Paradise, the delectable garden: Intertextuality and tradition in the "Divine Comedy"

Date of Completion

January 2001


Literature, Classical|Literature, Medieval|Literature, Romance




It has been apparent to Dante critics throughout the centuries that the ancient tradition of the afterlife plays a substantial role in the Comedy. The fact remains, however, that the two principal scholarly approaches to this question (on the one hand, the search for the “forerunners” of Dante; on the other hand, as a means of preserving critical respect for Dante's originality, rejection of the notion that the poet had recourse to established tradition) are no longer adequate, given the lack of direct textual references. This thesis considers the relationship between the Comedy and the topos of Paradise in the light of modern theories of intertextuality. It presents a methodology for an explication de texte that pays detailed attention to the peculiarities of the medieval mind, its memory structures and the concept of allegory. The thesis argues that, through keywords, the author could invoke entire bodies of text that constituted a common cultural background for the typical reader in Dante's times; these keywords are aimed at summoning up the whole tradition of Paradise in the Western tradition as depicted in fundamental texts ranging from Homer and Virgil, through the Apocalypse and the New Testament, and into medieval visionary writings. The thesis further argues that the more obscure the text in Dante (obscure, that is, from the perspective of the modern reader), the more frequent we may consider the presence of intertextual hypostases, and the more meaningful such passages within the entire economy of the poem. The thesis demonstrates how intertextuality proves to be an instrument of allegory for Dante. His contemporary reader could be counted on to possess the necessary literary and cultural competence to read such passages in the light of the earlier texts invoked intertextually, and which would thereby elucidate Dante's text itself. All of the passages dealing with images of loci amoeni are analyzed, so as to show how an intertextual/interdiscoursive interpretation allows us to resolve several hitherto dubious interpretations, and to bring about a better understanding of the whole poem. ^