Feb 10 2024

The research in a nutschell




The website www.danteolivi.com is mainly dedicated to a comparison between the Commedia and the Lectura super Apocalipsim by Olivi (finished in Narbonne in 1297; Ubertino da Casale had it by his side as he wrote the Arbor vitae in La Verna, 1305). The findings show that the relationship between the poetry and the exegesis by the Franciscan friar takes the form of a parody, meant as imitatio Scripturae, technically conducted throughout the poem.
From the correspondence between the two texts, organised according to precise and constant internal rules, the following key points emerge:

a) The “cloth” (Olivi’s Lectura), to which Dante made numerous variations whilst he made the “gown” (to use the words of Saint Bernard in Par. XXXII, 139-141), helped to maintain the unity of the poem.

b) Based on the literal sense of the Commedia, key words refer readers to the doctrine of the Lectura through techniques of the art of memory, updated according to the poet’s intentions. Dante, who defined the poem in the Epistle to Cangrande “polisemos, hoc est plurium sensuum”, also envisaged (amongst the many possible) a specific readership, that of the Spiritual Franciscans who were supposed to reform the Church. This readership was lost due to the persecutions they endured starting from the second decade of the fourteenth century. The Lectura was condemned by Pope John XXII in 1326, though it continued to circulate clandestinely; Dante had already condemned the popes by varying the themes in Olivi’s “pestifera postilla”.

c) The synopsis of the texts juxtaposes two universal languages: the humble Latin of the biblical exegesis and Dante’s vernacular.

d) Dante considered himself a new Saint John (“oportet te iterum prophetare …”: Rev. 10:11) and the Commedia a new Apocalypse, “a book written within and without“. The Commedia has an internal structure semantically based on cyclical septenaries that are equivalent to Olivi’s seven periods (status) of the Church through which history proceeds towards a spiritual rebirth. The ‘Sacred Poem’ reflects the contemporaries’ sense of expectation of the novum saeculum, which “as well as the spiritual group’s ideology of struggle and reform was actually a historical sentiment” (Arsenio Frugoni). Ulysses’ journey, with its tragic end, was a flight to the future against the divine design.

e) The intense intertextuality did not lead Dante ‘to become a friar’, it was a metamorphosis that secularly extended the themes of Franciscan and Joachimite eschatology to the saeculum humanum and its new needs. Whether it be the army of Christ, or the Antichrist against whom it fight, the individuals take over the field. This detail, with human passions and local quarrels, is included in a universal history of the divine designs. The history of Rome narrated by the eagle though the mouth of Justinian and, in general, the ‘ancients’ participate in the sacredness of the Church whose history becomes humanistic (cf. the parody of the exegesis in Aeneas, Virgil, in the “spiriti magni” in Limbo, or in the “umile Italia”). Beatrice discusses free will parodying what Olivi wrote about the evangelical vow. The sacred parody established by the relationship between the Commedia and the Lectura, the last great expression of medieval eschatology, marked the inception of the ‘Autumn of the Middle Ages’.

f) The Lectura is the ‘book’ of the history of sapiential enlightenment with which everything else must agree. In the poem Virgil, Ovid or Lucan, Boethius, Aristotle, Albert the Great or Thomas Aquinas, different types of poetic experience, philosophical aspects or knowledge of astronomy and even Scripture as such are all sources which relate to the Lectura.

g) The biblical exegesis was fundamental for Dante’s intellectual and spiritual training, even before he went “to the schools of the religious and the disputations of the philosophers” (Convivio, II, xii 7) after the death of Beatrice (Olivi was a lector of theology at Santa Croce from 1287 to 1289; Beatrice died in 1290).

The text of the Lectura super Apocalipsim is also published online, based on the ms. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, lat. 713, the oldest and most authoritative extant manuscript. Research on the individual cantos, with hyperlinks from the verses to Olivi’s exegesis, is ongoing.

This research, in which the history, philology and perhaps the archaeology of the text merge, awaits verify. Although Dante’s scholars have been aware of this research for a long time, have never taken it seriously nor have they ever thought of discussing it. The intent is to make known also to those involved in culture and historical science, even if they are not experts in this field, the existence of an unexplored side, so that others may follow a path already mapped out, opening, in turn, new avenues.

Last Update: Jan. 20, 2024