Internationales Doktorandenkolleg Philologie




Dissertationsprojekt Emanuele Ciarrocchi

The Iota of Heresy. Poetic Effects and Heterodox Positions in Dante’s Divine Comedy.

My project aims at investigating the concept of heresy in Dante's work. With my research, I will attempt to clarify multiple interpretative problems that the poet's silence on the subject has raised over seven centuries of textual exegesis (i.e.: the peculiar nature, also morphological, of the sixth circle; the choice of Epicurus as exemplum of heresy; the distance between heretics and schismatics and the presence of Dolcino among the latter). In this way, and through a philological as well as historical examination, I will try to offer a new reading of some of the Commedia’s textual cruces.

In Matthew 5,18, Jesus promises that “not one jot” will pass from the law until all be fulfilled. The addition or omission of this “jot” was a central point of debate at the Council of Nicaea: should we read homoousios or homoiousios? From the very beginning of the history of Christianity, small changes and textual variants mattered and could even become dangerous in times when religious dissenters were persecuted.

So, if one letter can wreak such havoc in highly controlled text genres such as creeds or treatises, what happens when religious questions are dealt with in poetry? In a text as distant in time as Dante’s Commedia, it is sometimes difficult to decide whether we are dealing with a poetic detail aimed at suggestive polysemy, or with a problem of textual tradition and philologically correct edition. As an example (also involving the letter ‘i’), in Inferno IX, 115, Dante claims that the many tombs of the heretics from the sixth circle of hell make “tutt’il loco varo”. In this case, reading ‘varo’ (diversified) or, as Boccaccio suggests, ‘vario’ (made in squares) makes an important difference in the interpretation of the canto. A basic problem for a text that must be interpretated on the fourfold sense of scripture (i.e. literal, allegorical, metaphorical and eschatological).

I claim these are issues that can only be answered by exploring in detail the larger context of both Dante’s works (with particular attention to his statements or reticence about heresy) and his contemporary theological thinking. In particular, when studying the latter, we should bear in mind that the Catholic doctrine was more dynamic in the Middle Ages than it is today: boundaries between orthodox and heterodox ideas were constantly being redefined and at times shifted. For this reason, I will enrich my project with a historical approach aimed at highlighting Dante's position in relation to the contemporary debate on heresy. This will show both Dante's degree of radicality in relation to his contemporaries and his role as a history maker.


Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Florian Mehltretter