Friday, September 14, 2007

Dartmouth Dante: The Commentaries

The Dartmouth Dante Project is one of the oldest online sites devoted to things Dantesque. Jutta recently pointed us to a vast resource now on the site: a means of searching a huge aggregate of commentaries on the Comedia.

The site has two remarkable elements:

1. You search commentators going back to Jacopo Alighieri - one of Dante's sons, which was published in 1322, a year after the poet's death - and forward to Robert and Jean Hollander, the final part of whose huge edition of the poem has just been published (and reviewed here). So if you're interested in, say, the use of the term corpo fittizio in Purgatorio 26 (you'll recall the shades on the terrace of Lust are struck by the physicality of Dante's shadow - the fact that his body is not fittizio) you enter those words, allow the search to default to "any," and get back the relevant text:

Questa fu la cagion che diede inizio
loro a parlar di me; e cominciarsi
a dir: “Colui non par corpo fittizio”

along with precise places in 17 commentaries where this term is noted and explicated.

2. The commentaries appear without translation; many of them are either in Italian or Latin. Also, there is no way to obtain the entire text of any one commentary - i.e., if you wanted to read through Jacopo's complete "key" to his father's Inferno, that's not readily available. It's unclear why, but probably has something to do with intellectual property rights and academic anality.

One ought not leave a discussion of the commentaries without noting that Dante from early on was prone to offer commentary on his own poems. So, for example, from the Convivio we have his discussion of allegory and his explications of several of his canzoni. In his Letter to Can Grande we have the poet, as noted earlier, laying out his view of theological allegory and fourfold interpretation. And even Vita Nuova, with its alternation of lyric and narrative elements, to some extent offers the poet's narrative as gloss upon his poems, and vice versa.

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