In his De vulgari eloquentia, Dante identifies passionate love as one of three magnalia, or preeminent topics in his literary tradition. Love offered medieval writers perhaps their most interesting and compelling subject, one fit for nuanced thematic treatment, complex philosophical reflection, and serious artistic expression in an elevated style. By love Dante means erotic attachment to an object of compelling physical attraction: “dicimus illud esse maxime delectabile quod per pretiosissimum obiectum appetitus delectat: hoc autem venus est” (“here I say that what is most pleasurable is what is the most highly valued object of our desires; and this is love” [2.2.7]).1 He situates love in the middle of a hierarchy of topics, above arms and below moral virtue. The hierarchy corresponds to man’s vegetative, animal, and rational souls.2 In this scheme, love reflects our creaturely condition: it is what we seek because we are animate and conscious, alive to sensation and pleasure and able to make judgments about them. For Dante, it is the middle track in mankind’s three-fold path (”triplex iter”) between brute necessity, which compels survival through prowess in arms (the topic of epic), and reason, which controls the direction of the will (the topic of a poetry concerned with virtue).
KeywordsLiterary Tradition Master Narrative Passionate Love Discursive Field Medieval Text
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