Surprising Encounters: Manzoni’s Dantean Rhetorical Palimpsest ('Promessi sposi' VII-VIII and XXXIII-XXXIV)

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Bibliotheca Dantesca: Journal of Dante Studies
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Dante Alighieri
Alessandro Manzoni
Promessi sposi
Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque Art and Architecture
Italian Language and Literature
Medieval History
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Nussmeier, Anthony

Previous investigations of Alessandro Manzoni’s Dantean borrowings have unearthed a quantity of stilemes and syntagm that have revised substantially the thesis that Dantean reminiscences in Manzoni are “pochissimi” and possess only an “affinità generica” (A. Mazza). Rodney J. Lokaj’s systematic study of Manzoni’s reuse of Dante in the “comic key” has contributed greatly to our understanding of Promessi sposi as a treasure trove of references, veiled and unveiled, to the sommo poeta. Inf. 5 has been thought commonly to be the touchstone of intertextuality between Dante and Manzoni. This essay unearths further connections between Inf. 5 and Promessi sposi, and also explores a series of Dantean stilemes and syntagm present from Inf. 3 and Purg. 24 and used by Manzoni throughout the novel, beyond what De Sanctis called Manzoni’s “commedia di carattere” (Promessi sposi [PS], chapters I-VII). As a result of the systematic borrowing of Dantean episodes and lexicon, it is evident that Manzoni borrows consciously from the poet, and that such borrowings are not incidental to the narrative. Finally, this essay argues via Manzoni’s Osservazioni sulla morale cattolica that his antiphrastic use of Inf. 5 in Promessi sposi constitutes a correction to Dante’s depiction of mercy in the early canti of the Comedy, for in PS chapters VIII and XXXIV–site of the thickest network of references to Inf. 3 and 5–Manzoni provides an antidote to Dante’s somewhat-unorthodox and long-debated depiction of pietà by emphasizing mercy for others and the pairing of compassion and sound judgement (compassione e giudizio [PS ch. XXXIV]), respectively.

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