Rime and Reason: Conversion and Vergilian Poetics in Dante’s Commedia


Rime and Reason

Conversion and Vergilian Poetics in Dante’s Commedia

Carmen Denia, Yale-NUS College ‘17

(Initially published in YNUJ Volume 1, 2016)


This essay discusses how the use of similes and metaphors from Vergil’s Aeneid in Dante’s Divina Commedia exemplifies both the poetics of conversion and the conversion of poetics, that is, that Dante borrows these figures of speech to illustrate how pre-Christian ideas are converted by Medieval Catholic thought, and to embody Dante’s view on the nature and process of conversion. To argue this, I adapt Raymond Williams’s terms for cultural analysis in Marxism and Literature, in order to untangle Vergilian figures of speech in the Commedia into their residual, dominant, and emergent parts. I analyse then how the parts compare between the Vergilian original and the Dantean copy. In this essay, I focus on the simile of the falling leaves (Inferno III) and the metaphor of the ancient fire (Purgatorio XXX). The essay concludes by connecting Dante’s ability to imbue new meaning into figures of speech to God’s power to create and convert. Dante thus exemplifies through his poetic methodology his own belief that the gift of the very best of poets is true imitation of God’s method of creation.

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