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Massimo Seriacopi. Bonifacio VIII nella storia e nell'opera di Dante.

Massimo Seriacopi. Bonifacio VIII nella storia e nell 'opera di Dante. Firenze: Libreria Chiari--Firenze Libri, 2003.

Among the many popes in the Middle Ages, Boniface VIII (1294-1303) is one of the few who are famous. Every textbook of medieval history recounts his struggle with Philip the Fair and rehearses his bull Unam sanctam. Dante scatters references to him throughout the Commedia, which gradually reveal the poet's judgment on bad popes, exemplified in a worst-case scenario: Boniface himself belongs with the simoniacs in Inferno 19; he tricked even the cunning Guido da Montefeltro into abetting his war on Christians (Inf. 27); as Christ's vicar, his capture at Anagni was an outrage (Purg. 20.85-90); and finally St. Peter himself reveals that Boniface usurped his office, "che vaca / ne la presenza del Figliuol di Dio" (Par. 27.23-24).

In the present book, Massimo Seriacopi attempts to determine what faults Dante condemned in Boniface and, moreover, to what extent they are based on historical fact or merely on rumor and legend. Unfortunately, although the author is an accomplished Dantist, he is an indifferent historian, and consequently he has accumulated a tedious amount of irrelevant detail while largely ignoring political theory and ecclesiology. The book begins with an often misleading sketch of Europe in the thirteenth century (21-60), which is marred by such elementary errors as supposing that Richard of Cornwall was king of England (31); the author then moves to familiar ground with a potted, over elaborated constitutional history of Florence, 1280-1313 (61-91). Next come biographies of Boniface and Dante: the former (93-150) acids little to that by E. Dupre Theiseder in the Dizionario biografico degli italiani (1970); the latter (151-82) more critically reviews the well known circumstances of Dante's exile.

Seriacopi finally hits his stride on page 183 as he confronts the Commedia's bonifacian passages (183-227). Many of his readings are subtle, sensitive, and revealing of the poem's dense texture, but his principal conclusions are nonetheless the conventional ones. For instance, he assumes that the giant of Purgatorio 32 represents Philip the Fair, apparently because the early commentators said so (although a similar consensus is summarily dismissed as legendary on page 174). Seriacopi struggles to explain how Hugh Capet can describe Boniface as the vicar of Christ outraged at Anagni if, as later becomes apparent in Paradise, St. Peter's place was then vacant, and the improbable conclusion is that what is true in heaven is not so on earth. Instead, I would suggest that the answer is simply that in the Comedy "a soul in bliss cannot lie" (Par. 4.95), whereas one in Purgatory, such as Capet, can be mistaken.

The book concludes with an anticlimactic survey of late-medieval comments on the bonifacian passages (229-53), the point of the exercise apparently being that they are not reliable historical evidence. The work is inadequately documented by occasional footnotes and an unimpressive bibliography (259 76), which can be usefully supplemented by my selective one in The Great Popes Through History: An Encyclopedia, ed. Frank J. Coppa (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2002) 1: 169 71, listing 38 items, of which Seriacopi omits 22.

In sum, the core of this work is an excellent lectura Dantis, which has been padded with enough common place background material to make a book.


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Author:Kay, Richard
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2005
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