Dante’s “Other” Writings

The plan:

To enjoy together three of Dante’s so-called minor works, for the insight they give into late-medieval civilization and the light they throw on the Divine Comedy: On the Monarchy (De monarchia), On Vernacular Eloquence (De vulgari eloquentia), and the Vita Nuova or New Life.


Every other week, 1 hour and 15 minutes each time.


Week of October 12.

Meeting times:

Evenings (U.S. Eastern Time) - likely Wednesdays, but the day is not set in stone yet, nor is the precise time. If you are interested and have scheduling preferences, please write ASAP to let us know!

Amount of reading:

Somewhere around 40 pages every two weeks, adjusted upward or downward depending on the density of the passage.

What these texts are:

On the Monarchy is often said to be the most widely read work of political theory from medieval Europe. Dante argues in favor of monarchy, but he means by the word something like what we would call “world government”: a single overseer who would bring an end to strife among subordinate kingdoms. For Dante, the monarchy’s headquarters should ideally be at Rome - a thesis he occasionally supports, unfortunately, with arguments that in the modern context are difficult not to call racist. But there is much more to be found in this work, including considerable illumination of both political and theological parts of the Divine Comedy.

De vulgari eloquentia is Dante’s youthful program statement for something that he later managed most resoundingly in the Comedy, namely to write literature of great aesthetic and instructive value not in Latin (which would have been the standard choice), but in the vernacular. Among other things it contains speculations on the origin of human language that are taken up again (and corrected) when Dante-pilgrim encounters Adam (you know, the Adam, from Genesis) late in the Paradiso.

The Vita Nuova is a soaring poetic presentation of how the whole story began: with young Dante’s falling in love with (still younger) Beatrice. His affections are, for the most part, not returned; Beatrice dies young; pain, separation, and the arrival of competing loves follow. Unrivaled background reading for the Comedy, where Beatrice seems to be reworked into a figure for -- something or other; and for Dante’s Convivio or Banquet, where the rivalry between Beatrice and another Lady is replayed with an apparently conflicting conclusion.


As elsewhere, you are welcome to come to as many, or as few, meetings as desired - which means for this group that you can join us for one or two of these works, or come along for the full ride. Contact us for starting dates.