in the philological lexicon of textual recension: one manuscript will find itself placed higher on a given stemma than another, while the (often lost) ‘original’ is placed at its apex. A text is said to be transmitted ‘vertically’ or ‘horizontally’: horizontal transmission is the more common phenomenon, but a good deal messier; the vertical, on the other hand, is a rarer but much more textually faithful axis.6 The vertical and horizontal axes at work in the Comedìa were perhaps most famously discussed by the Russian literary critic Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin, in his account of forms of time and what he calls the ‘chronotope’ in the novel. When illustrating the handling of fictional time and space in the later Middle Ages, he points to the ways in which Dante, with ‘the consistency and force of genius’, stretches out the historical world along a vertical axis, a world, he says, ‘structured according to a pure verticality’. He goes on: ‘The temporal logic of this vertical world consists in the sheer simultaneity of all that occurs (or “the coexistence of everything in eternity”)’. Bakhtin sees this vertical axis as presenting a challenge to the historicity of the characters, who act on a horizontal plane, or rather, as ‘horizontal time-saturated branches at right angles to the extratemporal vertical of the Dantesque world’.

The Comedìa is a vertical poem. This is not just written into its narrative and moral trajectory, but is intimately inscribed in the pronounced verticality of the poem’s material form. The manuscript layout of the poem is invariably in columns, single or double, in which the line endings are rendered clearly visible.8 While this is the norm for copying romance narrative verse, chanson de geste, it is in marked contrast to the mise en page of lyric verse in the late Duecento and throughout the Trecento, which was almost always copied out horizontally, or as prose (a mo’ di prosa).9 Lino Leonardi, in an important and, in the present context, richly resonant essay, ‘Le origini della poesia verticale’, argues for the influence of th Comedìa – though of course not just the Comedìa – on the development of vertical layouts for vernacular poetry.10 A crucial aspect of the verticality of the Comedìa is its metre and verse form: hendecasyllabic terza rima.11 If a horizontal pull draws the reader to the end of the line, the rhyme word creates a vertical drop, connecting that word with those rhyme words that follow it. The word ‘vertical’ is etymologically related to ‘vortex’ and ‘vertere’, suggesting a turning, which gives rise to the word ‘verse’ for a line of poetry, the line-ending being the point of (re)turning.12 Rhyme and the vertical are thus intrinsically related. Since terza rima is a concatenated rhyme, the rhyme words are constantly reaching beyond the three-line unit of the terzina itself. It has often been observed that the pronounced verticality of terza rima lends itself to a reading on a kind of ‘parallel slope’, with the rhyme words telling their own story, but in fast-forward. Dante maintains a remarkable control over the rhyme words so that they work in an allusive polychromy.

The deployment, reuse and repetition of a rhyme word offers the reader a point of privileged intratextual access, acting like a lightning rod that runs vertically along the entire length of the poem.13 A reading of the Tens along a vertical, alive to the verticality of terza rima, immediately presents a striking example of a richly allusive reuse and repetition of three rhyming words of a terzina, a Reimbildung, in the term used by Giorgio Brugnoli. These words are parte: parte: arte, appearing in: Inf., x. 47, 49, 51; Purg., x. 8, 10, 12; and Par., x. 8, 10, 12. The structural parallelism is deliberate and artfully constructed, with two of these instances even occurring in the same line numbers.14 The Reimbildung is constructed on what has been termed an ‘inclusive rhyme’, that is, arte is contained in the word parte. But it is further distinguished by the fact that the word parte is used in rima equivoca.15 It is the only example in the Comedìa of such a repetition occuring across three parallel canti. These recurrences have been noted rarely, and discussed even less.16 This ‘vertical’ lectura will not attempt a synthetic or general reading of all three cantos but aims instead at something delimited and modest in scope: it will focus on the Reimbildung as a locus of hermeneutic value in engaging with the Tens, taking a cue
from Dante’s own ‘technical’ intratextual connecting of these cantos.

Rimanti and Reimbildungen

It is Roberto Antonelli who has done the most to elucidate and explore the rich rhyme landscape of Duecento vernacular Italian lyric.17 He has argued that the rhyme is a point on the line swollen with both poetic and hermeneutic force, powered by a tension between sound and sense. In an eloquent assertion, Antonelli has stated that:

La rima e i rimanti contengono insomma organicamente un discorso
altro e comportano pertanto un potere di intensificazione linguistica, una
pluralità di senso che può agire, per il produttore e per l’utente, sia a livello
conscio che inconscio o subliminale (così come le ripetizioni e i giochi fonici
interni al verso, ma certamente ad un livello maggiore di formalizzazione e

[Rhyme and rhyme words contain, then, a different discourse and bring
with them a linguistic heightening, a plurality of sense which, for both
the writer and the reader, can act on different levels, both consciously and
unconsciously (such as repetitions, and playing on sounds within the line, but
certainly at a level more than simply of formalization and communication).]

That is, rhyme words can and do work rather hard on the line. Not only that, but certain rhyme words tend to gather other words around them: they have, in the fortunate formulation of Cesare Segre, a certain ‘stickiness’.19 It is also true that Dante and Petrarch exert a considerable and transformative force on the deployment of certain rhymes throughout the Trecento, and the works of Arianna Punzi and Carlo Pulsoni are especially important in showing how this happens.20 Both the variety and particular kind of rhymes that Dante and Petrarch use can be considered in themselves a subtle poetic processing of the Duecento’s lyric tradition.21 The repetition of only certain rhyme words in the Comedìa has received critical attention, such as Cristo: Cristo: Cristo in Par xii, xiv, xix and xxxii, or the way that diserto: esperto (Purg., i. 130, 132) recalls those same rhyme words used by Ulysses in Inf., xxvi. 98, 102.22 Many other repetitions are rarely discussed.

For example, Silvestro: maestro: capestro in Par., xi. 83, 85, 87, is repeated in Inf., xxvii 95, 97, 92. Speaking as a tongue of flame, and with almost unbearable sarcasm, the fraudulent Guido da Montefeltro describes how Pope Boniface VIII had no concern for Guido’s status as a Franciscan (capestro), and like the emperor Constantine calling Pope Silvester (Silvestro) in order to be baptised and healed from a fever, so too was Guido called as doctor (maestro) to heal Boniface of his own proud fever. The rhyme words ‘capestro’, ‘Silvestro’ and ‘maestro’ each refer here to Guido himself. Their use in Par., xi to describe St Francis represents a polemical counterpoint, with each rhyme word ‘answering’ its previous appearance in Inf., xxvii, healed of their fraudulent use by Guido. If, in Guido’s account, the capestro no longer fitted around the increasing waistlines of the Franciscans (echoing the critical use of the key verb impinguare, to fatten, in Par., x. 96 and xi. 25, 139), then for Francis the cincture is, properly speaking, the symbol of his humility. Guido’s Silvestro is a weak pope (ab)used by the emperor Constantine, while for Francis, Silvester is amongst the first to divest himself of his worldly possessions and follow the saint in his life of poverty. The words that form the parte: parte: arte Reimbildung might be described as low-key; it is perhaps for this reason that they have escaped the notice of critics for so long. The rimanti parte: arte is not unusual in Duecento vernacular verse nor in the Comedìa, displaying much of that ‘stickiness’ described by Segre. Indeed, as Allan Gilbert has pointed out, in all but one occurrence of the rhyme word parte in the Comedìa, it appears with the word arte.

He concludes that this constitutes an example of ‘rime for rime’s sake’, a point that echoes Contini’s sense in Dante of a subordination of meaning to an aestheticising of sound and repetition (‘il preponderare del significante sul significato’). But while these are not amongst Dante’s most flamboyant rhymes, they are not empty words, nor is this Reimbildung a meaningless repetition or empty patterning of rhyme. Dante protects this Reimbildung from the risk of monotony by using the rhetorical figure of rima equivoca, with each occurrence marked by an emotional tension and a stylistic heightening. Even if the words parte and arte appear relatively often in rhyme position in the lyric poetry of the Duecento and in Dante, they are somewhat rarer in rhyme combination, as rimanti. Instances of the word parte in rima equivoca are neither rare nor frequent, with the bulk of examples occurring in the works of poets who are associated with such rhyme, such as Giacomo da Lentini, Guittone d’Arezzo, Monte Andrea and Chiaro Davanzati. Amongst the most notable examples is Monte Andrea’s poem ‘Eo saccio bene che volontà di partte’, which is constructed upon two rhyme words, parte and passo, with parte occurring in the first ten lines (more precisely: ll. 1, 2, 5-10, with ll. 3 and 4 containing spartte and compartte).

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If the survey is widened to include all the words of the Reimbildung in question, namely, parte: parte: arte, the results are unexpectedly meagre, furnishing only three examples.28 The first is Arrigo Testa, ‘Vostra orgogliosa cera’, ll. 18, 19, 22 (parte: parte: arte), and with l. 23 having parte in rima identica. The second is a text described by Contini as ‘il più antico testo misogino in volgare italiano’, known as the ‘Proverbia que dicuntur super natura feminarum’, ll. 737, 738, 739, 740 (arte: parte: carte: parte). The final example occurs in a sonnet by Guittone d’Arezzo, ‘Ai Deo, chi vidde donna visiata’, ll. 2, 4, 6 (arte: par te: parte). This is a particularly interesting example because Guittone has drawn attention to the rhyme by splitting the word at the end of the line: ‘E’ veggio che del gioco non ài par te’. The word parte is now a kind of ‘broken’ rhyme or ‘falsified’ rima equivoca, emphasizing its own equivocatio and the parts of parte.

Rima equivoca

Critics have not been much concerned with Dante’s use of rima equivoca.33 This is perhaps influenced by Dante himself: in the context of a brief discussion in De vulgari eloquentia on the over-use of rhyme and repetition, he expresses reservations about the use of rima equivoca for a poet in the high style. Its abuse, Dante asserts, results in it being inutilis, ‘que semper sententie quicquam derogare videtur’ (DVE., II. xiii. 13).34 Though the passage has often been read as an example of Dante censuring his own petrine sestina ‘Amor, tu vedi ben che questa donna’,35 what is important to recognize here is the clear connection being established between ‘sententia’ and rhyme: the rhyme, that is, must be handled with sufficient dexterity and care in order for the poem’s sententia to be expressed and not obscured.36 Rhyme, in other words, is meaning, and so is rima equivoca.

For Dante, it has, in the formulation of Luigi Tassoni, ‘una funzione determinante ai fini della produzione del Senso’.37 In a rich discussion of rhyme in Dante, Ignazio Baldelli pointed out that rima equivoca is often clustered together with other rhetorical and poetic techniques.38 Joan Ferrante has discussed the subtle but precise patterning of repeated rime equivoche across the three cantiche, highlighting how there are only three such rhymes repeated in the Comedìa: the words volto, porta and parte.39 The word parte lends itself to rima equivoca because of its frequency, its semantic range and homophony with the thirdperson singular of the present indicative of the verb partire.40 Rima equivoca provokes an aporia in the reader, in which the graphic and phonic sameness is in tension with the difference in meaning, necessitating retrospection and a re-reading of the terzina.

This re-reading activates the two directions of verticality, up and down. Aequivocatio is experienced on the threshold of meaning, a passing over from meaning, which is then compromised by doubt, and in turn restored. The meaning restored is inflected by the paired equivocal term: it no longer signifies on its own, but interacts with the rhyme unit. As such, it is a figure working on and powered by a limen, nourished not just by transition, but also by potentiality.41

The Cantos Ten

The Tens are connected at several thematic levels, facilitating a ‘vertical reading’. Ronald L. Martinez has referred to the Tens as ‘threshold’ cantos, each representing an important point of transition.42 Both Inferno x and Purgatorio x are marked by gates, each leading respectively into Hell and Purgatory proper; Paradiso x is the first to be free of the shadow of the earth. While there is no shortage of studies pointing out the connections between the Tens, it is to George Corbett that we owe a ‘vertical’ reading, an axis that distinguishes itself in Inferno x’s interest in the Resurrection of the Body (that is, the end of time), echoed and nuanced with Purgatorio x’s emphasis on the Incarnation (God’s entry into time), and Paradiso x’s interest in Creation (the beginning of time): the ‘vertical axis therefore sets into relief God’s creation of (Par., x), entry into (Purg., x), and consummation of (Inf., x) the history of mankind’.43

Guido Cavalcanti is at the heart of Alison Cornish’s beautiful reading of the ‘vertical’ axis of the Tens, and her succinct but deep reading of the cantos is an essential reference point for the reflections that follow.44 Even though both Corbett and Cornish have convincingly connected the three cantos, neither has noted the repeated use of the parte: parte: arte Reimbildung across the Tens. In each case, the rima equivoca rhetorically signals a moment of emotional heightening and stylistic enhancement; in each case the thematic context is richly suggestive, strictly in the service of (in the words of Tassoni, cited above) ‘la produzione del Senso’. Attending to the ‘vertical’ intratextuality and thematic convergences between the Tens renders evident some further resonances, in particular a shared concern with the ‘arch-vice’ pride, the sin that gives rise to all other sins (quoniam initium peccati omnis superbia; Ecclesiasticus 10. 15).45 Pride and humility may be described as operating on a vertical axis, those that place themselves above (super) all others are eventually laid low; the most humble are exalted. In Inf., x, close to the surface of Farinata’s characterization as magnanimo (l. 73), lies the sin of superbia.46 He is repeatedly described as emphatically proud: he is ‘sdegnoso’ (l. 41), has Hell in ‘gran dispitto’ (l. 36) and even his gestures towards Dante reveal his pride, ‘ei levò le ciglia un poco in suso’ (l. 45). Scott describes him as a figure symbolizing ‘partisan pride’.47

Cavalcante, too, is filled with pride in his son and his intellectual abilities, asking Dante if he travels through the realm of Inferno ‘per altezza d’ingegno’ (l. 59). Guido’s disdegno finds a parallel, then, in Farinata’s own dispitto. At the heart of Purgatorio x is its representation of humility in the figures of the Virgin Mary, King David before the Ark and the Emperor Trajan responding to the supplication of the poor widow for justice. The humility of each is realized on the vertical axis, in their respective acts of lowering themselves. In Paradiso x, Dante presents himself humbly as the canto’s mere scriba, acutely aware that such a height (tanta altezza) presents an almost insurmountable challenge for the lowness of his imagination (se le fantasie nostre son basse, ll. 46-47). Thomas Aquinas, from the peaks of wisdom, describes himself in humble terms as one of Dominic’s flock (‘Io fui de li agni de la santa greggia / che Domenico mena per cammino’ (ll. 94-95), and it is Thomas who will, in the following canto, present a memorable account of the life of Saint Francis, ‘il poverel di Dio’ (Par.,xiii. 33), the Heaven of the Sun’s figure of humility par excellence.

Inferno x

With the magnificent character of the Ghibilline Farinata degli Uberti, Inferno x is a canto deeply concerned with division, with political factionalism and the tensions threatening to break apart the communal structure of the city of Florence. This rending was not just political but also social, resulting in the exile of members of now one family, now another. The desire for power, influence and control is set above wider comunal concerns. Farinata nicely betrays this in Inf., x. 46-47, ‘“Fieramente furo avversi / a me e a miei primi e a mia parte”’, where the insistence on me is of a piece with the political parte. If Farinata gets the first use of ‘parte’, Dante keeps the second for himself. He responds to Farinata’s account of the exile of the Guelphs from Florence with the assertion that, crucially, the Guelphs, unlike Farinata’s family, at least managed to return to the city:

‘S’ei fur cacciati, ei tornar d’ogne parte’,
rispuos’io lui, ‘l’una e l’altra fiata;
ma i vostri non appreser ben quell’arte’. (Inf., x. 49-51)

[‘If they were driven out, they returned from every side’, I replied, ‘the
first time and the second; but your people did not learn that art well’.]

Here the word ‘parte’ indicates locus, the many places where the Guelphs were scattered. The emphatic oneness of Farinata’s parte contrasts with the multiplicity of ogne parte, and yet that multiplicity is being remedied in their return to the oneness of Florence. Dante’s response here is fierce, in the tradition of improperium. The dynamic of Dante’s rinfaccio (reproach) is repetition, repeating the words of Farinata but on his own terms, and he uses the structure of the terzina’s rhyme to emphasize the gap between them. Thus, Farinata’s use of the word fiate in l. 48 is answered by Dante in l. 50, who brings the word into rhyme position, stretching the line (he turns Farinata’s due fiate into ‘l’una e l’altra fiata’) and emphasizing that each time the Guelphs were expelled, they returned.

It builds pressure on the third line of the terzina, l. 51, the climax of the improperium, in pointing out the failure of Farinata’s family to return. The possessive adjective vostri critically answers the ‘a me e a miei primi e a mia parte’ of l. 4, expressing a distance between them, a pushing away of Farinata. (The possessive adjective reappears sharply later on in one of the canto’s most famous lines, l. 63, ‘forse cui Guido vostro ebbe a disdegno’ ). This first part of the encounter between Farinata and Dante—about to be interrupted by Cavalcante—is left hanging on the word arte. The word ‘arte’ refers to the art of politics and politicking (as in Par., vi. 103, ‘Faccian li Ghibellin, faccian lor arte / sott’altro segno’ ; arte rhymes with parte: diparte). It is also the art of returning, of ending one’s exile. The word, used in this sense, will ricochet in Farinata’s mouth when he reveals that the inability of his descendents to learn the art of return torments him more than Hell itself (ll. 77-78), and hints darkly that Dante, too, will know the pain of this failure (l. 81).

It is no surprise that in such a rhetorically charged moment as Farinata’s prophecy, another highly evocative rima equivoca is deployed, with the word ‘regge’ in ll. 80 and 82, meaning ‘to rule’ in l. 80 (from reggere) and ‘to return’ in l. 82 (from the Latin redeas). An example of rima identica (a figure used relatively rarely by Dante, where the same word, in both form and meaning, is repeated) occurs with ‘mosso’ in ll. 88 and 90. The emotional heightening being signalled here on the theme of exile, the failure of the art of returning, alerts the reader to the long shadow it casts over the whole poem. Dante’s exile profoundly inflects many of the poem’s crucial themes, not least of which is the politics of Inferno x.

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Purgatorio x

The opening lines of Purgatorio x signal the transition to Purgatory proper, with Dante and Virgil crossing its threshold, the door loudly creaking shut behind them. The description of the rocky terrace, dedicated to those guilty of pride, is anxiously vague: critics have strongly divergent interpretations of the pietra fessa that ‘moves’ one way and another, like a wave rushing out and then back in again. Both occurrences of the word parte are in the service of expressing vividly an elaborate ‘this-way-and-that-way’ movement.

Just as the rock moves ‘e d’una e d’altra parte’ (l. 8), so too must the pilgrim negotiate the rock ‘in accostarsi / or quinci, or quindi al lato che si parte’ (l. 12). For a canto that is all about representation, mimesis, similitude, artistry, the lack of precision in these lines is striking, drawing attention to the act of representation.50 The deployment of a rima equivoca functions as a key part of this ambiguity. The description of the pietra fessa (broken rock) is built upon a rima equivoca, a technique that depends upon breaking meaning apart, and only emphasized in the use of the word parte, itself a word that is all about separation and the lack of wholeness. When Virgil says ‘Qui si conviene usare un poco d’arte’ (l. 10), the challenge is not just for the pilgrims in navigating the rocky terrain but also for readers in navigating the ambiguity of the passage. At the centre of the rima equivoca on ‘parte’ is the rhyme word ‘arte’, a word that will come to have significant resonance throughout the canto and, indeed, the rest of Purgatorio.51 As numerous critics have pointed out, the canto explores the nature of art and the problems of representation. The artistry found in Purgatorio x is extraordinary.

The artist’s hand, responsible for bas-reliefs that are more real than Nature, is the hand of God. But the centre of the problem here is that this representation is not divine, but Dante’s own. Teodolinda Barolini has rightly asserted that the boundary is blurred between ‘the divine mimesis and the text that is charged with reproducing it’. If the ‘arte’ in l. 10 is one of navigation and negotiation, making one’s way safely through the obstacle course that is the terrace, then this is also a navigation of meaning, of the artfulness of Dante’s poem: an art, in sum, that candidly implicates the reader. Hermeneutics, the art of meaning, lies at the heart of Purgatorio x, since the whole canto comprises an act of reading on Dante’s part. In this canto he does not meet any specific, named individuals guilty of pride (he will in the following canto); rather, he reads a series of images representing humility, the counter-examples to pride, images comprising the Virgin Mary, David before the Ark and the Emperor Trajan.

Indeed, the protagonist of Purgatorio x is surely the sculpted reliefs of the terrace. Dante describes himself shifting position in an effort to get a better view of these reliefs, to read them more clearly: ‘per ch’io varcai Virgilio, e fe’mi presso, / acciò che fosse a li occhi miei disposta’ (ll. 53-54); ‘I’ mossi i piè del loco dov’io stava, / per avvisar da presso un’altra istoria, / che di dietro a Micòl mi biancheggiava’ (ll. 70-72). Virgil’s word arte, then, is a key term for the drama of reading that unfolds on this terrace, a co-ordinated effort of both mental and physical skill.

Paradiso x

Paradiso x is the first canto of the fourth sphere, the Heaven of the Sun; it is thus the first to be completely free of the shadow of the earth. The canto opens with six lines of exquisite contemplation of the Trinity. The three persons of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Ghost – are described in terms of a contemplative mutuality, with the primo e ineffabile Valore, the Father, watching, looking into, contemplating – the gerund guardando, the first word of the canto, holds the whole six lines together – the Son with Love (the Holy Spirit) which inspires (in-spire, ‘breathes between’) both eternally. The order and perfection created by the Trinity mean that anyone who looks at or contemplates it cannot but taste Him (God).

These first two terzine end with the word ‘rimira’, a verb which echoes and reflects the opening gerund ‘guardando’. We look (mirare) at the Trinity, which is itself the Father looking (guardare) at the Son and, by looking, we taste. These opening lines of Paradiso x echo, then, the remarkable synaesthesia of Purgatorio x, with Dante delighting in looking at God’s work, hearing the images in dialogue and smelling the scenes before him. This pair of terzine opens the canto and is followed by a long direct address to the reader, ‘Leva dunque, lettore’ (l. 7), lasting for seven terzine (up to l. 27).54 Within this address appears the parte: arte: parte Reimbildung, precisely mirroring their position in Purg., x, that is, lines 8, 10 and 12. The rhetorical heightening is clearly signalled, with the reader urged to attend to the vertical, to raise her eyes upwards in contemplation of the heavens.

Another rima equivoca will be used at the close of the canto, where the harmony produced by the circling corona (‘in dolcezza ch’esser non pò nota’ (l. 147) is likened to the chimes of a divine clock, ‘tin tin sonando con sì dolce nota’ (l. 143)). The Reimbildung is accommodated in two terzine that express the harmony of this sphere of the Sun and the beauty of the art of the Creator. The rhyme words are used in a way similar to their occurrences in Inferno and Purgatorio, that is, with ‘parte’ meaning ‘place’ or ‘spot’ in line 8, and the third-person singular of the present indicative verb ‘partire’ meaning ‘divide from’, ‘separate from’, in line 12. The three words, however, have undergone a transformation in their use in Paradiso, subjected to a vertical fulfillment. While ‘arte’ in Inf., x. 51 and Purg., x. 10 means (human) ‘skill’, ‘technical know-how’, here in line 10, the word suggests divine art, the Creator’s harmony. Dante directs the reader’s attention to ‘quella parte’, that place where the contrary motions of the heavens result in the Spring equinox (this will be clarified in ll. 28 ff., and the locution quella parte will recur in l. 31). But the contrary motions of the sphere are a phenomenon that does not have a ‘place’, and what we see no longer happens in time and space. Likewise, the use of the verb partire indicates a gaze that never breaks away, that remains forever fixed on its object: ‘mai da lei l’occhio non parte’ (l. 12).

A word that meant division and separateness now means wholeness, oneness. A Reimbildung built upon equivocatio draws attention to shifts in meaning, including shifts in the meaning of the ‘stable’ term arte. The reader’s encounter with the word, as it occurs in the Tens, is primed by its occurrence in (as well as out of) rhyme position in the cantos immediately preceding and immediately following. This echoing is further reinforced by the fact that in all of these instances, the word arte is in rhyme with parte. Though a fuller treatment lies outside the immediate scope of this essay, it is necessary nonetheless to point out how the only two other uses of the Reimbildung enter into a rich and allusive intratextuality with the Tens. The occurrence of arte: parte: parte in Purg., x recalls the appearance of those same rhyme words in Purg., iv. 80, 82, 84. Indeed, these rhyme words at the opening of Purg., x describe a difficult and arduous climb through broken rocks, with a wording (‘Noi salavam per una pietra fessa’ (l. 7)) that precisely mirrors the difficult negotiation of the ascent of Mount Purgatory (‘Noi salavam per entro ’l sasso rotto’ (Purg., iv. 31)). Repeating the Reimbildung within the same cantica – in this case Purgatorio – feels sufficiently marked that it be noticed by readers; repeating it within the same sphere in Paradiso is a much more startling and intense kind of repetition. The Heaven of the Sun accommodates two occurrences of parte: parte: arte – in Par., x, and again in Par., xiii. 19, 121, 123. Canto xiii has Thomas Aquinas warn against rushing to judgment or being convinced of one’s opinions too quickly and taking easy comfort in such conviction. The injunction alerts the reader to the skill required for the art of making acute and meaningful distinctions. Reading a rima equivoca, similarly, requires an act of distinction.

Art is figured again in Thomas’s explication of the perfection and wisdom of Adam and Christ, perfect because made directly by God Himself and in contrast to corruptible earthly existence. The perfection of divine ideas must be counter-distinguished from Nature, ‘similemente operando a l’artista / ch’a l’abito de l’arte ha man che trema’ (Par., xiii. 77-78).60 The artist, whose trembling hand imperfectly renders the ideal image in his mind, is a figure which implicates Dante the poet, whose abilities are always expressing imperfectly the (vertical) extremes of his experiences in the otherworld. This discussion has concentrated on the rather rare phenomenon of one particular Reimbildung being repeated across a set of cantos, in this case, the Tens. However, a ‘vertical’ reading of the Comedìa would also recognize the marked way in which Dante deploys an –arte rhyme across the cantos Thirty-One.

These are: parte: arte: Marte (Inf., xxxi 47, 49, 51); parte: arte: sparte (Purg., xxxi 47, 49, 51); and parte: sparte: arte (Par., xxxi 128, 130, 132). Particularly striking is how the first two instances mirror each other’s line numbers. This intratextual signposting across the cantos Thirty-One even presents connections to the Tens, where the other –arte rhyme series is found. It has been noted, for example, that the image of Farinata in Inf., x echoes the giants in Inf., xxxi standing waist-deep in the pozzo.61 A more detailed investigation is needed of the ‘vertical intratextuality’ created by these rhyming patterns and lexical convergences.


The vertical expresses itself not just thematically, in the narrative trajectory of the Comedìa, but also technically, in the handling of rhyme, the poem’s most pronounced vertical dimension. This vertical articulation allows Dante to range up and down the whole length of the poem. An allusive intratextuality creates connections between themes, episodes and characters, joining up precise textual points in repeated Reimbildungen, the focus of which are distinctly the end of the poem. The verse (verso; versus) is fulfilled at the moment of turning, a crossing over between sound and sense. Rhyme, therefore, bears the weight of this turning, and Dante puts the pressure it creates to exquisite use in structuring the soundscape of the poem.


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Humility and the (P)arts of Art Essay

No reader can fail to feel the constant pull of the vertical and horizontal axes in Dante’s Comedìa. A cycle of readings alive to the vertical, then, is as welcome as it is stimulating. The poem’s comic trajectory moves upwards, from asperitas to prosperitas, from a beginning that is horribilis et fetida, to an end that is prospera, desiderabilis et grata.3 The figure of Dante in the Comedìa is continually in a state of opposing tensions between his corporea

2017-08-30 07:19:39
Humility and the (P)arts of Art Essay
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