Dante: Learned Scholar or wise genius?

(veja em Português)

First, take a look at what  have said and it is a perfect piece of common sense and judgement, to frame up what we are going to discuss here.

One unforeseen consequence of my dwellings with Dante’s works is (or was), at the end of the day, to picture out what Dante really was, better yet, really is and what does he want?

My strategy was to start the same way you use in Main Frame Computers to re start the machine if it is down. It is done through what is called bootstrap for system restarts and requires reading the log of information related to it to function. To do that you use a sort of communication procedure which contains information that is necessary to restart processing, after what you read from the machine the log it has accumulated.

In other words, it doesn’t matter where you are, after you have the machine running, you can go anywhere, including to the adequate starting point, which, obviously, you don’t know a priori where it is.

Dante present to us the same problem: you got to be on board to see where it starts and ends, and where and how he wants to go.

I started to think about this after boot strapping the subject at the first blog post, which is the address I point out as the starting point, My bootstrapping on Dante was imagined like that:

I gave two addresses with a complete annotated text of The Divine Comedy, University of Texas and the amazing site of Columbia University headed by one of the most renowned specialists in Dante which is Dr. Teodolinda Barolini.

I moved a little bit with what can be read at Why Comedy? mentioning again both Universities for English readers and Helder Rocha for Portuguese readers and a Spanish abstract, which can be also read by Portuguese speaking persons.

I then added a summarized version at the youtube and left aside the Problem of Beatrice as his muse, once that Dante was already married and also left aside the obvious problem of concupiscence which is apparent throughout, specially considering the midlife crisis he was stuck with.

Provisorily, I lived with the following which seemed to me enough, i.e., the whole thing was an Medieval Allegory, which typically had four aspects, thinking in Christian faith:

  1. The first is simply the literal interpretation of the events of the story for historical purposes with no underlying meaning.
  2. The second is called typological: it connects the events of the Old Testament with the New Testament; in particular drawing allegorical connections between the events of Christ’s life with the stories of the Old Testament.
  3. The third is moral (or tropological), which is how one should act in the present, the “moral of the story”.
  4. The fourth type of interpretation is anagogical, dealing with the future events of Christian history, heaven, hell, the last judgment; it deals with prophecies.

It seemed to me, then, that the commentators of the Divine Comedy point to three aspects:

  • The poetic-literary account
  • The psycho-philosophical-theological sense
  • The political-social sense
The fourth aspect would be Wisdom, specially in the metaphysical sense, which also seemed to me that was lost for good reason: at the time of Dante it was initiatory, i.e., requires initiation, and involves concepts dating from paganism or earlier, its variations through so-called “hidden” visions of wisdom. These knowledge aimed, or aim, for those who still practise them, such as Masons, Rosicrucians, Kabala, etc., Wisdom, which is not knowledge or Intelligence, but to know how to judge. By no means I do not want to imply that Catholicism doesn’t have it, but it is sort of limited by salvation or damnation only and Science, which would be today the option, didn’t exist at Dante’s time. Galileo would take 320 years to use his text and give the world a scientific way of understanding the Universe, as explained in the Introduction to this paper. The problem is that as for Modern Science, any philosophy, esoterism, occult sciences, the human being wants to know what is going to happen, or what is the result of doing this or that. The occult involves prediction of the future and divination, which for obvious reasons is condemnable. Human thought systems are not and have never been cut black and white, and it took a long time to arrive as it is today, reasonably determined what is “true” or what is “false”,  if we arrived at all at that pointIt is in quotation marks because in fact, whether science or religion, we tend to distinguish between “good” and “bad”. The Bible and the religions that support it condemn magic of any nature, including divination and foresight. The knowledge that engages in this has become, for this reason, “hidden.” Of course, driven by the Holy Office that sent to the fire anyone who disagreed with Rome.

But Dante would not be Dante if he were superstitious. He was far more subtle than it seems at first sight. His wisdom has been engraved and will be eternally valid, but to perceive it, we have to enter not only into the symbolism involved, but also in the “loaded” words, according to the criteria of his time.  As I tried to “decode” all that,  it became fairly apparent that although he might have been a Templar and believed in astrology,  (and left any doubt that he was catholic to the bone), the advance that humanity has had in the 500 years that separate us from him, didn’t shake down his idea of wisdom. He is worth his fame and completely justifies it once you start to understand where he wanted to get to.

Why, then, this post? To confirm what is spreaded out all over the site blog?

No!!!!!!!!! There is no agreement to all that, by far! And to me, we readers, which it is the problem! The problem resides on how you read it!

To illustrate what I mean I will use a very sophisticated reader and comentator of Dante, Edward Moore, who, from what I could find out, edited on Dante the following studies, practically detailing readings of Dante’s works:

Studies in Dante – First Series Scripture and Classical Authors in Dante


Studies in Dante – Second Series – Miscelaneous Essays e-moore-2nd-series.jpg

Studies in Dante – Third Series – Miscellaneous Essays


This author is extensively used by Auerbach in the Chapter IV of his book: Dante Poet of the Secular World and cross referencing him with the original quoted by Auerbach, I had a sensation (which I already had with Auerbach) that they kind of confront Dante’s vested use of all the above subjects stressing that it didn’t quite match to the originals. This obviously, under their optics, what might be a problem of incapability of seeing it under Dante’s optics, which is not possible to know what it was.

Another thing which came to my mind was that since Dante have summarized the state of the art of knowledge of his time in Convivio, why raise doubts and why not simply take it as Dante had put it, once that the elegant and refined format Dante used had to convey the poetry and not the exact notion of which Dante was referring to.

7 liberal arts sta. M Novella

Seven Liberal Arts Santa Maria Novella Florence

In the history of education, the seven liberal arts (or liberal arts) comprised two groups of studies: the trivium and the quadrivium. Studies in the trivium involved grammardialectic (logic), and rhetoric; and studies in the quadrivium involved arithmeticmusicgeometry, and astronomy (astrology).

Obviously, Dante was also educated, why, then raise issues about exactly what each of these notions were and elaborate whether if Dante really knew what it was all about?

Dante stepped up on the shoulders of giants and became a giant himself period.

over the shoulder of giants

He was a genius, learned and wise

I didn’t mentioned educated on purpose, because:

Educated , implies exposure to, and absorption of, a fairly large spectrum of accumulated human learning. Such persons have at least a minimal understanding of subjects of formal education and a deep knowledge of some specific subject.

A learned person on the other hand, is a person who not only has knowledge and information, but distributes it freely and selflessly and is also sensitive to all life (humans, animals or plants) he or she interacts with.

Wisdom is the capability to judge and take a stand on your knowlegde obtained by education and experience and within the limits of your intelligence.

Wisdom is the fruit in the tree of Knowledge!

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has it right:

Dante’s engagement with philosophy cannot be studied apart from his vocation as a writer, in which he sought to raise the level of public discourse by educating his countrymen and inspiring them to pursue happiness in the contemplative life. He was one of the most learned Italian laymen of his day, intimately familiar with Aristotelian logic and natural philosophy, theology (he had a special affinity for the thought of Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas), and classical literature. His writings reflect this in their mingling of philosophical and theological language, invoking Aristotle and the neo-Platonists side by side with the poet of the psalms. Like Aquinas, Dante wished to summon his audience to the practice of philosophical wisdom, though by means of truths embedded in his own poetry, rather than mysteriously embodied in scripture.


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