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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: December 2018

9 - Vernacular Literature and Culture


ABSTRACT: This chapter explores how Dante's Commedia negotiates its relationship to medieval vernacular literature and culture. While lyric poetry is the most prominent and visible strand of this culture in the poem's narrative, where several Italian and Occitan poets feature as characters, the chapter argues that a number of other vernacular traditions play similarly important roles. There are six main areas of focus. Firstly, the chapter uses the example of Inferno I-II to highlight the immediate presence of vernacular intertexts in the poem, alongside more well-known biblical and classical sources. Secondly, it uses Inferno V to draw attention to Dante's highly ambivalent treatment of medieval erotic literature, and the Commedia's ongoing participation in poetic debates surrounding love. Thirdly, it examines the legacy of Dante's fellow Florentine, Guido Cavalcanti, whose philosophically inflected love poetry has a crucial if subterranean presence in the poem. Fourthly, the chapter assesses the impact of early Italian prose culture on the Commedia, with a particular focus on Brunetto Latini and his mediation of both French and classical cultural traditions. Next, it analyses the key role of poetic encounters in the Commedia's narrative, which are central to Dante's strategies of self-definition and self-authorization. And finally, the chapter highlights the eclecticism of the Commedia's approach to vernacular culture, and its incorporation and synthesis of a host of different traditions.

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