R. Allen Shoaf

title.none: Shaw, ed. and trans., Dante Alighieri, Monarchia

identifier.other: baj9928.9608.002 96.08.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: R. Allen Shoaf ,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1996

identifier.citation: Shaw, Prue, ed. and trans. Dante Alighieri, Monarchia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Pp. xlvi + 186. $54.95. ISBN: ISBN 0-521-48272-0.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 96.08.02

Shaw, Prue, ed. and trans. Dante Alighieri, Monarchia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Pp. xlvi + 186. $54.95. ISBN: ISBN 0-521-48272-0.

Reviewed by:

R. Allen Shoaf

No one familiar with Dante's writing disputes that the Monarchia is difficult. Controversies of many sorts have raged around it from the beginning. From its very technical language to its frequent ellipticalness, it taxes the reader enormously. Though brief in page numbers, in assumptions and implications it is monumental. In fact, in these senses it may well be the truest introduction to Dante's writings that we have, the sample that demonstrates by its haecceity who Dante was and what his writing means.

Shaw has produced a translation of the Monarchia that makes it possible to approach its thisness as perhaps never before, at least in the English tradition of Dante studies. With its facing-page layout, its copious notes, and excellent introduction (notable for its patience in explication), the translation supplies many needs efficiently and expeditiously.

The English is lucid and never ostentatious. It is throughout readable. This readability is achieved primarily by means of the notes, which, I think, are exemplary of the kind of annotation required for a work as difficult as this. The notes are footnotes, and they are numbered consecutively within each chapter of each book, starting anew in each chapter at Arabic numeral 1 and flowing from the bottom of the left-hand page across to the bottom of the right. (Also on the left-hand page, wherever applicable, variants in the Latin are recorded above the notes.) This design I found a bit cumbersome at first, but I quickly got used to it, and I can see its rationale: annotation is never very far from the frequently difficult passages in need of it. Each two-page spread is remarkably self-contained as a unit of information without, however, impeding the flow of the argument from chapter to chapter, book to book. As a result, we can read a very competent modern English prose and proceed apace even when it is rendering very abstract or highly technical or startlingly alien ideas. This effect is most appreciable in the case of the technical language of logic, which is encountered throughout the treatise: Shaw does a fine job of helping readers follow this oftentimes ponderous language.

But it is the introduction to the translation I find to be the most impressive part of the book. Learned and yet never itself ponderous, it takes the reader through the history of the work and its reception with grace and patience. Shaw is preparing a new edition of the Monarchia, too, and the fruits of her close work with the entire tradition of the treatise are evident throughout the introduction as well as the translation. For example, although respectful of previous scholars, Shaw never shies away from controversies. I can illustrate her tact and her learning by quoting her conclusion regarding the disputed date of Monarchia. Receptive to the possibility of a late date (pace Nardi), she asks (page xl), ... are there really any insuperable difficulties associated with a late dating of the treatise? ... It seems at least as plausible in terms of psychology that Dante would compose a treatise demonstrating the need for an emperor when his hopes in practical terms of ever seeing this come about in his own lifetime had been definitively dashed. The opening sentence of the treatise makes it incontrovertibly clear that he is writing with his eye on and for the benefit of posterity. This is his legacy to the world: a philosophical demonstration of the way humanity ought to be ordered politically as a collectivity, to stand alongside his poetic masterpiece, which shows individuals how to achieve salvation. The two visions are inextricably linked, and there is much overlapping of material between them. There is no conflict at all between poem and treatise in what Dante advocated in terms of practical politics: the separation of secular from ecclesiastical power, and a return to apostolic poverty for the church, whose greed and manifest corruption were the cause of Italy's turbulence and lawlessness. We hear in these remarks the sensitivity as well as the erudition of someone long familiar with her subject.

The translation also includes a select bibliography, an index of names and subjects, and a Latin index. Between pages 82 and 83 is a fold-out "Map of the world according to Orosius," which is helpful in presenting Dante's geography to readers. The copy of the translation I received for review also contained a corrigendaslip pasted onto page viii.

Title number 4 in the new Cambridge Medieval Classics Series, under the general editorship of Peter Dronke, Shaw's translation of the Monarchia is a worthy contribution to an already distinguished series. It is to be hoped that a paperback version of the translation will shortly be forthcoming so that its affordability as well as its excellence can recommend it to instructors teaching Dante to undergraduates.