Charles Briggs

title.none: Kay, Dante's Monarchia (Briggs)

identifier.other: baj9928.9907.008 99.07.08

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Charles Briggs, Georgia Southern University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1999

identifier.citation: Kay, Richard. Dante's Monarchia. Studies & Texts, vol. 131. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1998. Pp. xliii. 449. $85.00. ISBN: 0-888-44131-2.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 99.07.08

Kay, Richard. Dante's Monarchia. Studies & Texts, vol. 131. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1998. Pp. xliii. 449. $85.00. ISBN: 0-888-44131-2.

Reviewed by:

Charles Briggs
Georgia Southern University

One might well ask why an English-speaking audience needs yet another translation of Dante's Latin political treatise, the Monarchia--particularly one with an $85.00 price tag. After all, one can still find plenty of used copies of Herbert Schneider's inexpensive translation, entitled On World- Government; or, far better, there is Prue Shaw's excellent translation with commentary, which has recently been added to the long list of works in Cambridge's Texts in the History of Political Thought series. As a text for students, the latter of these is particularly helpful, thanks to its accuracy, readability, and helpful commentary, as well as its $15.95 price tag. And Shaw's translation is itself drawn from her Latin edition with facing-page translation, published in 1995 in the Cambridge Medieval Classics series. Thus, faculty looking for an inexpensive text for undergraduate or graduate classroom use, are unlikely to make Kay's translation required reading. Nonetheless, for graduate students and advanced scholars alike, Kay has made a very welcome and important contribution to both the study of the Monarchia itself and of its place in the history of later medieval political thought.

The English translation with facing-page Latin original, albeit no substantial improvement on Shaw's, does nonetheless offer the serious reader an excellent alternative. Kay's Latin gives judiciously chosen, and thoroughly explained, variant Latin readings (based on Pier Giorgio Ricci's critical edition of 1965), and his really fine translation manages at one and the same time to be both idiomatic and expressive of Dante's scholastic and rhetorical Latin. Moreover, the text is accompanied by Kay's commentary, which is far more exhaustive than anything currently available in English, including Shaw's recent edition. In it he identifies Dante's sources, explains technical terminology and concepts, as well as the structure of Dante's arguments, and mentions variant readings in the Latin text, when those readings affect meaning. He also does a very good job of situating Dante's arguments within the context of relevant late thirteenth- and early fourteenth-century scholastic discourse. Best of all, he provides extensive discussion of interpretive cruxes, examining the positions of different scholars while adding his own learned assessments.

Fortunately the commentary appears on the same page as the text, and is helpfully keyed to the English translation by footnote number, and to the Latin by boldface section number and lemma. Indeed, the whole volume displays meticulous concern for the needs of readers, whether they are using it for research or teaching. Invaluable for researchers are the general index, which guides the reader to terms, both in English and Latin, and the exhaustive index of citations. Teachers, as well as scholars specializing in political thought, will especially welcome the appended paraphrase of the Monarchia. This paraphrase, which is the result of Kay's several years of graduate teaching, lays bare the structure of Dante's discourse and clarifies many obscure passages in the text.

Kay's introduction offers the latest word on the date of composition of the Monarchia and Dante's purpose in writing it. According to Kay, the Monarchia is a piece of political propaganda, produced by Dante in 1317 for the benefit of his patron Can Grande della Scala of Verona, as a response to Pope John XXII's promulgation of the bull Si fratrum, whose purpose was to break up the alliance of northern Italian Ghibelline signori, including Can Grande. Dante's principal original intended audience would have been the clergy of Verona, whom Dante wished to impress with his command of biblical and classical authorities, as well as "his frequent pyrotechnic displays of logical competence" (p. xxx). Kay's argument for this is, I think, convincing. Such a limited and occasional purpose also goes far toward explaining the work's curious blend of scholastic and rhetorical discourse, as well as its modest circulation during the later Middle Ages. Indeed, the influence of the Monarchia on medieval political thought was hardly earth-shaking. Only nineteen manuscripts survive, and few fourteenth- or fifteenth-century writers refer to it. Kay does a good job of tracing these fortunes as well as the work's textual history from its first appearance in print (1559) until the present, including a discussion of all modern critical editions and translations. It is at once both amusing and touching to think that a work motivated by such a limited polemical purpose, namely to refute the pope's claim to temporal jurisdiction in northern Italy, has been lauded in more recent times as a prescient plea for world peace.

Of course, no reviewer can resist making some criticisms. Mine is only that Kay nowhere includes a list of the surviving manuscripts. Certainly the dedicated reader can search elsewhere for these, but why should he have to?