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11. The Art of Teaching and the Nature of Love1

© Paola Nasti, CC BY 4.0

Paola Nasti

Numbers, Words, Themes and Genres:
Bridging the Elevens

Lexical similarities, recurring rhyming patterns, thematic crossovers and narrative reverberations can be found in whichever way we direct our reading of Dante. Indeed, this is the genius of the Commedia, a poem that requires horizontal, vertical and, more often, diagonal, back-and-forth movements from its readers by intentionally creating links between cantos, groups of cantos and/or terzine. To prove that Dante deliberately created a vertical numerological structure, however, we would have to demonstrate that vertical structures are used consistently to advance or revise specific themes or arguments in more substantial ways than diagonal, horizontal or serendipitous ones. In other words, we would have to ascertain that strong vertical links exist and that they are a consistent and privileged method of creating meaning in the Commedia. Our challenge is to consider whether this kind of tie exists amongst the Elevens. In approaching a vertical reading, our point of entry is, of course, numerological in nature.

Numbers had symbolic meaning in medieval textual architectures like the Commedia on the basis of the biblical assumption that Wisdom ‘arranged all things by measure and number and weight’ (Wisd., 11:20). The number eleven had been described by both Saint Augustine in De civitate Dei and Hugh of St Victor in his Exegetica de Scripturis et Scriptoribus Sacris as the blazon of sin because it signified the transgression of law and measure represented by the number ten.2 The ‘spiritual’ meaning of our number perfectly suits Inferno xi. It is here, in fact, that Virgil offers a scholastic lecture on the strict correspondence between the Aristotelian classification of sin and the Commedia’s infernal geography. The long monologue logically organizes the topic of wrongdoing to help the pilgrim and the readers understand the moral significance of the story that is unfolding. Obviously, the vertical commentator’s job is much harder when it comes to the Elevens of the second and third cantiche: there, no clear numerological correspondence seems to be in place. Nevertheless, the symbolism of the number eleven sheds some light on these two cantos when we consider that the interpretation of what constitutes sin and its opposite, virtue, is at the heart of both. To be precise, Purg., xi and Par., xi equally exalt humility and charity as remedies to the aversio that leads men to sin. My numerological interpretation is not a flight of the imagination. In discussing the significance of eleven, Augustine himself noted that, on the basis of Exod. xxv, 7, the number also signified the cilicium [sackcloth], which pertained to sin because, as Psalm 51 exemplified, it reminded humanity of their sins in their daily practice of the virtuous life.3 From this perspective, it is possible that, following the model of Augustine’s reasoning on Psalm 51, in Purgatorio xi and Paradiso xi, Dante might want to suggest that there can be no virtue which does not remind us of sin.

Numerology aside, at a macro-structural level there are other similarities that a vertical reading of our cantos reveals. All three cantos are more or less liminal; they mark a transition in the narrative to a different geographical or astronomical, and therefore ethical and spiritual, area in their respective realm. In Inferno xi we have just entered the City of Dis,4 or lower Hell; in Purgatorio xi the agens has arrived in Purgatory proper;5 and in Paradiso xi he has left behind the Heavens that still bear the shadowy presence of planet Earth.6 As such, all cantos represent, to a certain extent, a sort of meditative pause on the theological and ethical meaning of the pilgrim’s and the readers’ voyage. Likewise, all three cantos stage the rehearsal of a major genre: a quaestio disputata in Inferno,7 a liturgical prayer which is also a biblical volgarizzamento in Purgatorio,8 and a hagiographical piece within a lectio in the last cantica.9 This, as we shall see, is no meaningless coincidence when we consider that a sustained reflection on different forms of art, knowledge and learning runs across our three cantos.

Links of a thematic nature can also be established, but mainly in binary combinations, between the Elevens of Inferno and Paradiso or the Elevens of Purgatorio and Paradiso. Such links mostly centre on notable semantic oppositions or couples: humility and pride; sin and repentance; family pride and spiritual families; bad and good popes;10 true and false wealth; poverty and usury; time versus eternity; earthly fame versus glory in Heaven; teaching and learning; philosophy and Scripture. Where and when these themes are reprised, the memoria dantesca is at times active: tropes, words and rhymes are often repeated. Unsurprisingly, thematic or lexical repetition occur with some frequency especially across Purgatorio xi and Paradiso xi, where the themes of humility and superbia are dealt with (in Paradiso xi with specific reference to St Francis). The points of contact are less obvious between the cantos of Inferno and Purgatorio, a fact that does complicate the possibility of a vertical reading as much as suggest that the consideration that not all the actual reprises are significant, or exclusive to our three cantos.

Perhaps the two most noticeable lexical points of contact are the re-occurrence in all three cantos of two words: ‘sasso’ and ‘amore’. In Inferno, ‘sasso’ clearly refers to the rocky landscape of the City of Dis, which is a symbol of spiritual loss and pain;11 in Purgatorio, the weighty rock is what bends down the penitent necks of the proud;12 in Paradiso, it alludes to the impervious mountain where the penitens-in-viam Francis received the miracle of the stigmata:

nel crudo sasso intra Tevero e Arno
da Cristo prese l’ultimo sigillo,
che le sue membra due anni portarno.
(Par., xi. 106-108)13

[on the bare rock between Tiber and Arno from Christ he then took the last seal, which his limbs bore for two years.]

Clearly the semantic metamorphosis of the rock mirrors the ascending moral and allegorical path from sin to salvation. The lexical reminiscence is therefore consistent with the cantos’ trajectory from sin to virtue, one that we have already mentioned in relation to the significance of numbers.

The term ‘amore’ is of course one that liberally resonates across Purgatorio and Paradiso, but in the first cantica, with the obvious exception of canto v and the two introductory cantos, the term is rare.14 In Inferno xi, however, the term occurs twice when Virgil explains to Dante that the bond of love is broken by the sinners who turn their back on God and Nature (this is the core of the concept of aversion):

Questo modo di retro par ch’incida
pur lo vinco d’amor che fa natura;
onde nel cerchio secondo s’annida.
(Inf., xi. 55-57)

[This latter mode seems to cut solely into the bond of love that Nature makes; thus in the second circle find their nest.]

Per l’ altro modo quell’amor s’oblia
che fa natura, e quel ch’è poi aggiunto,
di che la fede spezïal si cria (
Inf., xi. 61-63)

[The former mode forgets the love that Nature makes and also that which is added to it, from which special trust is created.]

In Purgatorio xi ‘amore’ (in rhyming position with ‘valore’ and ‘vapore’) is acknowledged by the penitents as one of the gifts of the Trinity which make salvation possible:

O Padre nostro, che ne’ cieli stai,
non circunscritto, ma per più amore
ch’ai primi effetti di là sù tu hai (Purg., xi. 1-3)

[O our Father who are in the heavens, not circumscribed, but because of the greater love you bear those first effects up there.]

In Paradiso xi, which is in fact an extended allegory of love, the term finds several declinations (from ‘diletto’ and ‘concordia’, to ‘amò’, ‘amasser’ and ‘amanti’) and describes the affection that ties Francis to his Lady, his friars to both of them and, by extension, the church militant to Christ:

La lor concordia e i lor lieti sembianti,
amore e maraviglia e dolce sguardo
facieno esser cagion di pensier santi (
Par., xi. 76-78)

[Love and admiration and joyful glances caused their harmony and their cheerful look to be the occasion of holy thoughts.]

It would appear, therefore, that in our cantos from Inferno to Paradiso, the term ‘amore’ is semantically stable like the God from which it emanates. Its relevance, however, is subject to the habitus of the human agent, who may choose to sway from it (‘incida’), forget (‘oblia’) his divine origin or embrace it instead. The exceptional double occurrence of the term in Inferno xi, alongside the celebrations of love in the other two cantos, can be considered a strong index of verticality which reflects the importance of the concept of caritas in the Elevens.

Further thematic ties patently exist between our cantos. These rotate around the pivotal treatment of humanity’s obsession with, or refusal of, earthly values such as wealth, fame, dominance and family. Whilst I shall subsequently analyse some of these issues at greater length, a consideration of a lexical reoccurrence related to the theme of family, the word ‘padre’, might offer a cogent introduction to Dante’s argument on earthly values in the Elevens. As stated in Convivio,15 following Aristotle, Dante considered family one of the pillars of society. As important as it might be, however, Dante is clear that family cannot lead the Christian to neglect the more important principles of humility and charity. In Purgatorio xi, Guglielmo Aldobrandesco suffers to expiate the pride he took in the noble past and present of his family by carrying around a rock which forces his eyes and his entire body downwards. This is not only a criticism of the traditional concept of nobility, but also a direct comment on the relative value of blood relations:16

Io fui latino e nato d’un gran Tosco:
Guiglielmo Aldobrandesco fu mio padre;
non so se ‘l nome suo già mai fu vosco.

L’antico sangue e l’opere leggiadre
d’i miei maggior mi fer sì arrogante,
che, non pensando a la comune madre,

ogn’ uomo ebbi in despetto tanto avante. (Purg., xi. 58-64)

[I was Italian, born of a great Tuscan: Guglielmo Aldobrandesco was my father; I know not if his name was ever known to you. The ancient blood and noble works of my ancestors made me so arrogant that, forgetting our common mother, I looked down on every man.]

In Paradiso xi, on the contrary, familial affiliations are rejected by a young Francesco, who embraces the spiritual ‘corte’ of the Church and creates a new ‘famiglia’ which will bring fresh, holy blood to the community as a whole:

ché per tal donna, giovinetto, in guerra
del padre corse, a cui, come a la morte,
la porta del piacer nessun diserra;

e dinanzi a la sua spirital corte
et coram patre le si fece unito (Par., xi. 58-62)

[when, still a youth, he had to do battle with his father for a lady to whom, as if she were death, no one unlocks the gate of pleasure, and before the bishop’s court et coram patre he wedded her.]

Indi sen va quel padre e quel maestro
con la sua donna e con quella famiglia
che già legava l’umile capestro.
(Par., xi. 85-87)

[So he goes on, that father, that master, with his lady and that family already girt with the humble rope.]

Dante was certainly aware of the fact that the motive behind Francis’s refusal of his native family was modelled on a notorious precept preached by Christ in the synoptic Gospels:

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Mat. 10:37-39)

According to the traditional exegesis of this passage and its parallels, Christ’s teaching did not disrupt the concept of family per se, but simply extended the term to include the Church as a whole.17 In Purgatorio xi, such a lesson is learned and preached by the penitents who in fact extend their prayer to all the living, the community of families left behind:

Quest’ ultima preghiera, segnor caro,
già non si fa per noi, ché non bisogna,
ma per color che dietro a noi restaro.
(Purg., xi. 22-24)

[This last prayer, dear Lord, we do not make for ourselves, since there is no need, but for those who have stayed behind.]

The Worth of Philosophical Teaching from Hell to Heaven (Tentative Verticality)

Inferno xi is the first sustained lecture in Hell from the ‘maestro [della] filosofica famiglia’ [master [of the] philosophical company] (Inf., iv. 131-32). Centuries of commentary have proven that Virgil’s lecture in this canto is based on Dante’s perfect mastery of the style and mode of scholastic philosophical quaestiones. In this context, the highest degree of attention must be paid to the fact that the word ‘filosofia’ is cited here and never again in the whole Commedia:

‘Filosofia’, mi disse, ‘a chi la ‘ntende,
nota, non pure in una sola parte,
come natura lo suo corso prende’.
(Inf., xi. 97-99)

[‘Philosophy’, he said, ‘to one who understands it, notes, and not merely in one place, how Nature takes its course’.]

The same mark of exceptionality applies to the mention of the titles of two of Aristotle’s works: ‘Etica’ (Nichomachean Ethics, line 80) and ‘Fisica’ (Physics, line 101). These hapax legomena suggest that the lecture that Virgil gives amongst the tombs of the heretics (this detail must also be significant) spells out very clearly, literally in fact, the intellectual paradigms from which Dante the pilgrim will mainly benefit whilst under the care of his pagan guide. The quaestio de malo, delivered by Virgil, is in fact a narrative pause of great theological and figural significance that allows the poet to discuss matters of doctrine. At first, at least, Virgil appears to be a well-organised teacher, his language technically sound, his erudition vast but neatly arranged in precise distinctiones. The scholasticism of the maestro is not surprising, given that Dantists have long accustomed us to the notion that the classification of sin used to describe the geography of Hell is largely taken from Thomas Aquinas’ commentary on the Ethics and other loci of his oeuvre.18 Recently, however, Zygmunt Barański and Carlo Delcorno have observed several inconsistencies in Virgil’s discourse: the speech not only mixes Aristotelian and Ciceronian theories, but also avoids giving a clear, exact account of the actual geography of lower Hell.19 It would be hard to prove whether or not this lack of consistency is due to the fact that the Commedia’s modes of transmission did not allow the poet to revise his work. To understand whether Dante in fact planned these irregularities, we must look for interpretative keys in the text itself. At the level of the narrative, Virgil’s lecture on sin is not exhaustive; on the contrary, it focuses only on the sins that are committed ex malitia. This leads the pilgrim to ask Virgil a question about the nature of the sins punished in upper Hell:

Ma dimmi: quei de la palude pingue,
che mena il vento, e che batte la pioggia,
e che s’incontran con sì aspre lingue,

perché non dentro da la città roggia
sono ei puniti, se Dio li ha in ira?
e se non li ha, perché sono a tal foggia? (Inf., xi. 70-75)

[But tell me: those of the greasy swamp, those driven by the wind and beaten by the rain, and those who collide with such harsh words, why are they not punished inside the ruddy city, if they are under God’s wrath? and if not, why are they treated so?]

Questioning for the purpose of clarification was a common feature of medieval philosophical debates and Aquinas, the commentator followed in this canto, was a virtuoso of such mannerisms.20 One doubt, even the least plausible, was always discussed and reversed by the discussant in each Scholastic quaestio. Instead, in Inferno xi, in spite of his affected scholasticism, Virgil reacts rather brusquely to the learner’s curiosity; he accuses him of losing his reason (‘delirare’) and forgetting the teaching of Aristotle’s Ethics:

Ed elli a me ‘Perché tanto delira’,
disse, ‘lo ‘ngegno tuo da quel che sòle?
o ver la mente dove altrove mira?

Non ti rimembra di quelle parole
con le quai la tua Etica pertratta
le tre disposizion che ‘l ciel non vole?’ (
Inf., xi. 76-81)

[And he to me: ‘Why does your wit’, he said, ‘so wander from its usual course? or where does your mind gaze mistaken? Do you not remember the words with which your Ethics treats so fully the three dispositions that Heaven refuses?’]

By means of this ‘school drama’, Dante clarifies for his reader the twofold division of Hell’s upper and lower regions. He also informs his readers of his deep knowledge of fundamental philosophical auctoritates, showcased to support his fictio poetica’s claims of truth. These are not details of little importance, but there might be even more to unveil. However defensible, Virgil’s fury remains an unresolved problem. The momentous nature of this narrative event is also underlined by the unusual vocabulary used by the guide to attack his follower. The verb ‘delirare’ spoken by Virgil here is used only once more in the whole of the Commedia, namely in an episode that should be clearly considered parallel to ours: Paradiso i. There it is Beatrice who teaches Dante, but her reaction to his ignorance is silent and maternally charitable; significantly, on this occasion, the term ‘delirare’ is used by the narrator and it is, therefore, not part of the diegesis:

Ond’ ella, appresso d’un pïo sospiro,
li occhi drizzò ver’ me con quel sembiante
che madre fa sovra figlio deliro (Par., i. 100-102)

[Wherefore she, after a pitying sigh, directed her eyes at me with the expression that a mother has over a delirious child.]

Undoubtedly, the dynamic between teacher and learner in Inferno xi stands in stark contrast to the pious attitude of the blessed guide in Paradiso. Perhaps not coincidentally, pedagogical relationships are also at the centre of Paradiso xi where Thomas Aquinas, as teacher, is in fact as helpful and willing as Beatrice in canto i:

Tu dubbi, e hai voler che si ricerna
in sì aperta e ‘n sì distesa lingua
lo dicer mio, ch’al tuo sentir si sterna (
Par., xi. 22-24)

[You are puzzled, and you wish my words to make clear, in such open and ample language as befits your hearing.]

In the light of the ‘teaching’ theme that seems to runs from Inferno xi to Paradiso xi, the fury of Virgil in the circle of Hell singles him out as a bad pedagogue. This is further emphasized by the fact that in the infernal canto the readers are also reminded of Virgil’s uneasy show of incompetence at the gates of the City of Dis in Inferno ix.21 From an exegetical perspective, the master’s anxiety could be read as an index of Dante’s views on the shortcomings of the philosophical knowledge that the ancient character flaunts at the pilgrim. This is even more apparent if we take into the account the possibility that Dante-character’s questioning of Virgil’s classification of sin might actually not be as delirious as the maestro suggests. Although in his Ethics Aristotle had made a distinction between malice and incontinence, the philosopher had also opposed incontinence to intemperance and considered the latter more serious. Yet in the commentary of Aquinas there remained no clear cut equation between intemperantia and malice. Thus, even in the reference-books of the time, the taxonomy of sin was not as transparent as a student of philosophy might have hoped for. To complicate matters, as Aquinas explained, incontinence could also be considered simply a habitus, a quasi-sin, because it was not unqualified badness:22

1428. […] although incontinence is not unqualified badness it is still vice in some sense, as previously stated (1379); it is then a quasi-vice, being but transitory. It is obviously not unqualified vice because incontinence sins without deliberate choice but real vice with deliberate choice. […]

1433. […] the incontinent are amenable and inclined to be penitent. He says that these people exceed the limits of right reason because of passion overcoming them to this extent that they do not act according to right reason, but […] such people continue in a right evaluation of the end after the cessation of passion, which passes quickly. Such is the incontinent person who in this respect is better than the intemperate person and not absolutely evil because he does preserve the highest principle, which is the correct evaluation of the end.23

If, as it appears, this was the sententia of Aristotle read by Aquinas, I would argue that Dante had the pilgrim ask whether the sinners of upper Hell fully attract God’s wrath in order to mimic the doubts and arguments (pro and contra) of Aristotle’s commentator over the difference between habitus and deliberate sin. If this was the case, and if we consider that Virgil is ultimately made to deliver a speech that combines, often confusingly, different ethical classifications, such as Cicero’s and Aristotle’s, the guide’s violent reaction could be seen as an ‘event’ intentionally forged by Dante-poet to puzzle the reader and provoke him into critically judging Virgil’s behaviour. It would be intriguing to see the humiliation of Dante the student, who is rightly curious about a doctrinal crux, as a negative comment on his teacher, on the philosopher who tries to offer clear definitions of wrongdoing but is, alas, left wanting. In other words, we could consider the difficult dialogue between teacher and learner not only as an intentional statement on the fine balance that exists between sin and reason but also on the question of the appropriate epistemology and sources.

Obviously, at the height of Inferno xi, the pilgrim does accept philosophy as the correct epistemology, and he is in fact moved by this belief to the highest possible praise of his pagan master:

O sol che sani ogne vista turbata,
tu mi contenti sì quando tu solvi,
che, non men che saver, dubbiar m’aggrata.
(Inf., xi. 91-93)

[O sun that heals every clouded sight, you content me so when you resolve questions, that doubting is no less pleasurable than knowing.]

No other historical character of the Commedia receives such an ovation, with the exception of Saint Francis in Paradiso xi:

Di questa costa, là dov’ ella frange
più sua rattezza, nacque al mondo un sole,
come fa questo talvolta di Gange. (Par., xi. 49-51)

[From this slope, where it most breaks its steepness, was born to the world a sun, as this one is born at times from Ganges.]

Given the uniqueness of this comparison, from our vertical perspective, we should probably not consider it a coincidence. From the height of Paradiso xi, where the ‘sole’ (‘sun’) is one of the most perfect examples of Christian holiness, the attribution of the same praise to the philosophical teaching of a pagan poet in Inferno xi does not appear appropriate. The possibility that the later repetition of the word ‘sole’ is in fact a sort of commentary on the spiritual and intellectual limitations of Virgil as well as of the pilgrim who had fallen for his philosophical erudition in Inferno xi is very tempting. This hypothesis is even more alluring when we consider that the incipit of Paradiso xi confirms the risks of philosophy as a sort of epistemological error when it condemns ‘silogismi’, the philosophical procedure par excellence, as defective:

O insensata cura de’ mortali,
quanto son difettivi silogismi
quei che ti fanno in basso batter l’ali!
(Par., xi. 1-3)

[O senseless care of mortals, how defective are the syllogisms that make you ply your wings downward!]

Interestingly, there are syllogisms mentioned in the Commedia that the pilgrim considers not as ‘difettivi’, obtuse, but as more perfect than any other philosophical ‘dimostrazion’. These, as Par., xxiv. 91-96 shows, are the words of the Bible:24

… ‘La larga ploia
de lo Spirito Santo, ch’è diffusa
in su le vecchie e ‘n su le nuove cuoia,

è silogismo che la m’ha conchiusa
acutamente sì, che ‘nverso d’ella
ogne dimostrazion mi pare ottusa’.
(Par., xxiv. 91-96)

[‘The plentiful rain of the Holy Spirit, poured out on both the old and the new skins, is a syllogism that has concluded it for me so sharply that next to it every demonstration seems dulled’.]

Perhaps not coincidentally, the Bible as the ‘foundation’ of truth is also a further point of convergence between our three cantos.

The Bible and the Value of Exegesis

If in Inferno xi criticism of the human art of philosophizing is subtle, Paradiso xi and Purgatorio xi challenge the value of human ‘arts’ more openly. In the first verses of St. Francis’ canto, the reader is reminded that all human arts are at risk of being transient and fallacious. Likewise, Purgatorio xi demonstrates the intrinsic dangers of human belief in the absolute value of human production. As the stories of Oderisi da Gubbio and other artists mentioned on the terrace of the proud show, human art is not perfect; it might resemble the work of God the creator, but it is ultimately defective because the unconditional worth of man’s achievements (practical, mechanical or theoretical) is marred by their temporal nature.25 To believe in the perfection of one’s accomplishments in the practice of art is a sinful habitus, one that can only be mocked by future generations and punished by God. In fact, looking at Paradiso xi. 10-12, the reader is reminded that true glory is ultimately not that experienced by Cimabue or Giotto, but that one enjoyed by Dante the pilgrim in Heaven where he is ‘cotanto glorïosamente accolto’ [‘so gloriously received’] (Par., xi. 12).

Whilst human arts are bound to fail, our three cantos clearly confirm that the steadiest source of knowledge is, in fact, the Bible. The book of God takes centre-stage in Purgatorio xi, where the prayer of the penitent is, in fact, a translation of a Gospel passage. This is the longest prayer in the Commedia, and consequently the longest volgarizzamento of the Bible in the poem. The length of the biblical reenactment is, of course, proportional to the importance of the spiritual message that it announces and that reverberates throughout Purgatory: companionship, humility and compassion are essential to salvation. The prayer also confirms, theologically, the importance of the relationship between the world of the living and that of the dead, a fundamental and original addition to Dante’s creation of this ‘new’ realm of the Afterlife. Last but not least, the Pater noster sung by the souls also establishes the epistemological paradigm chosen by those who will be saved. The penitents acknowledge the limitations of the human ‘ingegno’, even the most perfect (‘tutto’), and ask for divine grace:

Vegna ver’ noi la pace del tuo regno,
ché noi ad essa non potem da noi,
s’ella non vien, con tutto nostro ingegno.
(Purg., xi. 7-9)

[Let the peace of your kingdom come to us, for we cannot attain to it by ourselves, if it does not come, with all our wit.]

Dante the Christian knows, with ‘his’ souls in Purgatorio, that human reason and knowledge cannot fight evil; the ‘antico avversario’ can be avoided only thanks to the grace and love of God for man, and even repentance is ultimately a gift from God:

Nostra virtù che di legger s’adona,
non spermentar con l’antico avversaro,
ma libera da lui che sì la sprona. (Purg., xi. 19-21)

[Our strength, which is easily subdued, do not tempt with the ancient adversary, but free it from him who spurs it so.]

The logical consequence of such discourse is straightforward: for the living, true knowledge can ultimately be found only in the Bible.26

The Bible also shapes Paradiso xi, where St Francis is celebrated as the greatest interpreter of God’s love and the most sublime example of true wisdom. The narrator in this canto is, perhaps not coincidentally, Thomas Aquinas, the commentator of Aristotle employed by Dante in Inferno xi. At the start of my chapter, I classified this canto as homage to hagiography. Paradiso xi is, of course, many things at the same time: it is, for example, a panegyric, a lectio (more importantly) and a commentary to a phrase spoken by the character of Aquinas in the previous canto. As Thomas’s words explain, this lecture/commentary, like so many others in the Commedia, takes off from a doubt sparked in the pilgrim’s mind:

Tu dubbi, e hai voler che si ricerna
in sì aperta e ‘n sì distesa lingua
lo dicer mio, ch’al tuo sentir si sterna,

ove dinanzi dissi: ‘U’ ben s’impingua’,
e là u’ dissi: ‘Non nacque il secondo’;
e qui è uopo che ben si distingua.
(Par., xi. 22-27)

[You are puzzled, and you wish my words to make clear, in such open and ample language as befits your hearing, where earlier I said: ‘Where one fattens well’, and where I said: ‘The second had not been born’; and here one must distinguish well.]

In these lines, ‘ricerna/sterna/distingua’ are technical terms that belong to the field of rational enquiry; Dante uses them also for his scholastic interrogation of charity in Paradiso xxvi. This seems to suggest that, like Virgil in Inferno xi, Aquinas acts here as a pedagogue who describes the vita Francisci to explain the decadence of his mendicant order whilst, at the same time, confirming the values that should animate the Dominicans and the Church as whole.27 The hagiographical narrative is, therefore, the premise of a demonstrative argument.

In this ‘scholastic’ context, it is surprising that to express the real value of Francis’s life, Thomas, as the mouthpiece of Dante, chooses a vocabulary and a modus scribendi that pertains to the Revelation – the sermus biblicus. Yet the use of a biblically fashioned exemplum is not necessarily common in the context of a rational demonstration; therefore, Dante’s decision to operate such a modal shift requires a clear assessment. Clearly, the choice is partly motivated by the hagiographical tradition that used biblical models to exalt the Christian values of each and every saint.28 The modality also pertains to the tradition of preaching.29 If we look at the specific biblical models followed by the poet in this canto, the vita of St Francis is not written as a historia but as a fabula, a fiction with allegorical meaning. In particular, Francis and Poverty are transformed into sponso and sponsa like the protagonists of the Song of Songs attributed to Solomon. This biblical book had been interpreted for centuries as an allegory and figura of the love that unites God and Christ to the Church or the human soul.30 As I have written elsewhere, the allegory of the brautmistik is a biblical topos that Dante deploys here to show how, through the imitation of Christ, Francis incarnates the ideal of caritas which is at the centre of the Christian message. In doing so, Dante chooses a hagiographical line that was not thoroughly dominant in the Franciscan tradition to call for a radical reform of the Church based on the value of love.31 However, there might also be another agenda.

As previously discussed, Dante’s understanding of Aristotle’s work and concept of sin in Inferno xi is certainly dependent on the Thomist interpretation of the Nichomachean Ethics. The ‘structural’ reoccurrence of Aquinas in Paradiso xi could suggestively incline us to consider Francis’s canto as a corrective reply to the exaltation of ‘filosofia’ pursued through the character of Virgil in Inferno xi. It is plausible that in the Heaven of the Sun, Dante should call Aquinas to testify and attribute to him a demonstration based on the sacred words of the Bible, perhaps reminding the reader that the real auctoritas on both virtue and vice is ultimately the book of God. After all, Dante’s biblically fashioned Francis is as far as possible from the virtuous Aristotelian or Virgilian ideal man; his marital passion for Poverty and his love of God are so excessive that they can only be explained by and compared to the scandal of the crucifixion recalled in Paradiso xi. 31-33. If this suggestion is valid, it could provide a useful interpretative key: we could argue that through the story of the ‘poverello di Dio’, Dante demonstrates that one cannot define sin, like Virgil attempted to do in Hell, if one does not know, through the Word of God, what ingiuria or malice really mean. Perhaps with intent, the word ‘ingiuria’ is used in the Commedia only with reference to the evil of the crucifixion in Par., vii. 43-45 and Purg., xvii. 121-23. In other words, the conclusion to which a vertical reading seems to lead us is that only in the light of grace and its manifestations in the world can philosophy make proper sense of the nature of sin and virtue, of damnation and salvation.32

If all of this brings home the Christological, mystic and affective dimensions of Dante’s epistemology, there is no doubt that his representation of Aquinas also champions his teaching style and significantly contrasts it with Virgil’s method in Inferno xi. True to his earthly loyalty to clarity in order to avoid the confusion that the allusive language of fabulae can cause, Thomas offers the pilgrim the necessary clues to interpret his poetical flurry:

Ma perch’io non proceda troppo chiuso,
Francesco e Povertà per questi amanti
prendi oramai nel mio parlar diffuso. (Par., xi. 73-75)

[But that I may proceed not too obscurely, take Francis and Poverty for these two lovers now in my extended speech.]

Here, the insistence on clarity (‘parlar diffuso’) highlights how avoiding obscurity is a responsibility of the teacher, who must always prevent or welcome his pupils’ doubts where and when he has been too allusive or ‘chiuso’. If we read the Elevens vertically, from Hell to Paradiso xi, the reader is invited to consider how teaching and learning, as well as the virtuous life that avoids sin, are moti amoris [motions of love, caused by love]. From the perspective of Thomas’s pedagogical excellence, Virgil’s lack of modesty and patience towards the learner Dante in Inferno xi strikes us as an uncharitable mark of selfishness. Significantly for our exegetical exercise, clarity of exposition is also a concern in Purgatorio xi, where Dante rewords the Pater noster in order explain its value to the reader. As recently shown by Nicolò Maldina, the poet in fact rewrites the prayer by adopting features of the preaching genre to explain the theological and spiritual content of the liturgical text to his readers.33

The line of reading I have proposed is put to the test by an extraordinary event that takes place in Inferno xi. Virgil does something rather astonishing that seems to contradict my portrayal of him as a representative of rational and therefore ‘limited’ modes of thinking: the guide quotes directly from the Bible once and alludes to it a second time.34 The first reference is to Genesis and it occurs when the pilgrim requests a fundamental clarification regarding usury as a sin against nature. Virgil reminds him that philosophy, and Aristotle’s Physics in particular, demonstrates how nature takes her course from the divine mind, and how, in turn, art follows nature like a student follows his master. Obviously, this latter reference to teaching and learning cannot be taken as coincidental in a canto that provides a display of teaching skills on Virgil’s part. Moreover, we also realize that our infernal canto analyses in detail the close relationship between God’s creation and man’s art exactly as Paradiso xi and Purgatorio xi do; evidently, the reflection on the practice of any art, not only philosophy, teaching, preaching or painting, is a further vertical link between our cantos. Turning to the matter at hand, in Inferno xi, usury is also described as a human art and its nature is discussed following Aquinas’s line of thought. In his argument, Thomas had followed Aristotle, who considered usury to be contrary to nature because ‘it is in accordance with nature that money should increase from natural goods and not from money itself’.35 Confirming this interpretation in the Commedia, Virgil also quotes Genesis (3:17). The passage reminds men that after the fall, growth could only be achieved through work, that is to say art, even though God had created nature to help advance humankind (the reference is to the famous passage ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth’: Gen., 1:28). We may note that whereas for his definition of malice and incontinence, Dante the author did not let the Roman quote the revelation, here, he is keen to deploy all possible biblical ‘means’. Significantly he does so to demonstrate that the usurer uses his work neither to advance people, nor to produce goods; he hopes to earn money with money. To accentuate this point, Dante has Virgil quote the Bible a second time to describe the usurer as one whose hopes for returns on his money-lending contradicts Jesus’s appeal to his followers to ‘lend, expecting nothing in return’ (Luke 6:35):

‘Filosofia’, mi disse, ‘a chi la ‘ntende,
nota, non pure in una sola parte,
come natura lo suo corso prende

dal divino ‘ntelletto e da sua arte;
e se tu ben la tua Fisica note,
tu troverai, non dopo molte carte,

che l’arte vostra quella, quanto pote,
segue, come ‘l maestro fa ‘l discente;
sì che vostr’arte a Dio quasi è nepote.

Da queste due, se tu ti rechi a mente
lo Genesì dal principio, convene
prender sua vita e avanzar la gente;

e perché l’usuriere altra via tene,
per sé natura e per la sua seguace
dispregia, poi ch’in altro pon la spene’. (Inf., xi. 97-111)

[‘Philosophy’, he said, ‘to one who understands it, notes, and not merely in one place, how Nature takes its course from the divine intellect and art; and if you take good note of your Physics, you will see, after not many pages, that your art follows Nature as much as it can, as a disciple follows the master; so that your art is almost God’s grandchild. From these two, if you bring to mind the beginning of Genesis, we must draw our life and advance our people; and because the usurer holds another way, he scorns Nature in herself and in her follower, since he puts his hope in something else’.]

At this point, considering the shortcomings of Virgil’s discourse on sin, we might wonder why Dante has Virgil quote Genesis when, in this setting, Aristotle would have sufficed. Clearly we need to make sense of the extreme measures taken by Dante in the explicit of his complex canto.

The Fallen Arts and the Vertical Law of Charity

Whereas other philosophical and theological issues related to sin, virtue, repentance and grace are explained at length elsewhere in the poem, the matter of usury is solved in Inferno once and for all. As Purgatorio xi and Paradiso xi teach, only Scripture can offer the final seal to an argument; it is therefore possible that Virgil’s biblical recital is necessary to close off the discussion on this mortal sin. It is also possible that other contingent reasons explain Dante’s sense of urgency here. The discussion on usury was perhaps inspired by the fact that the issue had become more and more slippery at the hands of his contemporaries around the beginning of the 1300s.36 As studies on the history of economic practice and theory have more recently demonstrated, the years in which Dante was alive and writing were years of profound change not only for the economy but also for the ways in which people started to understand and talk about economics.37 Historians are now convinced that these latter changes took place, paradoxically, within Franciscan circles, where the necessity to theorize poverty against the accumulation of wealth forced them to discuss money and wealth in abstract terms even more than before. Interestingly, some historians believe that the first notion of money as capital, the root of our modern economic system, was in fact introduced by the Franciscan John Peter Olivi.38 Whereas money was generally taken at face value and considered as a tool for exchange, Olivi was the first to affirm in his famous treaty on usury, Tractatus de emptionibus et venditionibus, de usuris, de restitutionibus, written around 1295, that money can be considered as a seed from which further wealth can be derived:

The reason why [money of a certain kind] can be bought or exchanged for a price [more than itself] is because […] money […] possesses not only the qualities of money in its simple sense but beyond this a kind of seminal cause of profit within itself, which we commonly call “capital” (communiter capitale vocamus).39

On the basis of this and other passages, Giacomo Todeschini demonstrated how Olivi considered money as multipliable ‘in infinitum’ for any sort of business.40 We cannot be sure Dante knew this treatise, but quodlibetal debates and sermons on usury had become increasingly common around the end of the 13th century, and especially in Florence.41 It is not difficult to imagine theories of this kind being discussed in Florence during the essential years of Dante’s intellectual formation, especially when we learn that Olivi was at the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence in the same years in which his treaty was composed.42 Given Dante’s fond interest for contemporary Franciscan discourses on ecclesial poverty, and given the fact that Dante’s family had been accused of money lending (see Purgatorio xxii-xxiii), it would not be too farfetched to consider Virgil’s biblical approach to the question as a radical, urgent criticism of those who, like Olivi, attempted to define poverty and defend it as an exclusive Franciscan charism, but inadvertently risked reversing the biblical principles that Dante (and Aquinas) considered natural and divine law, thus subverting the message of the Bible. To accept, like Olivi did, that money could generate money, was for Dante not only against the law of nature and creation, it was ultimately and above all against the charitable principle invoked by Christ and spoken by Virgil in Inferno xi: ‘do not hope for returns for the help you have offered’.

I might be reading too much into Dante’s text in the attempt to find connections between our cantos, but this interpretation seems to resonate with the final message conveyed by Paradiso xi. In this canto, there is no doubt that poverty is a focal point of the vita of St Francis: Lady Poverty is in fact the sponsa of a miraculous love story. However, Poverty is not exclusively presented as a Christian bride; Amiclas is also remembered as one of her spouses.43 What is marvelous, the ‘meraviglia’, in St Francis’s marriage with her is, in fact, the Heavenly peace arising from their love. At last, this is real ‘ricchezza’ (‘Oh ignota ricchezza! oh ben ferace!’ [Oh unknown riches! oh fertile good!] (Par., xi. 82)), which Francis had been allowed to enjoy on earth because of his excess of caritas. It was in fact Francis’s extreme love, understood as caritas and humilitas, which won him the stigmata and created the Franciscan charism:

La lor concordia e i lor lieti sembianti,
amore e maraviglia e dolce sguardo
facieno esser cagion di pensier santi;

tanto che ‘l venerabile Bernardo
si scalzò prima, e dietro a tanta pace
corse e, correndo, li parve esser tardo.
(Par., xi. 76-81)

[Love and admiration and joyful glances caused their harmony and their cheerful look to be the occasion of holy thoughts, so that the venerable Bernard was first in taking off his shoes, and ran after such great peace, and, running, thought himself slow.]

This blissful peace also reminds us of the peace of the heavenly kingdom that the souls of Purgatorio xi invoke:

Vegna ver’ noi la pace del tuo regno,
ché noi ad essa non potem da noi,
s’ella non vien, con tutto nostro ingegno.
(Purg., xi. 7-9)

[Let the peace of your kingdom come to us, for we cannot attain to it by ourselves, if it does not come, with all our wit.]

If we see the Pater noster in this vertical light, we also perceive with greater profit why the prayer of Purgatorio xi opens with a clear allusion to Francis’s praise of creation as a hymn to and of love:

O Padre nostro, che ne’ cieli stai,
non circunscritto, ma per più amore
ch’ai primi effetti di là sù tu hai,

laudato sia ‘l tuo nome e ‘l tuo valore
da ogne creatura, com’è degno. (Purg., xi. 1-5)

[O our Father who are in the heavens, not circumscribed, but because of the greater love you bear those first effects up there, praised be your Name and your Power by every creature, for it is fitting.]

By placing this ‘loda d’amore’ at the heart of the most important daily prayer, the invocation that brings together the living and the dead, Dante is declaring that the most important message of the Franciscan charism is in fact not unique to Francis but is shared by Christianity as a whole.44

Has my vertical reading offered us the chance to read our cantos differently? My overall feeling is that it has at least as far as Inferno xi is concerned. Virgil’s lecture shows a lack of proper method, a faulty logic and a competitive view of teaching and learning; those two important arts are instead mastered by Thomas Aquinas and by Dante when they adhere to the principle of charity. Charity is seen as the core of all human activities; only the absence of charity defines vice; art is good as long as it contributes to the appreciation of the rule of love in Creation; and, finally, philosophy is primarily useful in confirming the message of the Bible, the one great poem of love.

1 The video of this lecture is available at the Cambridge Vertical Readings in Dante’s Comedy website,

I would like to thank colleagues who have given me essential feedback on previous versions of this lectura: Zygmunt Barański, Anna Pegoretti, Claudia Tardelli and Virginia Campbell. The Bible quoted is the Approved King James translation.

2 ‘Since, then, the law is symbolized by the number ten, whence that memorable Decalogue, there is no doubt that the number eleven, which goes beyond ten, symbolizes the transgression of the law, and consequently sin. For this reason, eleven veils of goat’s skin were ordered to be hung in the tabernacle of the testimony, which served in the wanderings of God’s people as an ambulatory temple. And in that haircloth there was a reminder of sins, because the goats were to be set on the left hand of the Judge; and therefore, when we confess our sins, we prostrate ourselves in haircloth, as if we were saying what is written in the psalm, ‘My sin is ever before me.’ The progeny of Adam, then, by Cain the murderer, is completed in the number eleven, which symbolizes sin; and this number itself is made up by a woman, as it was by the same sex that beginning was made of sin by which we all die’ (St Augustine, The City of God , trans. by Marcus Dods, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, ed. by Philip Schaff [Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887], II, Book XV, c. 20, 4-10). Hugh of St Victor, Exegetica de Scripturis et Scriptoribus Sacris, in Patrologia Latina, ed. by J. P. Migne, 221 vols (Paris: Garnier, 1844-1855), 175, col. 22.

3 See the reference to Psalm 51 in note n. 3. St Augustine’s comment on Psalm 51 puts great emphasis on the need to consider David as a penitent: ‘This Psalm then, while it maketh heedful those that have not believed, so doth not will them that have fallen to be despaired of. Whoever thou art that hast sinned, and hesitates to exercise penitence for thy sin, despairing of thy salvation, hear David groaning. To thee Nathan the prophet hath not been sent, David himself hath been sent to thee. Hear him crying, and with him cry: hear him groaning, and with him groan; hear him weeping, and mingle tears; hear him amended, and with him rejoice. If from thee sin could not be excluded, be not hope of pardon excluded’ (St Augustine, ‘Exposition on the Book of Psalms’, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, VIII, Psalm 51, 8).

4 The bibliography on Inferno xi is vast, and here I mention only some of the most relevant readings of the canto: Zygmunt G. Barański, ‘Segni e struttura Canto XI’, in his Dante e i segni: saggi per una storia intellettuale di Dante Alighieri (Naples: Loffredo, 2000), pp. 127-46; Theodore J. Cachey, ‘Cartographic Dante’, Italica 87:3 (2010), 325-54; Carlo Delcorno, ‘Dare ordine al male (Inferno XI)’, Lettere Italiane 63:2 (2011), 181-207; idem, ‘Inferno XI’, in Lectura Dantis Bononiensis, ed. by Carlo Galli and Emilio Pasquini (Bologna: Bononia University Press, 2012), II, pp. 137-56; Francesco Mazzoni, ‘Canto XI dell’Inferno’, in Lectura Dantis Neapolitana. Inferno, ed. by Pompeo Giannantonio (Naples: Loffredo, 1986), pp. 167-209; Bruno Nardi, ‘Il canto XI dell’Inferno, in Lecturae ed altri studi danteschi, ed. by Rudy Abardo (Florence: Le Lettere, 1990), pp. 71-80; Cesare Vasoli, ‘Il canto XI dell’Inferno’, L’Alighieri. Rassegna bibliografica dantesca 33:2 (1992), 3-22.

5 For good general discussion on Purg., xi see: V. Stanley Benfell, ‘“Blessed Are They that Hunger after Justice”: From Vice to Beatitude in Dante’s Purgatorio’, in The Seven Deadly Sins. From Communities to Individuals, ed. by Richard Newhauser (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2007), pp. 185-206; Giovanni Fallani, ‘Il canto XI del Purgatorio’, in Purgatorio. Casa di Dante in Roma (Rome: Salerno Editore, 1981), pp. 231-46; Mario Marti, ‘Canto XI’, in Lectura Dantis Neapolitana. Purgatorio, ed. by Pompeo Giannantonio (Naples: Loffredo, 1989), pp. 227-45; Anthony Oldcorn, ‘Canto XI. Gone with the Wind’, in Lectura Dantis. Purgatorio, ed. by Allen Mandelbaum, Anthony Oldcorn, and Charles Ross (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2008), pp. 103-18; Michelangelo Picone, ‘Dante nel girone dei superbi (Purg. X-XII)’, in L’Alighieri. Rassegna dantesca 46 (2005), 97-110; Mirko Volpi, ‘Dante tra superbia e invidia. Lettura del canto XIII del Purgatorio’, Rivista di Studi Danteschi 12:2 (2012), 326-60.

6 On Paradiso xi : Erich Auerbach, ‘Il canto XI del Paradiso’, in Letture dantesche: Paradiso, ed. by Giovanni Getto (Florence: Sansoni, 1961), pp. 217-35; Umberto Bosco, Lectura Dantis Scaligera: Il Paradiso, Canto XI (Florence: Le Lettere, 1990), pp. 387-418; Andrea Mazzucchi, ‘Per una genealogia della Sapienza. Lettura di Paradiso, XI’, Rivista di Studi Danteschi 9:2 (2009), 225-62; Nicolo Mineo, ‘Il canto XI del Paradiso’, in I primi undici canti del Paradiso: Lectura Dantis Metelliana, ed. by Attilio Mellone (Rome: Bulzoni, 1992), pp. 221-320; Paola Nasti, ‘Caritas and ecclesiology in Dante’s Heaven of Sun’, in Dante’s ‘Commedia’: Theology as Poetry, ed. by Vittorio Montemaggi and Matthew Treherne (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010), pp. 210-44; Giuseppe Mazzotta, ‘Dante’s Franciscanism’, in Dante and the Franciscans: Poverty and the Papacy in the ‘Commedia’, ed. by Nick Havely (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 171-98; Mario Trovato, ‘Canto XI’, in Dante’s Divine Comedy: Introductory Readings: III. Paradiso, ed. by Tibor Wlassics (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1995), pp. 156-71.

7 See for example Corrado Calenda, ‘Lettura di Inferno XI’, Filologia e Critica 20:2-3 (1995), 217-41.

8 As well as the lecturae on Purg., xi listed in n. 6, on Dante’s Pater noster and the contamination of genres in this prayer see: Sergio Cristaldi, ‘Il ‘Padre nostro’ dei superbi’, in Preghiera e liturgia nella Commedia. Atti del Convegno Internazionale di Studi, Ravenna, 12 novembre 2011, ed. by Giuseppe Ledda (Ravenna: Centro Dantesco dei Frati Minori Conventuali, 2013), pp. 67-88; Nicolò Maldina, ‘L’oratio super Pater Noster di Dante tra esegesi e vocazione liturgica. Per Purgatorio XI, 1-24’, L’Alighieri. Rassegna dantesca 53 (2012), 89-108.

9 See Lucia Battaglia Ricci, ‘Figure di contraddizione: Letture dell’XI canto del Paradiso’, in Le varie fila: Studi di letteratura italiana in onore di Emilio Bigi, ed. by Fabio Danelon, Hermann Grosser, and Cristina Zampese (Milan: Principato, 1997), pp. 34-50. On Dante’s representation of St Francis see: Erich Auerbach, ‘Francesco d’Assisi nella Commedia’, in his Studi su Dante (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1990), pp. 227-40; Umberto Bosco, ‘San Francesco’, in his Dante vicino: Contributi e letture (Caltanissetta and Rome: Sciascia, 1966) pp. 316-41; Umberto Cosmo, ‘Le mistiche nozze di Frate Francesco con Madonna Povertà’, Giornale dantesco 6 (1898), 49-82 and 97-117; Kenelm Foster, ‘Gli elogi danteschi di S. Francesco e di S. Domenico’, in Dante e il francescanesimo, ed. by Agnello Baldi (Cava dei Tirreni: Avagliano, 1987), pp. 231-49; Roul Manselli, ‘San Francesco e San Domenico nei canti del Paradiso’, in Da Gioacchino da Fiore a Cristoforo Colombo: Studi sul francescanesimo spirituale, sull’ecclesiologia e sull’escatologismo bassomedievali, ed. by Raoul Manselli (Rome: Istituto Storico per il Medioevo, 1997), pp. 201-11.

10 In Inferno the reference is to Pope Anastasius (‘Anastasio papa guardo, / lo qual trasse Fotin de la via dritta’. xi. 8-9); this has been the subject of a long controversy; for an interesting assessment see: Ronald L. Martinez, ‘“Anastasio papa guardo” (Inferno 11.8-9). The descent into Hell, and Dante’s heretics’, Mediaevalia 39:2 (2008), 15-30. In Paradiso Dante uses a papal ‘attribute’ for St Francis: ‘di seconda corona redimita / fu per Onorio da l’Etterno Spiro / la santa voglia d’esto archimandrita’ (xi. 97-99). Since we are reading vertically it might be interesting to note that Francis is presented here as a true archimandrite, i.e. pope, who chose ‘terra’ [soil] as the proper ‘bara’ [coffin] to his body, whereas in Inferno xi we encounter the first pope directly mentioned by Dante in a tomb that one day will be shut forever.

11 ‘Figliuol mio, dentro da cotesti sassi’, / cominciò poi a dir, ‘son tre cerchietti / di grado in grado, come que’ che lassi’ (Inf., xi. 16-18).

12 ‘E s’ io non fossi impedito dal sasso / che la cervice mia superba doma, / onde portar convienmi il viso basso’ (Purg., xi, 52-54). The contrappasso here is of course modeled on the myth of Sisyphus.

13 Note in this case also the reprisal of the image of the seal (‘sigillo’) in Inferno xi: ‘e però lo minor giron suggella / del segno suo e Soddoma e Caorsa / e chi, spregiando Dio col cor, favella’ (49-51), where the seal marks the irreversibility of the sinners’ reclusion in Hell. For St Francis the ‘sigillo’ is instead the confirmation of his salvation and a mark of perfection.

14 Inf., xiii. 40-42; xxvi. 94-96; xxx. 37-39.

15 The positive value of family is noted in Conv IV. iv. 2 and Par., xv. 125. Umberto Bosco, ‘Gli affetti familiari di Dante nella Commedia’, L’Alighieri 27:1 (1986), 3-15. On the theme of community in Dante, see Claire E. Honess, From Florence to the Heavenly City: The Poetry of Citizenship in Dante (London: Legenda, 2006).

16 For a comprehensive bibliography on the question of nobility in Dante, see Dante Alighieri, Convivio, ed. by Gianfranco Fioravanti (Milan: Mondadori, 2014). A recent important addition is Andrea A. Robiglio, ‘The Thinker as a Noble Man (‘bene natus’) and Preliminary Remarks on the Concept of Nobility’, Vivarium 44:2-3 (2006), 205-47.

17 See Thomas of Aquinas, ‘Catena in Matheum’, in Catena aurea in quatuor Evangelia, ed. by A. Guarenti (Turin and Rome: Marietti, 1953), ch. 10, lectio 14.

18 On the structure of Hell as well as the above mentioned lecturae see: Marc Cogan, The Design in the Wax: The Structure of the Divine Comedy and its Meaning (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1999), pp. 1-75; Paolo Falzone, ‘Dante e la nozione aristotelica di bestialità’, in Dante e il mondo animale, ed. by Giuseppe Crimi and Luca Marcozzi (Rome: Carocci, 2013), pp. 62-78.

19 Barański, ‘Segni e struttura Canto XI’; Delcorno, ‘Dare ordine al male’. Raffaele Pinto tried to explain these inconsistencies in his ‘Indizi del disegno primitivo dell’Inferno (e della Commedia): Inf. VII-XI’, Tenzone. Revista de la Asociación Complutense de Dantología 12 (2011), 105-52.

20 On the genre: Brian Lawn, The Rise and Decline of the Scholastic ‘Quaestio Disputata’: With Special Emphasis on its Use in the Teaching of Medicine and Science (Leiden: Brill, 1993).

21 The most important observations on Dante’s problematic representation of Virgil are still by Robert Hollander, ‘Dante’s Virgil: A Light that Failed’, Lectura Dantis 4 (1989), 3-9; ‘Dante’s Misreadings of the Aeneid in Inferno 20’, in The Poetry of Allusion: Virgil and Ovid in Dante’s Commedia, ed. by Rachel Jacoff and Jeffrey T. Schnapp (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1991), pp. 77-93.

22 For a masterful discussion and an extensive bibliography on such a thorny question, see Lorenza Tromboni, ‘“Illud enim quod continemus in nostra potestate habemus”. La dignità del continens dal De malo alla Sententia libri Ethicorum di Tommaso d’Aquino’, Memorie Domenicane 42 (2011), 171-98.

23 Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics, trans. by C. I. Litzinger (Chicago, IL: Regnery, 1964), book VII, lect. 8, ch. 8.

24 See also Par., xxiv. 76-78.

25 On Dante’s reflection on art in Purgatorio xi as well as the cited lecturae see: Giuseppe Mazzotta, ‘The Book of Questions: Prayer and Poetry’, Dante Studies 129 (2011), 25-46; Michelangelo Picone, ‘Il cimento delle arti nella Commedia. Dante nel girone dei superbi (Purgatorio X-XII)’, in Dante e le arti visive, ed. by M. M. Donato, L. Battaglia Ricci, M. Picone and G. Z. Zanichelli (Milan: Unicopli, 2006), pp. 81-107; Jeremy Tambling, ‘The Art of Pride’, in his Dante in Purgatory: States of Affect (Turnhout: Brepols, 2010), pp. 81-101.

26 As Francesco da Buti says at Paradiso xi. 16: ‘et tucti girano intorno ad essa [scil. the Bible], andando con belle speculationi et invectioni et poi in lei si fermano’. The passage is quoted from Claudia Tardelli, Francesco da Buti’s commentary on Dante’s ‘Commedia’. New Critical Edition, Based on MS Nap. XIII C 1. ‘Purgatorio’, ‘Paradiso’ (PhD dissertation, University of Cambridge, forthcoming in 2015).

27 Dante follows here a procedure that he employs also in the Monarchia to prove the truthfulness of Christ’s teaching. For Dante, the conversion of the world to Christ is a miracle that proves the value of his doctrine, likewise the life of St Francis is a miracle that proves God’s love for men.

28 René Aigrain, L’hagiographie. Ses sources, ses méthodes, son histoire, Subsidia Hagiographica 80 (Paris: Bloud and Gay, 1953; 2nd edn, with a supplement by Robert Godding (Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 2000)). James W. Earl, ‘Typology and Iconographic Style in Early Medieval Hagiography’, Studies in the Literary Imagination 8 (1975), 15-46.

29 On Dante and preaching see: Carlo Delcorno, ‘Dante e l’“exemplum” medievale’, Lettere Italiane 35:1 (1983), 3-28; idem, ‘Cadenze e figure della predicazione nel viaggio dantesco’, Lettere Italiane 37:3 (1985), 299-320; idem, Exemplum e letteratura. Tra Medioevo e Rinascimento (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1989).

30 On Dante and the Song of Songs, see Erich Auerbach, Studi su Dante (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1991), pp. 248-56 and 261-68; Johan Chydenius, The Typological Problem in Dante (Helsinki: Societas Scientiarum Fennica, 1960); Jean Leclercq, Monks and Love in Twelfth-Century France (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), pp. 137-44; Lino Pertile, La puttana e il gigante. Dal Cantico dei cantici al Paradiso Terrestre di Dante (Ravenna: Longo, 1998); Paola Nasti, Favole d’amore e ‘saver profondo’. La tradizione salomonica in Dante (Ravenna: Longo, 2007).

31 See Nasti, ‘Caritas’. For the occurrence of this topos in other Franciscan texts, above all the Sacrum Commercium, see Umberto Cosmo, ‘Il primo libro francescano’, in his Con Madonna Povertà: Studi francescani (Bari: Laterza, 1940), pp. 3-58 (pp. 36-38, 56-57); Stanislao Da Campagnola, ‘Le prime ‘biografie’ del Santo’, in Francesco d’Assisi: Storia e Arte, ed. by Roberto Rusconi (Milan: Electa, 1982), pp. 36-52 (p. 40); Nicholas R. Havely, ‘Poverty in Purgatory: From Commercium to Commedia’, Dante Studies 114 (1996), 229-43.

32 The debate on the relationship between philosophy and revelation or theology in Dante’s work is still one of great intensity. The bibliography on the issue is therefore too vast and complex to be quoted here in full. Just a few titles will suffice: Il pensiero filosofico e teologico di Dante Alighieri, ed. by Alessandro Ghisalberti (Milan: Vita e Pensiero, 2001). See also: Zygmunt G. Barański, ‘L’iter ideologico di Dante’, in Dante e i segni, pp. 9-39; Otto A. Bird, ‘Dante the Thinker: Poetry and Philosophy’, in The Great Ideas Today (Chicago, IL: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1983), pp. 204-35; Ruedi Imbach, Dante, la philosophie et le laïcs: initiation à la philosophie médièvale (Paris: Fribourg, Editions du Cerf / Editions Universitaires de Fribourg, 1996), Bruno Nardi, Dal ‘Convivio’ alla ‘Commedia’ (sei saggi danteschi) (Rome: Istituto Italiano per il Medio Evo, 1992).

33 Maldina, ‘L’ oratio super Pater Noster’. Dante had clearly expressed the importance of teaching in Mon., I. i, 2.

34 Peter S. Hawkins, ‘Virgilio cita le scritture’, in Dante e la Bibbia. Atti del Convegno internazionale promosso da ‘Biblia’, Firenze, 26-28 settembre 1986, ed. by Giovanni Barblan (Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 1988).

35 Aristotle, Politcs, I, 8 134. On usury in Dante see at least Ovidio Capitani, ‘Cupidigia, avarizia, bonum commune in Dante Alighieri e in Remigio de’ Girolami’, in Da Dante a Bonifacio VIII (Rome: Istituto Storico Italiano per il Medio Evo, 2007), pp. 95-111.

36 On usury, the study of T. P. McLaughlin is still valid: ‘The Teaching of the Canonists on Usury (XII, XIII and XIV Centuries)’, Mediaeval Studies 1 (1939), 81-147 (pp. 97, 112-25); but see above all, Giacomo Todeschini, Il prezzo della salvezza: lessici medievali del pensiero economico (Rome: La Nuova Italia Scientifica, 1994), pp. 163-228; idem, I mercanti e il tempio: la società cristiana e il circolo virtuoso della ricchezza fra Medioevo et Età Moderna (Bologna: Il Mulino 2002).

37 Joel Kaye, ‘Changing Definitions of Money, Nature, and Equality, c. 1140-1270, Reflected in Thomas Aquinas’s Questions on Usury’, Credito e usura fra teologia, diritto, e amministrazione, ed. by Diego Quaglioni, Giacomo Todeschini, and Gian Maria Varanini (Rome: École française de Rome, 2005), 25-55,

38 Joel Kaye, Economy and Nature in the Fourteenth Century: Money, Market Exchange, and the Emergence of Scientific Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), especially pp. 116-33; idem, A History of Balance, 1250-1375: The Emergence of a New Model of Equilibrium and its Impact on Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), pp. 20-76; Cosimo Perrotta, Consumption as an Investment (New York: Routledge, 2004), especially pp. 75-81, Amleto Spicciani, ‘Pietro di Giovanni Olivi: Indigatore della razionalità economica medioevale’, in Usure, compere e vendite. La scienza economica del XIII secolo, ed. by Amleto Spicciani, Paolo Vian and Giancarlo Andenna (Milan: Jaca Book, 1998), pp. 21-72.

39 Giacomo Todeschini, Un trattato di economia politica francescana: il ‘De emptionibus et venditionibus, de usuris, de restitutionibus’ di Pietro di Giovanni Olivi (Rome: Istituto Storico Italiano per il Medioevo, 1980), p. 85. The translation is found in Kaye, A History of Balance, p. 76.

40 Giacomo Todeschini, ‘Olivi e il “Mercator” Cristiano’, in Pierre de Jean Olivi (1248-1298). Pensée scolastique, dissidence spirituelle et société. Actes du Colloque de Narbonne (mars 1998), ed. by Alain Boureau and Sylvain Piron (Paris: Vrin, 1999), pp. 412, 217-38, 226-27.

41 Of particular importance in this sense is the work of Remigio de’ Girolami of Santa Maria Novella, who composed a treatise, a sermon and several quodlibeta on usury. Apart from his treatise, none of these other texts are published: Ovidio Capitani, ‘Il De peccato usure di Remigio de Girolami’, Studi Medievali 6 (3rd series) (1965), 537-662.

42 See Raoul Manselli, ‘Firenze nel Trecento: Santa Croce e la cultura francescana’, Clio. Rivista trimestrale di studi storici 9 (1973), 324-42. On Dante and Olivi: V. Stanley Benfell, ‘Dante, Peter John Olivi, and the Franciscan Apocalypse’, in Dante and the Franciscans, ed. by Santa Casciani (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2006), pp. 9-50; Giorgio Brugnoli, ‘Tracce di Pierre de Jean Olieu nella Divina Commedia’, in San Francesco e il francescanesimo nella letteratura italiana dal XIII al XV secolo. Atti del Convegno Nazionale, Assisi, 10-12 dicembre 1999, ed. by Stanislao Da Campagnola and Pasquale Tuscano (Assisi: Accademia Properziana del Subasio, 2001), pp. 139-68; Sergio Cristaldi, Dante di fronte al gioachimismo. I. Dalla Vita Nova alla Monarchia (Caltanissetta and Rome: Sciascia, 2000), pp. 223-392; Alberto Forni, ‘Pietro di Giovanni Olivi e Dante, ovvero il panno e la gonna’, in Pierre de Jean Olivi (1999), pp. 341-72.

43 See: ‘né valse udir che la trovò sicura / con Amiclate, al suon de la sua voce, / colui ch’a tutto ‘l mondo fé paura’ [nor had it availed that he who terrified the / whole world with his voice had found her fearless / with Amyclas] (Par., xi. 67-69).

44 On the presence of Franciscan elements in Purgatorio xi and also for a more general discussion, see Andrea Mazzucchi, ‘Filigrane francescane tra i superbi. Lettura di Purgatorio, XI’, Rivista di Studi Danteschi 8:1 (2008), 42-82. See also Edoardo Fumagalli, San Francesco, il ‘Cantico’, il ‘Pater noster’ (Milan: Jaca Book, 2002).