Dante’s influence on the visual arts in the centuries following his creation

(Veja em Português)

Dante changed the representation of reality in the western Literature. Let’s take a look in the frame of mind behind all that.

This subject is a catch 22 situation, or what in the American culture is known as a double bind 

Catch-22 is a novel which starts as a set of paradoxical requirements whereby airmen mentally unfit to fly did not have to do so, but could not actually be excused.

double bind is an emotionally distressing dilemma in communication in which an individual (or group) receives two or more conflicting messages, and one message negates the other. This creates a situation in which a successful response to one message results in a failed response to the other (and vice versa), so that the person will automatically be wrong regardless of response. The double bind occurs when the person cannot confront the inherent dilemma, and therefore can neither resolve it nor opt out of the situation.

I (REC) see literary criticism as stated above, although with its own  nitty gritty set of complications, aggravated by the fact that if you knew Greek, Latin, German, Italian, French, Spanish, not to mention English, to name a few, even then there would be no chance that you knew the culture involved or had the time to read all it is supposed to be read to join their Elite, or more to it, Olympus, to figure out what they are talking about.

Aggravated even more for the fact they move in waves of modisms and trends depending on where they are or when they decide something was what.

There is though an exceptional exception which to my understanding, saves and enable us to take on a reasonable conversation on the subject.

Auerbach's Mimesis

It is Erich Auerbach’s magisterial “Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature”, published by Princeton University Press exactly fifty years ago in a satisfyingly readable English translation by Willard R. Trask, as Prof. Edward W. Said, puts it in his Introduction to that book  and I quote:

“The historical trajectory that is the spine of Mimesis is the passage from the separation of styles in classical antiquity, to their mingling in the New Testament, their first great climax in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and their ultimate apotheosis in the French realistic authors of the nineteenth century—Stendhal, Balzac, Flaubert, and then Proust. The representation of reality is Auerbach’s theme, so he had to make a judgment as to where and in what literature it was most ably represented. In the “Epilegomena *” he explains that “in most periods the Romance literatures are more representative of Europe than are, for example, the German. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries France took unquestionably the leading role; in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries Italy took it over; it fell again to France in the seventeenth, remained there also during the greater part of the eighteenth, partly still in the nineteenth, and precisely for the origin and development of modern realism (just as for painting)” (570).I think Auerbach scants the substantial English contribution in all this, perhaps a blind spot in his vision. Auerbach goes on to affirm that these judgments derive not from aversion to German culture but rather from a sense of regret that German literature “expressed . . . certain limitations of outlook in . . . the nineteenth century” (571). As we shall soon see, he does not specify what those were as he had done in the body of Mimesis, but adds that “for pleasure and relaxation” he still prefers reading Goethe, Stifter, and Keller rather than the French authors he studies, going once as far as saying after a remarkable analysis of Baudelaire that he did not like him at all (571).”

* Epilegomena means an added remark on a specific subject, normally stated following

I also quote from this introduction:

“Between 1923 and 1929, Auerbach held a position at Berlin’s Prussian State Library. It was then that he strengthened his grasp of the philological vocation and produced two major pieces of work, a German translation of Giambattista Vico’s The New Science and a seminal monograph on Dante entitled Dante als Dichter der irdischen Welt (when the book appeared in English in 1961 as Dante, Poet of the Secular World, the crucial word irdischen, or ‘earthly,’ was only partially rendered by the considerably less concrete ‘secular’).”

“Auerbach’s own ideas about Dante: that the Divine Comedy synthesized the timeless and the historical because of Dante’s genius, and that Dante’s use of the demotic (or vulgar) Italian language in a sense enabled the creation of what we have
come to call literature”

There we have it!

Auerbach's Dante

I take it from the Amazon review:

Erich Auerbach’s Dante: Poet of the Secular World is an inspiring introduction to one of world’s greatest poets as well as a brilliantly argued and still provocative essay in the history of ideas. Here Auerbach, thought by many to be the greatest of twentieth-century scholar-critics, makes the seemingly paradoxical claim that it is in the poetry of Dante, supreme among religious poets, and above all in the stanzas of his Divine Comedy, that the secular world of the modern novel first took imaginative form. Auerbach’s study of Dante, a precursor and necessary complement to Mimesis, his magisterial overview of realism in Western literature, illuminates both the overall structure and the individual detail of Dante’s work, showing it to be an extraordinary synthesis of the sensuous and the conceptual, the particular and the universal, that redefined notions of human character and fate and opened the way into modernity.

Before we go into Auerbach’s masterpiece, let’s take a look on a discussion about the Greek and the Middle Ages point of view


Wie es eigentlich gewesen (what really happened)


Visions of Heaven and Hell before Dante


The Devil – Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity

Go to Auerbach’s Mimesis

Back to Artistas Inspirados por Dante

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