Richard Kay

title.none: Woodhouse, ed., Dante and Governance (Kay)

identifier.other: baj9928.9808.009 98.08.09

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Richard Kay, University of Kansas,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: Woodhouse, John R., ed. Dante and Governance. Oxford: Clar endon Press, 1997. Pp. xi, 179. $55.00. ISBN: ISBN 0-198-15911-0.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 98.08.09

Woodhouse, John R., ed. Dante and Governance. Oxford: Clar endon Press, 1997. Pp. xi, 179. $55.00. ISBN: ISBN 0-198-15911-0.

Reviewed by:

Richard Kay
University of Kansas

Between the covers of this book there is no hint of its origin, but the publisher's dust-jacket blurb explains that "a group of scholars, internationally known for their expertise not only in Dante studies but also in medieval literature and history, was invited to Oxford to discuss the poet's [political] objectives." The "List of Contributors" (x) reveals that most of them were already in Oxford.

Chapter one probably began life as the conference organizer's concluding summary of the proceedings. In its present form, "Dante and Governance: Contexts and Contents," by John Woodhouse, professor of Italian Studies at Oxford, attempts to coordinate all of the contributions in a commentary on Justinian's speech in Purgatorio 6. Accordingly, it is best read last, or even not at all, for the reading of that canto is necessarily cursory.

After the editor's synoptic overview, the collection begins with a lectura on Purgatorio 16 by Piero Boitani (professor of English at the University of Rome aka La Sapienza), which is an appropriate place to begin because, as Boitani stresses, Marco Lombardo's speech at the center of the poem (canto 50/100) encapsulates Dante's views on the the interrelation of ethics and politics. The ethical aspects are treated with assurance and are particularly good in showing "the centrality of free will in Dante's own thought." Unlike most contributors, Boitani equates ethics with (self) governance, as opposed to government, which concerns politics. He loses the thread of Dante's argument, however, by asserting that the newborn soul "forgets the primal joy" (21) and hence law is necessary to curb and guide it. Dante says nothing about forgetting; the soul simply "turns eagerly to what delights it" (Purg. 16.90) and must be guided to what is truly good. The emperor, of course, knows what is truly good because he is guided by philosophy (Mon. 3.15). Although Boitano often does illuminate his points with apposite Dantean parallels, in this case he neglects to supply the missing link. The reading grows weaker as it progresses from political theory to history, most notably when Dante declares that "The one [sun = the papacy] has quenched the other [sun = the empire], and the sword is joined to the crosier" (16.109-110), which Boitani takes to mean that "The two suns have quenched each other ..." (24). Granted, the Italian admits of a reciprocal action ("L'un l'altro ha spento"), but the context indicates (as does Boitano's translation, adapted from Singleton) that the papacy had quenched the empire and joined the emperor's temporal sword to the pope's spiritual crosier. Hence, a few lines later: "the Church of Rome, by confounding in itself two governments ..." (16.127-128). Nonetheless, the lectura is a useful exposition of the main ethical-political themes of of the canto. He entirely misses the larger theme of the divine governance of human affairs by means of the stars, which is later enlarged by Carlo Martello in Par. 8.

The most ambitious thesis in the collection is advanced by Peter Armour in chapter 3, "Dante and Popular Sovereignty." He argues that "despite his insistence on God's role and on the emperor's status as God's elect, the people--at least at the universal level of an ideal world-people--never seems to have been far from the mind of Dante, the exiled Guelf popolano" (42). Uncontroversily, Armour concludes (38) that Dante believed that the Roman people, who held the imperium under the Republic (and hence are the subject of the thesis of Mon. 2), transferred the imperium "once and for all" to the emperor by the Lex Regia (Digest 1.4.1). But Armour suggests that Dante also believed that the imperial electors acted like the college of cardinals, i.e. "as an instrument of God's Providence in choosing a pope on behalf of, and for the approval of, the Roman clergy and people" (42), thus implying that imperial elections derived their authority, both indirectly and directly, from the people. But this cannot be, for Dante's account of the imperial election is prefaced by the flat statement, quoted by Armour (loc. cit.), that "God alone elects, He alone confirms, since He has no superior" (Mon. 3.15.13). The Electors are simply announcers/proclaimers/revealers ("denunciatores") of the divine will - in Wicksteed's happy phrase, "heralds," i.e. nuncios, who functioned as "living letters" from their sender, in this case God. In fact, in the elections of 1308 and 1314, the Electors did announce the election to the clergy and people, as an accomplished fact "divina inspirante clementia" (see my commentary [Toronto, 1998] to Mon. 3.15.13). The clergy and people had the right to approve, but not to disapprove; their consent was of the sort that Gaines Post liked to call "procedural consent." Armour is quite right in stressing Dante's populism below the level of the empire: in this he follows Aristotle's naturalistic explanation of the origin of human social units (e.g. Mon. 1.3.2). It is God's plan that such natural communities, from kingdoms down to families, should live under the emperor's authority: he is the ultimate court of appeal on earth. He, in turn, is guided by natural law, discovered by philosophers. The basic flaw in Armour's approach is revealed at the end of the article. Like many moderns, he is attracted by the will o' the wisp of "popular sovereignty," and, though he struggles to maintain historical perspective, he is still guided by his/our prejudices. For instance, he adduces the Model Parliament of 1295 as an icon of popular sovereignty (43), which is to value it in retrospect, not in the terms that moved Edward I to summon it. Again, "for Marsilio of Padua, the popular will was the basis of all power" (44), which ignores Marsilio's important qualification that the human legislator is "the whole body of citizens, or the preponderant (valentior) part thereof" (Defensor Pacis 3.2.6). Opinions differ on what he meant by the "valentior pars," but I think it extremely likely that he allowed for the possibility that it was a small but powerful elite. Armour is by no means alone in these misperceptions; they deserve castigation whenever they appear, and especially, as here, when they may deceive the unwary. In fine, Armour's article conveniently collects Dante's references to "the people" as a political element, but he fails to advance their established interpretation.

Chapter 4 is an unambitious essay on "Monarchia and Dante's Attitude to the Popes" by George Holmes, a seasoned historian. He accepts with no appreciable argument what has been the orthodox view of the Monarchia at Oxford for most of this century. Never mind that since 1965 it has been clear that the work was written after Par. 5.19-22: "My own inclination is to ignore this" (48). His principal reason is an apparent contradiction between the treatment of free will in Mon. 1.12-13 and in Par. 4.64-78, but the objection is readily removed by applying Dante's theory of love, expounded by Virgil in Par. 18.19-75. This misreading exemplifies Holmes's avowed disinclination to reconcile passages from Dante's various works; instead, he stresses differences and assumes that if Dante does not repeat himself, he must have changed his mind. My own approach is just the opposite; I think it is better to assume that Dante's thought was consistent and that his expression of it varied depending on the context. Holmes's Dante is accordingly represented as a man who frequently changed his mind. For instance, Holmes contrasts the satire against the Mendicants in the Fiore with "Dante's recantation" in the circle of the Sun, "where the two mendicant orders of Dominicans and Franciscans are celebated and their positions stated in a carefully moderate manner, avoiding extremities, by Bonaventure and Aquinas" (56). But Holmes overlooks the fact that each spokesman roundly condemns his own order, so Dante remained critical enough of Mendicant abuses; after all, in Paradise he is speaking in the character of two saints and no longer paraphrasing the coarser jibes of Jean de Meung. The essay seeks to locate the Monarchia in the context of Henry VII's Italian expedition (1312-1314) without adequate discussion of the alternate view that it was written at Verona in 1317-1318 to rally support among the clergy for Can Grande (see my introduction to the Monarchia, xx- xxxi).

More useful is Peter Cooper's study, "The French Dimension in Dante's Politics" (chapter 5). The author, being reader in French at Oxford, understands "French" broadly, to include not only Provence and Provencal but also the Angevin dynasty of the Italian Regno. He argues persuasively that Dante was not uniformly anti-French; instead, he discovers a number of "inconsistencies" in Dante's attitudes to things French. For example, the poet seems to be of two minds about the Angevin conquest of the two Sicilies: both conqueror and the conquered are in Purgatory (Charles of Anjou in 7.113 and Manfred in 3.103 ff.). Cooper concludes that Dante disliked the preponderant influence of the French monarchy in the Europe of his day but still could appreciate the virtue of particular French princes; similarly, he distinguished "between legitimist and pragmatic considerations, and between legend and history" (83). By throwing these apparent contradictions into relief, Cooper opens an important avenue of inquiry, but I do not think his explanations are the last word. I believe that when Dante appears to contradict himself in the Comedy, this is his invitation to the reader to resolve the question in the scholastic spirit of "sic et non." The study is marred by several misreadings of history, as for instance his description of Clement V as "the French client pope" and "effectively a prisoner of Philip [the Fair]" (81), whereas Clement was in fact from Bordeaux and hence in the English sphere of influence. Cooper seems unaware of the commonplace distinction between the man and his office, which explains how Dante could consign Boniface VIII to hell and still deplore the outrage of Anagni. In Purg. 20.61-63, Hugh Capet asserts that his dynasty "did little harm" until "the great Provencal dowry" made them shameless. Cooper, like most commentators, takes this to refer to the acquisition of the county of Provence by Charles of Anjou in 1246. I would suggest that here Dante is using "provenzale" more broadly to refer to Languedoc (aka Occitania), as he did in De Vulg. Eloq. 1.8.7. The historic moment, then, would be the Second Albigensian Crusade (1226), when Languedoc was brought into the Capetian orbit--the 1229 treaty of Paris was in effect the marriage contract. Likewise, to my mind, he misreads the Comedy in accepting the conventional view that the Giant of Purg. 82 is Philip the Fair. As I have shown elsewhere, the harlot is Heresy personified (cf. Proverbs 9.13-18) and the Giant is the corrupt papacy that claims, as vicar of Christ, to act in His place and hence replaces the Christ-Griffin in drawing the corrupted Church, not to France, but into the Dark Wood of Error (cf. Inf. 1). See Dante Studies 97 (1979), 65-95. Finally, it is surprising that, while casting his net so broadly for all things French in the Comedy, Cooper somehow overlooked St. Francis, aka "Francesco" (i.e. "Frenchy"), not to mention Francesca, who was corrupted by reading French romances. After all, Dante believed that "Names are the consequences of things."

"Politics and Theology in Inferno X" (chapter 6) is a lectura that, whether right or wrong, touches the theme of governance only tangentially. The author, Valerio Lucchesi, emeritus reader of Italian at Oxford, seeks to substantiate W. H. V. Reade's 1909 thesis that Farinata's sin was intellectual pride (repeated inter alia by Musa). The stated sin of circle 6 is heresy, the argument runs. Since pride is the root of all evil, it must be involved in heresy. Aquinas explains that pride causes obstinacy, which in turn produces disbelief, i.e. a lack of faith. This fits the sinners in circle 6, who are of the magnate class, which was noted for its pride and opposed by Dante in his political career. Lucchesi asserts without proof that among the magnates "irreligiousess and heterodoxy were probably more frequent than in other social groups. This must have been particularly true in the case of the great Ghibelline families who, like the Uberti [Farinata's family], had been more exposed, and better disposed, to the new ideas associated with Averroism and introduced into Italy during the reign of Frederick II" (95). "Epicureans" he simply explains away by glossing the term as "unbelievers" (94). Any interpretation of the canto must be based on Virgil's explicit statement that "In this part Epicurus with all his followers, who make the soul die with the body (che l'anima col corpo morta fanno), have their burial-place" (Inf. 10.13-15, trans. Singleton). Now for Aquinas, and for most philosophers before him, except Epicureans, the immortality of the rational soul was NOT a matter of faith but a demonstrable truth (Summa contra gentiles 2.81). Therefore Aquinas's student, Giles of Rome, in his Errores philosophorum (ca. 1270), does not list it among the errors of either Aristotle or Averroes (ed. Riedl, pp. 2-26). Hence it is doubtful that Dante is here covertly condemning "Averroists." When he says "Epicurus with all his followers," he means just that. He would have known this consequence of Epicurus's materialism from at least one of his favorite books, Cicero's De finibus (2.31.100; cf. 1.15.49). There is not a shred of evidence that any of the souls mentioned in Inf. 10 actually maintained that "the soul dies with the body." None except Epicurus was a philosopher and it is unlikely that any of the others knew much, if anything, of his teachings. I think that Sapegno was closer to the mark in seeing in Cavalcante "the mental attitude of the Epicurean inclined to attribute an exclusive and excessive important to worldly virtues" (dismissed summarily by Lucchesi in note 2). They followed him, not as philosophic disciples, but AS IF they believed in his doctrines: they were virtual, de facto Epicureans.

In chapter 7, "Feminine Virtues and Florentine Vices: Citizenship and Morality in Paradiso XV-XVII," Italianist Claire Honess, from Reading, deploys the panoply of women's studies to explicate Par. 15.88-135 (the other cantos advertized in her title are largely ignored). She begins by noting that in this passage, Cacciaguida's examples of good and bad Florentine citizens "refer almost exclusively to the women of Florence--women who, on a political level, would almost certainly not have been classed as citizens at all" (108). But it is she, not Dante, who has excluded the men: I count seven Florentine men who are mentioned by name in the passage and only one woman, the infamous Cianghella. To be sure, Cacciaguida celebrates the "family values" of Florence circa 1100, and although he stresses the domestic virtues of wives, he also approves of men who are plain in their dress and in their conjugal relations. (Similarly for Honess "a large proportion [of the Lustful in Inf. 5] are female" [117], whereas 4 men and 5 women are identified.) What arouses her curiosity is why Cacciaguida can include women as well as men as part of the "life of citizens (viver di cittadini, 132)" he has just described. A philological approach would have quickly revealed to her that Dante uses "cittadino" to include both sexes in Hell (Inf. 8.69) and in Heaven (V.N. 34.1) - the Enciclopedia Dantesca takes the primary sense of the term to be "abitante di citta" (2.27). But Honess has to remind us in detail that medieval women were politically disadvantaged before she can discover that Cacciaguida was not using "cittadino" in a political sense. I should have thought it obvious that Dante had no nostalgia for the aristocratic political constitution of Florence circa 1100 (see chap. 6, above); instead, he was bound to have Cacciaguida stress the moral virtues of "il buon tempo antico," as Honess finally decides he does (112). In an unnecessarily roundabout way, Honess proves her thesis, "that Dante's ideal of citizenship, as expressed in the Commedia, goes beyond the strictly political, to take on a wider and far more fundamental relevance for humanity as a whole" (102). She does not seem to realize, however, that the pedigree of Dante's broader view includes Hellenistic cosmopolitanism, Rome as both "urbs et orbis," and Augustine's City of God. Finally, let me register my surprise that one so evidently steeped in the literature of women's studies should take Cacciaguida's reference to "the spindle and the distaff" (15.117) as a reference to weaving as well as spinning (113, 118)--they are both parts of the same apparatus for spinning!

The next contribution is a solid piece of scholarship that really has practically nothing to do with governance, the stated theme of this collection. In chapter 8, "The Rock and the Vine: Pier della Vigna, Dante, and the Imagery of Empire," Martin McLaughlin, an Oxford Italianist, shows that the speeches of Pier della Vigna in Inferno 13 echo passages in works that circulated under Pier's name and in an eulogy of him by Niccolo della Rocca. The verbal parallels are convincing, the rhetorical ones less so, since devices such as chiasmus were commonplace. McLaughlin continues the line of inquiry initiated by Paratore and developed by Stephany, who argued "that Dante regarded as `blasphemous' Pier's application to the Emperor Frederick II of Old Testament passages (from Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah)" (131). McLaughlin sensibly doubts this, since "Dante actually far outdid Piero in the number of biblical passages he referred to the emperor of his own day, Henry VII" (131). But he blindly follows Stephany in supposing that some sort of blasphemy must be involved (even though that sin is punished in Inf. 14), and concludes "that in Dante such comparisons are applied only to the Emperor and his heirs" (133), but that della Rocca blasphemously applied them to Piero. The latter statement is patently false, as Dante had no qualms whatsoever about comparing himself to Jeremiah (Epist. 11.3) and to the prophetic author of Psalm 2 (Mon. 2.1.5). Therefore the present article is useful in pointing out new parallels, but they are better understood as Dante's tribute to his model for Latin political epistolography. The whole discussion could have been given some political point by taking into account Ernst Kantorowicz's famous studies of the Christus-Imperator theme.

Chapter 9 is a superb reading of Par. 18-20 by John Took, reader in Dante Studies at University College London, entitled "Diligite iustitiam qui iudicatis terram: Justice and the Just Ruler in Dante." The exposition is terse and dense, apparently because he has here condensed arguments that will be developed more amply in his forthcoming book, "Ethics and Existence in Dante: An Essay in Medieval Christian Ontology." The main thrust of the argument is that, as the title quotation suggests, "justice is the proper object of love" (137). God, who knows all hearts and all circumstances and who is moved primarily by love, is the only one who can truly do justice. Earthly rulers can only imperfectly imitate him by cherishing righteousness. The most unexpected and persuasive point is that, according to Dante (developing a Thomistic distinction) an individual is not bound to obey those positive laws made by princes that are based on natural law (e.g. defining nobility or maturity); instead, in such cases the individual should be a free moral agent. However, he is bound to obey positive laws that are not dictated by nature but simply devised by the human legislator, such as laws regulating marriage, military service, and inheritance (cf. Conv. 4.9.14-15). Took convincingly harmonizes key passages from the Convivio and the Monarchia (which he dates late) with the Comedy, and especially the heaven of Jupiter. Since Took's approach and conclusions frequently diverge from those of other contributors, his interventions may well have enlivened the Oxford conference.

The final chapter, appropriately enough, is "Dante's Farewell to Politics." It is another lectura by an Oxford Italianist, Peter Hainsworth, that in itself is interesting and persuasive, though (again) of scant relevance to the theme of governance. Hainsworth seeks to explain how Beatrice's praise of Henry VII and her denunciation of Clement V (Par. 30.130- 148) really harmonizes with the rest of the canto. "The body of the canto is concerned with an increase in the understanding of virtue, primarily in terms of its relationship to the divine and its ultimate rewards and significance. The last sixteeen or so lines are similarly concerned with the understanding of vice. The two are ultimately the two sides of the same moral coin" (159). Insofar as governance enters into the picture, it is God's governance of human affairs, in a bravura analysis of Dante's use of the verb "disporre" (160-161). In passing it may be noted that the underutilized concept of parallel cantos is central to the argument, which compares the ones numbered thirty (164-167).

By the usual standards of the Clarendon Press, the book is meanly produced, with the text set in 10-point type and the notes in 8-point, like the fine print in a contract that disinvites attentive reading. The editorial work, however, was exemplary in that no misprints were found. My overall verdict, I fear, is negative. Some essays in the volume would just as well have appeared as journal articles; it is doubtful that others would have passed a rigorous journal's peer review, which is waived here because they were commissioned. Thematic conferences, like the annual one at Spoleto, can produce significant collections, but only if they are willing and able to assemble the leading authorities on the chosen topic. As it is, though the contributions to the present collection are learned enough, too few have much relevance to the announced theme of political governance in Dante.