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Fabian Alfie, Dante's Tenzone with Forese Donati: The Reprehension of Vice.

Fabian Alfie, Dante's Tenzone with Forese Donati: The Reprehension of Vice. Toronot: University of Toronto Press, 2011; 206 pp.; 9781442642232, $55.00

The twofold aims of Fabian Alfie's insightful study are to properly contextualize and explore the significance of the sonnets Dante exchanged with his brother-in-law, Forese Donati, and to demonstrate that this tenzone bequeathed a far more significant literary legacy than previously thought. These goals are pursued through an exploration of traditions of vituperative literature and the establishment of subsequent intertextual manifestations of the sonnets comprising the exchange in question, both within and beyond Dante's own oeuvre. Alfie undertakes this task with reference to rhetorical manuals, medieval discourses of nobility, as well as a wealth of manuscript and codicological evidence and literary sources, while maintaining a clarity which renders his book useful to more general readers as well as specialists.

The book comprises five chapters, an introduction, conclusion and an appendix which contains diplomatic transcriptions of the sonnets and codicological evidence for their traditions. The introduction, 'Dante's Harsh New Style', provides a helpful and concise introduction to 13th-century Florentine politics and competing concepts of nobility, furnishing us with an informative context for the tenzone to be discussed. Chapter 1, 'La debita correzione: The Poetics of Insult in the Duecento', continues the task of contextualization by establishing the promised 'poetics' with reference to Brunetto Latini's Rettorica (a translation of and commentary on Cicero's De inventione), Dante's Convivio and theories of satire as understood in medieval Florence. Alfie constructs a genealogy of the vituperation, in vernacular verse, of sins of incontinence (the primary target for vituperative poetry in this analysis) from the poeti giocosi (Rustico Filippi in particular), through to Dante's own texts. It is within this context that he situates Dante and Forese's slanging match in Chapter 2, 'Ad Personam, ad stipitem: Readings of the Sonnets', displaying a particular interest in the aforementioned Filippi's Io fo ben boto a Dio: se Ghigo fosse as an intertext for the entire tenzone, which brings to the fore the convergence of political and sexual vituperation in this exchange.

Chapter 3, 'Hellish Echoes: Reminiscences of the Correspondence in Inferno XXIX and XXX', focuses on Dante's encounters in Hell with his own kinsman, Geri del Bello, and with the alleged accomplice of Forese's father, Gianni Schicchi, two figures significant to the tenzone with Forese. The meeting with the former acts as Dante's acknowledgement of Forese's criticism that the death of Geri went unavenged (a slight against Dante's nobility according to Forese's conception). The presence of Schicchi, meanwhile, serves to confirm Dante's accusation that Forese's inheritance was ill-gotten through his father's (in)famous plot: Schicchi admits to impersonating the recently dead Buoso Donati in order to falsely bequeath goods to Simone Donati and himself. The illegitimacy of Forese's inheritance had been key to Dante's critique of his brother-in-law's own nobility in the tenzone. So, the debate in that exchange is rehashed in this infernal scene, lending weight to Alfie's contention that this is not a wayward moment in Dante's literary history but one with lasting significance. This sense is only amplified in the discussion of 'The Terrace of the Tenzone: Purgatorio XXIII and XXIV' that gives Chapter 4 its title. Alfie's analysis focuses on the relationship between sins of the tongue (speech) and sins of the throat (gluttony) in a medieval context as manifested by the insistent 'piangere e cantar' of the gluttonous sinners and the presence of two misguided tenzonanti among them--Forese and Bonagiunta. The presence of the tenzone with Forese is recognized here not only through Donati's presence but also through the language and imagery of that particular purgatorial exchange and of the terrace of gluttony more generally. Dante thus reinforces the validity of aspects of his earthly critique of Forese--that he was gluttonous--while correcting aspersions cast on his wife's fidelity--through Forese's praise of Nella during this encounter. The contention here is that vituperative verse is not abandoned of wayward but valid and worthy if it rings true. Based on this reading, Alfie proposes an interpretation of the dolce stil novo as simply laudatory verse with no ulterior motive, literature which mores away from Latini's definition of all poetry as tenzoni due to its exhortative nature.

The final chapter, 'Citations and Interpretations: The Literary Memory of the Sonnets in Boccaccio and Others', focuses on the literary afterlife of the tenzone beyond Dante's own oeuvre, noting the confinement of their reception to Florentine literary circles, with evidence drawn from the writings of Pieraccio Tedaldi and Deo Boni (in his tenzone with Tommaso di Giunta). Dante's side of the exchange is mined, and sometimes parodied, by Boccaccio in four instances provided by Alfie: the use of Chi udisse tossir la mal fatata in Decameron IV(10)'s narrative of a dissatisfied wife, her husband and her lover allowing for further, mediated, echoes to be found in Machiavelli's Mandragola. The conclusion argues that this literary episode, though minor in the scheme of Dante's works, had significant echoes within his own Comedy and in Florentine literature throughout the late due-, the tre- and the quattrocento.

In this illuminating book, Alfie has combined close reading, philology and a range of cultural sources to shed new light on an often under-considered tenzone for both Dante specialists and those with an interest in vituperative writing more generally. He offers a helpful reading and contextualization of the exchange between Dante and Forese in light of satirical practice and discourses of nobility, and also furnishes a valuable understanding of its ramifications, within both Dante's Divine Comedy and subsequent Florentine literature. This study provides a useful contribution to the discussion surrounding Dante's poetic praxis and legacy, revealing the significance of a previously neglected series of texts, which represent not a literary aberration to be dismissed along with a period of waywardness but rather an important and lasting aspect of Dante's thought and writing.

DOI: 10.1177/0014585813478913

Reviewed by: David Bowe, University of Oxford, UK
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Author:Bowe, David
Publication:Forum Italicum
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 1, 2013
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