Dante as a Political Theorist: Historicizing Theology and Theologizing Power at NYU and Columbia

Friday, March 27th, 8:30 a.m.

NYU Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò, 24 West 12th Street (morning) and Columbia University – The Italian Academy, 1161 Amsterdam Ave (afternoon)

A one-day international symposium on Dante’s Monarchia, launching the Global Dante Project of New York. Presented by New York University Department of Italian Studies, Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò, and Medieval and Renaissance Center; in collaboration with Columbia University Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America and Department of Italian.
Please note: The conference will take place at the NYU Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò (24 West 12th Street) from 8:30am to 1:00pm, before moving uptown to The Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America at Columbia University (1161 Amsterdam Avenue) from 2:45pm to 6:30pm. Please see the program below for further details.

Full schedule available here.

Federica Anichini, Fordham University, New York
Municipal Implications and Political Theories from the Vita Nova to theMonarchia
In the first book of his De monarchia, Dante elaborates on a distinctive human mark, the ‘potentia intellectiva,’ and declares that such ‘potentia’ can be wholly actualized not by individuals or social groupings but only by the whole of humanity. The reference here to the possible intellect and to Averroes compelled scholars to include this passage among the texts illuminating the presence of (or lack thereof) unaltered Averroistic components in Dante’s oeuvre. Federica Anchini employs this reference to the possible intellect in relation to the, allegedly, short-lived friendship between Dante and Guido Cavalcanti. She investigates the extent to which the De monarchia frames the dialogue of Guido and Dante, and whether such dialogue does encompass topics connected not only with the theory of love but, also, with political theories. On the grounds of these premises, she examines the work marking the peak of Guido’s and Dante’s solidarity, the Vita Nova. The ‘prosimetrum,’ she argues, has a municipal import—supported by the Florentine environment on which the text is staged—that is incorporated in the intellectual exchange between Guido and Dante. The political thread of the dialogue is resumed in the De monarchia. By including in his essay a remark about the possible intellect, Dante carries out the ultimate assimilation of one of Cavalcanti’s tenets—individual confinement into one’s senses—into the project of a collective enterprise.
Maria Luisa Ardizzone, New York University, New York
Wireless Communications: Invisible Links between Convivio andMonarchia

The continuity between Convivio and Monarchia is well known. Maria Luisa Ardizzone’s paper focuses on the invisible rather than the evident links between the two works. After introducing the theory of the possible intellect as presented in Monarchia I, we consider how this theory differs from that offered in the last treatise of the Convivio. A modification of perspective is assumed to be the reason for the discrepancy and theoretical discontinuity. In light of this perspective, the paper examines a few contents of Monarchia that can be assumed as responsible for the modified theory of intellect that Dante offers in Treatise 4 of Convivio. Because it is generally accepted that Convivio 4 is closer, chronologically speaking, to the writing of Monarchia, our exploration shows that a temporal continuity makes manifest a theoretical discontinuity. Professor Ardizzone’s paper will examine the reasons for this discontinuity.
Wireless communication thus permits a better understanding of how and why both continuity and discontinuity govern the relationship between the two works.
William Caferro, Vanderbilt University
Dante, Empire and the Transfiguration of Charlemagne

William Caferro examines the historical context of Dante’s treatment of empire. His paper stresses the complicated and contested nature of the contemporary discourse, which involved not only debate on the primacy of the emperor versus pope (Dante), but also discussion of the relationship between western and eastern (ie. Greek Byzantine) claims to authority and the nature of the originaltranslatio imperii by Charlemagne. The essay assesses Dante views in terms of several well-known writers (Ptolemy of Lucca, Giovanni Villani, Martino da Canal). Above all, it positions Dante’s construct in terms of Riccobaldo of Ferrara, whose Compilatio chronologica (1313) gives, along with a Dantesque affirmation of “buon antico tempo,” a detailed discussion of imperium east and west, emphasizing the role of Charlemagne, who is a strikingly different character than in Dante.
Paolo Chiesa, Università degli Studi di Milano
Dante as Scientist and as Prophet : The Three Prologues of Monarchia

Each of the three books of Monarchia is preceded by a highly literary and stylistic prologue. Although not closely connected with the development of the argument, they may be read as documenting the ideas Dante had about the work he was writing, and about his own task in writing it. In the first prologue, he states his intention to produce a treatise of the greatest profit to mankind, investigating a hidden truth of the highest importance having to do with the real nature of universal monarchy. Proposing this aim, he claims for himself the role of pioneer in the field of political studies, comparing himself indirectly to great scientists of the past (Aristotle, Euclid, Cicero). In the second prologue, Dante continues to present himself as a scientist, with a significant reflection on scientific psychology and ethics (when the scientist discovers the truth, he says, he feels superior to the ignorant people who do not yet know it but must generously share his discovery with them). Nevertheless, his position becomes progressively prophetic, as announced by the powerful quotation of the Psalms at the beginning of the prologue: the task of the prophet is to present the truth, and this truth, once disclosed, will «break the chains of ignorance» and produce liberation. In the third prologue, Dante claims finally a wholly prophetic role for himself. He cites as authorities books of the Old Testament (Isaiah, the Proverbsof Solomon), and especially the book of the prophet Daniel, who was persecuted for the truth – an outcome Dante expects for himself as well. The three prologues, read in sequence, show that the roles of scientist and prophet are for Dante inseparable and largely overlap: both have as their task the presentation of the truth. The logical-scientific method, which Dante follows in his research, leads to knowledge of God’s will, so that in this way the scientist becomes the prophet of modern times.
Iacopo Costa, CNRS-LEM, Villejuif—Commission Léonine, Paris
The Will of the Emperor and the Empire Freedom

Among the doctrines put forth by Dante in Monarchia we find a theory according to which the Emperor would grant the highest freedom to human beings (1, XII). Iacopo Costa’s paper analyses the anthropological, psychological, political and theological implications of this theory. He will consider Dante’s utilization of Boethius’ definition of free will (liberum de voluntate iudicium), which brings out the following issues: Dante’s position on human freedom, the relation between individual freedom and the will of the Emperor that rules it, the link between the earthly happiness as it takes place in the Empire, and the eternal happiness presented in Paradiso. In addition, he will evaluate the implications of Dante’s position in light of the theological doctrine of charity and its effects, which are peace and concord.
Warren Ginsberg, University of Oregon
 “Fenno una rota di sé tutti e trei”: Dialectic, Rhetoric, and History in theMonarchia

When Dante contested the papal claim of sovereignty over temporal as well as spiritual matters, he knew he had to back his arguments with all the resources of scientific reasoning. Dialectic, however, was not simply the forma tractandi that his subject demanded and his audience expected. The syllogisms of theMonarchia are intrinsically rhetorical as well; they were the instrument Dante utilized both to stand above his prior political allegiances and to bracket God’s.
The forum Dante planned to enter called for a detached disputant bent solely on demonstrating the necessity of his conclusions; he could not, therefore, speak as the champion of Frederick II, as he had in the Convivio. Nor could he decry the wickedness of the Florentines who opposed Henry VII, as he does in the Epistles. Neither could he inveigh against the overreach of a Boniface or a Nicholas, as he had in the Comedy. But the major and minor premises that he deployed in place of more partisan polemical modes underwrite a deeper excision and replacement: the substitution of Rome for Jerusalem as God’s city of peace. Rome, Dante insists, is the fulcrum of providential history, and its Emperor, the Holy Roman Emperor, is the prince Christ has authorized to bring to men of good will the happiness they were meant to enjoy on earth.
The thesis Warren Ginsberg explores is that Dante makes logic the voice of history in order to inoculate his interpretation of it against the two most important works that implicitly argue against him. The first, of course, is the De civitate Dei; Dante knew that many of the figures he presents as proof of the rightness of Rome’s triumph to Augustine were proof of its flaws. The second text is the Bible, specifically the sequence that Dante would have said runs from Judges through Kings. These books, which relate the rise and fall of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, are dominated by two ideal monarchs: one fulfilled God’s will by gathering the twelve tribes into a nation and by establishing wide dominion over many non-believing peoples; the other, given the chance, did not ask God for riches, or power, or honor, or long life, but for the wisdom to govern justly, and was granted so much of it that, “se ꞌl vero è vero,” as Dante says in the Paradiso, his equal has never arisen. In many ways each ruler adumbrates the Emperor and the Empire that Dante says Christianity so desperately wanted. Yet in the Monarchia, David (with one circuitous exception) is not king David, but the psalmist, and Solomon is never king Solomon, only the author of Proverbs.
Gianfranco Fioravanti, Università di Pisa
“Attuare sempre e interamente la potenza intellettiva dell’intero genere umano”: More about Dante and Averroes

Gianfranco Fioravanti intends to revisit the roots of Dante’s alleged Averroism in order to show that however his quotation from Averroes’ Great Commentary on the De anima, that we find in Monarchia I in an explicit way, and in the Convivioin an implicit one, the poet has fully elaborated the noetic doctrines of Averroes, making them simple but at the same time giving them a totally different goal.
Francis Hittinger, Columbia University
Dante as Critic of Political Economy in the Monarchia  
Francis Hittinger’s paper will read Monarchia along with passages reflecting Aristotle’s most developed economic and political thought: Book 1 of the Politics (especially the discussion of oikonomia as chrematistics vs. necessary wealth-getting within a just polity), Books 4 and 5 of the Nicomachean Ethics (on generosity, monetary exchange, and justice), and other loci from the Metaphysics and elsewhere so important for his discussion of economy. These discussions, moreover, are even more revealing when seen within context of the development of Franciscan and Dominican Economic thought of the late 13th and early 14th centuries—such as that of Olivi and Oresme. In sum, the paper will seek to articulate, also by comparison with the main economic and political arguments of the earlier work Convivio (esp. Book 4), how we might come to understand Dante in the Monarchia as a critic of medieval political economy, whose ‘Aristotelian’ denouncements of greed, monetary accumulation, and their negative effects on society are echoed, centuries later, by modern critics of political economy, chief amongst them Karl Marx.
Diego Quaglioni, Università di Udine
Dante’s Political Realism

The category of realism, so often evoked in regard to Dante’s Comedy after Auerbach, failed to find the same credit among interpreters of the Monarchia. With its doctrinal expression of the reality of dualism in the permanent tension between spiritual and temporal power, both of which assume a hegemonic position in Western society, Dante’s Monarchia has often been read as an abstract ideal of political perfection, as a utopia out of its time and an evocation of a medieval universalistic dream in a world of rising national powers: the ideological utopia of the Empire.
Dante’s Monarchia is indeed a doctrinal work; however, its nature is in fact neither ideological nor utopian, but rather paradoxically realistic. Its realism consists in announcing one of the nightmares of modernity, that of mono-dimensionality of power and total integration, in which the reasons of politics and of conscience mingle and vanish, to the fatal loss of both. In Dante’s Monarchiathe relationship between the Empire and the States is conceived, in modern terms, as a power relation between original and derivative powers. The relationship between the two universal poles, spiritual and temporal, is also conceived, in modern terms, as a relationship of mutual autonomy. It is the only possible relationship that excludes the possibility that the authority of one may be the foundation and principle of the other—a rigidly monistic view that Dante seeks to avoid.
Only a simplistic view of the Middle Ages prevents us from understanding that Dante’s emphasis on imperial sovereignty as a universal principle of order belongs precisely to the crisis of universalism. The Empire continues to be the core of a system of authoritative symbols, for which the Emperor is the expression and image of a universal principle of conserving political order. The modern conception of power is modeled on the relationship with tradition. As Hans Kelsen recognized at the beginning of the twentieth century, Dante’sMonarchia offers the first example of a legal-political model, from which the modern concept of State sovereignty may be inferred.

Prue Shaw, University of Cambridge
British Library ms. Add. 6891 of the Monarchia

The coming to light of British Library ms. Additional 6891 a few years ago understandably sparked huge interest among scholars who work on theMonarchia. The date of the manuscript alone – mid-fourteenth century, but perhaps even earlier – was remarkable; its garbled version of the famous inciso of I xii 6 with its cross-reference to the Paradiso, a crucial piece of evidence in the debate on the dating of the treatise, made it an even more intense focus of interest. Prue Shaw’s paper looks at how ms. Add. 6891 affects our understanding of the textual transmission of the treatise, and evaluates some of the recent scholarly responses to the discovery of this new witness. It also considers the earliest German translation of the Monarchia, printed in Basel in autumn 1559 at the same time as the editio princeps, and newly accessible to scholars in a digitized edition which is a model of functionality and user-friendliness.
Justin Steinberg, University of Chicago
Dante’s Theology of Miracles in Monarchia II.4: Law, Sovereignty, Violence

In Monarchia II.4, as part of his argument that Roman empire was founded by right and not simply by force, Dante classifies as miraculous various episodes of Roman history. These miracles appear to lend a providential justification to Rome’s imperial rule. Critics have long recognized that Dante’s classification diverges from traditional theological accounts of the nature of miracles. But this tradition was itself extremely varied and in Dante’s time theologians often disagreed about the ontological status of miracles. Behind these disagreement there were also often highly contested visions of political and legal authority, especially regarding how one should understand the relation of a sovereign God to the “laws” of his own created universe. Justin Steinberg will argue that Dante’s account of Roman miracles, however unconventional, deliberately intervenes in these debates and needs to be understood in their terms. As a divine act that appears to transgress the normal rules of creation yet remains within a larger providential order, the miracle is fundamental for Dante’s seemingly paradoxical argument in book two that the foundational violence of Roman empire is based on right, not merely on might. More generally, this “normative violence” manifested in the miracle is crucial for Dante’s vision of political and literary discretion, whether it takes the form of the emperor’s judgment or in the liberties of the exegete.
Donatella Stocchi, University of Rochester
Power and Right: Dante’s Monarchy and the Juridical Literature in the First Half of the 13th Century

Donatella Stocchi’s paper addresses Dante’s concern for the relationship between universal power and the limitations imposed by right in the context of the literature, both encomiastic and juridical, that flourished around the imperial Magna Curia and the papal court in the first half of the 13th century. In particular, she will focus on a text of uncertain attribution discovered in Germany in 1954 by R.M. Kloos and identified as a premise to the Proem of theConstitutions of Melfi.
Andrea Tabarroni, Università di Trento
Magister Sex Principiorum and the Realism of Forms in Dante’s Political Thought

In Monarchia I, xii 3-5, Dante refers to the anonymous author of the Liber Sex Principiorum in order to give an ontological grounding to his demonstration of the superiority of the imperial world-order in assuring moral and political justice to all of mankind. Resorting to such an obscure and already somewhat neglected logical work can easily strike the reader of the Monarchia as a far-fetched move on Dante’s part, perhaps to be explained within the framework of an authorial strategy of technical competence. But closer consideration of the philosophical views of the 12th century anonymous master, and of their reception in the 13th century, offers interesting clues that allow us to reach a better understanding of the ontological principles governing Dante’s political thought.
Paola Ureni, The City University of New York
Medicine and Dante’s political thought

The focus on intellectual and political perfection, in the Monarchia, overcomes the explicit corporeal – even biological – references, which can be found in other Dantean works such as the Convivio and the Commedia; however, a few traces of that physical condition prompt to question the relation between the science of the body and Dante’s political thought. In discussing the political concept ofconcordia – rooted in the unity of men’s wills under the guidance of the monarch – Dante refers to the perfect disposition of both the soul and the body of an individual as an example of concordia, and relates, therefore, the notion ofconcordia to the perfect mental and bodily condition. A direct quotation from Galen’s De cognoscendis morbis curandisque animi morbi reveals Dante’s knowledge of this quite uncommon Galenic text that clearly highlights intellectual perfection as the realization of the human being, and the rational faculty as the hegemonic principle of human life. On the thread of concepts such as concordiaand the hegemonic principle, we may investigate a relation between the individual human being and the human genus that reaches its perfection and happiness under the guidance of the monarch. If this relation is correct, the necessity of a political ruling principle will reflect the same necessary presence of a hegemonic element, which rules the human being in its unity of body and soul, and that philosophical and scientific traditions located either in the brain or in the heart. Dante is indeed aware of these traditions throughout his works, and the concept of a ruling element concerns the human being, political thought, and even language. In the Monarchia a necessary relation links hegemonic principle and earthly happiness. In medical texts by Galen, Avicenna (Liber Canonis) or Averroes (Colliget), a seemingly necessary relation links mental and physical good conditions to happiness. Even though the Monarchia does not show these references to a corporeal dimension, can scientific auctoritates not be lost but rather absorbed in a new synthesis – finalized to Dante’s political thought – where earthly happiness, guaranteed by the actualization of the possible intellect, finds its autonomy?
Teodolinda Barolini, Columbia University, New York
Concluding remarks