Fame and Glory in Dante’s Commedia: Problematising Purgatorio XI

Julia Caterina Hartley

MHRA Working Papers in the Humanities (2013), pp. 19-29, doi:10.59860/wph.a276c81

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A contribution to: Fame and Glory

Edited by Jessica Goodman and Elizabeth Benjamin

MHRA Working Papers in the Humanities 8

Modern Humanities Research Association


Abstract.  Anyone who has read the Divine Comedy will find it hard to disagree with Erich Auerbach’s observation that Dante ‘pits himself against his time in anticipation of earthly fame and beatitude in the hereafter’. Dante’s self-representation as a wronged poet, suffering in life while he awaits the highest of deferred gratifications – celebrity and salvation – continues to provoke emotional responses in his readers. But this assessment ignores the problematic fact that lust for fame is a worldly, and therefore un-Christian, desire. While the current status of Dante’s soul may lie outside the remit of this discussion, we do know for certain that his bid for fame was a successful one. Dante circulated the Divine Comedy as it was being written, in installments of six to eight cantos. The poem was instantly popular, and the fact that it was written in the vernacular also made it accessible to those who did not read Latin and to non-reading oral audiences. Readers’ admiration for the poem is even encapsulated in the title as we know it today: the adjective ‘Divina’ was only added in 1555. Dante’s work is on the syllabus of all modern Italian secondary schools and the visual image of the bitter, hook-nosed poet has long entered Italian popular culture.

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