Breaking the Code: Dante Beyond Commemorations

Professor Barolini is one of the most prominent and recognized scholars of Dante. She is the author, amongst other books, of Dante’s Poets: Textuality and Truth in the “Comedy” (Princeton UP: 1984), The Undivine Comedy: Detheologizing Dante (Princeton UP: 1992), Dante and the Origins of Italian Literary Culture (Fordham UP: 2007); Dante’s Lyric Poetry: Lyrics of Youth and of the ‘Vita Nuova’ (commentary and edition, U of Toronto Press: 2014), as well as the Commento Baroliniano, the first digital commentary to the Commedia (https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/). Professor Barolini is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the Medieval Academy of America, as well as the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei (the Italian National Academy), all nominations that confirm her remarkable success as one of the major scholars of Italian medieval studies.

In this conversation, Professor Barolini examines the reasons that make Dante an evergreen classic that breaks the barrier of time, despite the fact that the Comedy, because of its theological structure, has often been identified as a pre-modern masterpiece. The massive scholarly production devoted to Dante may indeed lead to predetermined interpretations, concealing the modernity of Dante’s views on many issues that still resonate in todays’ intellectual debate. Keeping in mind T.S. Eliot’s intuition that Dante’s “genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood,” reading Dante more directly does not mean to deny the historical or theological configuration of his world, but to emphasize the rhetorical system of signs with which Dante promotes his religious, social, political, and empathetic message.