Dante’s Rhetoric: Politics, Reception, Material Culture


Italian / Rhetoric & Composition

Wuming Chang (Brown University)

Zoe Langer (Brown University)

This session aims at understanding the role that rhetoric plays in Dante's opus, and how it gives insight into the historical and polemical contexts that spurred his literary and political output. Recent scholarship (Artifoni, Cox, Milner and Martinez) has shown that rhetoric, for Dante and his contemporaries, is much more than a doctrine of style, but rather constitutes a conception of literature as an instrument for effecting political consensus within the human community. While the political orientation of both Dante’s works and his theory of language has been acknowledged, the extent to which concrete political struggles and ideological debates remain alive through rhetoric in Dante’s works remains to be reconstructed in detail.

We hope that, by investigating the role of rhetoric in its richer, medieval dimensions, this session can help us answer many questions and ask new ones about Dante's work: How is rhetoric discussed and dramatized in Dante’s works as a theme and a theory of literature? What role does it play in Dante’s vision of Empire? Does rhetoric serve as a means by which Dante seeks to de-historicize his texts, and do these very attempts leave traces of history behind? Could an investigation of Dante’s rhetoric give a more historically nuanced picture of the intended and actual audience(s) of Dante’s texts? Following Justin Steinberg, how does the rhetoric of Dante's texts influence their material circulation, and how does circulation in turn shape his rhetoric? How does Dante’s auto-commentary function as a rhetorical gesture? Specifically, how do Dante’s texts converse with the highly rhetorical, political texts of his time, such as Papal bulls, diplomatic epistles, and imperial and communal legal codes? What role does the question of vernacular V.S. Latin play in Dante’s use of rhetoric? We welcome particularly approaches that combine multiple perspectives and disciplines.

The rhetorical doctrine of Dante’s time offers a conception of literature as a means of achieving consensus within the human community. This session aims at exploring rhetoric not only as an explicit theme in Dante’s works, but also as a path toward better understanding his audience, the circulation of his texts, and the relationship between his texts and the intricate political conflicts of Due- and Trecento Italy.