Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Eva Del Soldato
A lack of citation of Dante’s specific source material for historical characters who appear in the Divine Comedy is widespread throughout the commentary tradition. I performed a close textual analysis of the Divine Comedy’s historical characters, comparing them with the chronicles, annals and histories of Dante’s time, using both archival research and secondary histories to do so, and interpreted those primary historical texts as potential sources consulted by Dante. The historical characters I focused on fell into three categories: 1) characters involved in the battles of Montaperti and Colle Val d’Elsa, 2) characters belonging to or associated with the Norman, Swabian and Aragonese dynasties of Sicily, 3) characters embroiled in sensational or newsworthy events during Dante’s lifetime. The first two categories analyzed historical events that mostly occurred before Dante was born, and thus focused more heavily on written testimony, while the third category analyzed the news of Dante’s adulthood, and thus focused more on oral tradition. Not all of Dante’s information could be accounted for, especially as it pertains to the Battle of Montaperti, which introduced a detailed discussion about the role Dante played in shaping history and his complicated authorial relationship to the chronicler Giovanni Villani, who reports all the same information about the battle as Dante. Dante’s information on the Sicilian dynasties, however, was almost wholly accounted for and showed a proclivity on the author’s part for trusting in Guelph accounts, especially those written by clerics. Finally, plotting the geographic locations of the historical characters involved in newsworthy events during Dante’s lifetime revealed that most of what Dante knew did not have to travel far to reach him. Analyzing the text of the Comedy also proved that Dante was relying more heavily on oral rather than written testimony for his information of events that occurred during his lifetime and that Dante’s text itself has preserved some of this medieval oral tradition for today’s readers.
Dimaggio, Vanessa, "Uncovering The Sources: Historical Characters In Dante's Divine Comedy" (2019). Publicly Accessible Penn Dissertations. 3486.