The fourteenth-century commentators on fourfold allegory [Robert Hollander]

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Autore: Robert Hollander

Tratto da: Allegory in Dante's Commedia

Editore: Prineton University Press, Princeton

Anno: 1969

Pagine: 266-296

The Letter to Can Grande left its mark, whether directly or indirectly, on almost all of Dante's earliest critics. This fact in itself is of little critical import, since the commentators themselves make extraordinarily little use of theological allegory, preferring to pursue a more congenial form of explication, namely, that of personification allegory. Nevertheless, it is historically important and significant that almost all of them, at the outset of their investigations, feel compelled to make obeisance to a theological allegorical principle, even if it is one which they either do not understand in relationship to the text of the poem, or do not choose to employ in any broad or meaningful way. Their statements occupy a place in the proem of their respective commentaries, or, if not there, sometimes in their discussions of Inferno I.
As for the mode of transmission of the Epistola’s fourfold distinctions, nothing will be said here. The subject is complex and necessarily confused, especially when with Francesco Mazzoni, we consider that the first fourteenthcentury commentator to cite Dante explicitly as the author of the Epistola is also the last one, Filippo Villani, and that only a few of the other commentators, it would seem, have even read the document themselves.
What is offered here, then, is evidence that the first readers of the Commedia did take seriously the exegetical claims expressed more cogently by the Epistola, even if their critical practice usually belies their understanding of the Epistola's precepts. For their essential exegetical technique corresponds very closely to Dante's own technique in Convivio. That is, although he there claims that four senses are in play (Conv. II, i), his actual practice is almost always to divide his canzoni into literal (which is bella menzogna) and allegorical (which is the meaning hidden under the veil of the fictive words). To be sure, like some of his commentators, he does on occasion invoke the concepts and techniques of Scriptural exegesis. Nevertheless, in both Convivio and the fourteenth-century commentaries, the predominant mode is to treat the poemdespite the opening assertion of an allegorical principle modeled on that of the Biblical commentators - as bella menzogna, dividing it carefully into "letter" and allegory", and by "allegory" almost always signifying personification allegory. In other words, the essential mode of the commentators contradicts their own claims that the poem contains the four Biblical senses. This is not especially surprising, since that mode of reading the poem has persevered through six centuries. The initial confusions, as well as the later ones, are perhaps traceable to the single honorable supposition that "only God can write that way". And all the commentators have the excuse that no other secular work they might have known had ever shown that God's way of writing could be adapted to the purposes of secular fiction, that they had no exemplary model against which to judge Dante's work. Thus they see it against the models they do know in which allegory is “Greek” allegory, the "this for that", the truth hidden beneath a veil, the literal sense being mere discardable fable.
It is important to know how little actual use of fourfold interpretation the commentators make (although there are many more particular instances, or at least attempts, in the fourteenth century than there will be until our own), for their opening salvos would seem to promise a great deal of such analysis. I offer these opening statements below, following the brief listing of all the signed or identified commentaries as well as one of the four anonymous interpretations cited by Toynbee. The most interesting statement (excepting Villani's) seems to me that of Pietro Alighieri. His attempt to distinguish four kinds of literal sense is especially arresting. The anonymous commentor, it would surely seem, was influenced by Pietro's formulation, and I include him primarily in order to give Pietro's longer and more involved discussion of the sevenfold senses he finds in the poem some further, and possibly clearer, expression.
The reader will see that my own treatment of Dante's allegory corresponds to some degree with Pietro's, at least in that his first four senses involve distinctions about the kinds of literal sense the poem employs, and in that his last three are the classical exegetical "spiritual senses.". Pietro’s first four divisions, however, seem to me confused and even self-contradictory: his third sense (apologeticus - what would seem to correspond to Cicero's and to Augustine's "middle style", that is, the style of instruction) and his fourth sense (metaphoricus - both Cicero and Augustine say that metaphors and other figurative speech are the earmark of the “middle style”) are actually describing the same phenomenon. This phenomenon, furthermore, is primarily the same as what he describes by his first sense, the “literal, superficial, or parabolic", which points to such phenomena as Biblical parable, which, I claim, is precisely metaphoricus and apologeticus. l must admit that I cannot judge whether Pietro is confused or whether I am. Nevertheless, what is clear is that his desire to make distinctions about degrees of literalness is of major importance, at least as it encourages others to do so also, even if few have tried.

1. Graziolo de' Bambaglioli (Latin, 1324)
2. Jacopo di Dante (Italian, before 1325)
3. Guido da Pisa (Latin, ca. 1324)
4. Jacopo della Lana (Italian, ca. 1328)
5. L’Ottimo Commento (Italian, 1333)
6. Pietro di Dante (Latin, ca. 1340)
7. Giovanni Boccaccio (Italian, 1373)
8. Benvenuto da Imola (Latin, 1373-1380)
9. Francesco da Buti (Italian, 1385-1395)
10. Anonimo (Italian, ca. 1400)
11. Filippo Villani (Latin, ca. 1400)

1. Graziolo de' Bambaglioli (Latin, 1324)

1. Comento alla cantica dell'lnferno di D. Alighieri, di autore anonimo (pub. W.W. Vernon, Florence, 1848). This is the Italian translation of Graziolo de’ Bambaglioli's commento (see Moore, Studies in Dante, III, p. 345). The standard Latin text, which I have not seen, is to be found in Il commento dantesco del “Colombino” di Siviglia, ed. A. Fiammazzo, Savona, 1915. The brief proemio does not refer to the Letter to Can Grande, but does establish the straightforward use of personification allegory which is the earmark of the body of the work. In these two respects, it has a great deal in common with the commentary of Jacopo Alighieri. Graziolo's possible gnostic tendencies are displayed in his frequent assertions that the poem is most concerned with "Wisdom" (the word sapienza is the key word of his proemio). This notion is further supported when we consider his treatment of the Veltro (p. 21), who, claims Graziolo, will bring “sapienza” to the world, which is without it. In the proemio he also displays his predilection for personification allegory when he is the first to equate Virgil with personified Reason (p. 3): “quello sommo poeta Vergilio sicome la vera ragione medesima”.

2. Jacopo di Dante (Italian, before 1325)

2. Chiose alla Cantica dell'Inferno di Dante Alighieri scritte da Jacopo Alighieri (ed. Jarro [G. Piccini], Florence, 1915). In his very brief introduction (pp. 43-45) Jacopo speaks with great brevity about allegory (p. 44), and not in such a way as to be of great interest to a student of his father's work. Of the two sons - if the works that bear their names are truly their own - Pietro was either more naturally gifted in the direction of literary criticism or had, as is possible, better training. Jacopo's commentary on Inferno is a rather miserable performance in the elaboration of the obvious and in the obfuscation of the clear. His continual mode is flat-footed allegorization, and his work is mainly of interest for its historical notes. His remarks on the subject of allegory are as follow:

"…per questo proemio dichiarerò parte de’ suoi principii per abbreviarmi più nelle seguenti cose, dicendo ch'il principio delle intenzioni del presente autore e di dimostrare di sotto alegorico colore le tre qualitadi dell’umana generazione”.

[ this proem I shall explain his principles in order to be less lengthy in what follows. I say that the guiding principle of the author's intention is to show, beneath an allegorical guise, the three characteristics of the human race (those moral propensities which are treated in turn by each of the three cantiche)”.]

3. Guido da Pisa (Latin, ca. 1324)

3. All that is available in print of the commentary of Guido da Pisa is to be found in Bull. Soc. Dant., n.s. VIII (1901), 150-157. There are strong similarities between this work and Jacopo della Lana's proemio. As his remarks near their conclusion, Guido speaks of allegory as follows (p. 156):

"Primus namque intellectus, sive sensus, quern continet Comedia, dicitur hystoricus; secundus allegoricus; tertius tropologicus; quartus vero et ultimus dicitur anagogicus. Primus, dico, intellectus est hystoricus: iste intellectus non se extendit nisi ad literam, sicut quando accipimus ‘Minorem’ [sic] judicem et assessorem inferni, qui disiudicat animas descendentes. Secundus intellectus est allegoricus, per quern intelligo quod litera, sive historia, unum significat in cortice et aliud in medulla; et secundum istum intellectum allegoricum Minos tenet figuram divine iustitie. Tertius intellectus est tropologicus, sive moralis, per quem intelligo quomodo me ipsum debeo iudicare; et secundum istum intellectum Minos tenet figuram rationis humane, que debet regere totum hominem, sive remorsus conscientie, qui debet mala facta corrigere. Quartus vero et ultimus intellectus est anagogicus, per quem sperare debeo digna recipere pro commissis; et secundum istum intellectum Minos tenet figuram spei, qua mediante penam pro peccatis et gloriam pro virtutibus sperare debemus”.

[For the first discernment, or sense, which the Commedia contains is called historical; the second, allegorical; the third, tropological; and the fourth and last is called anagogical. I say the first sense is historical: this sense does not extend beyond the letter, as when we understand that Minos is the judge and jury of Hell, who passes judgment on the souls as they come down. The second sense is the allegorical, by which I understand how the literal, or historical, means one thing on its shell, and another in its kernel; and according to the allegorical sense Minos contains the figure of divine justice. The third is the tropological, or moral, by which I understand how I ought to sit in judgment on myself; and according to this sense Minos contains the figure of human reason - which ought to rule the whole man - and of remorseful conscience, which ought to regulate evil deeds. And the fourth and last is called the anagogical, by which I ought to hope to be returned good desert for good practice; and according to this sense Minos contains the figure of what we should hope for, rendering punishment for our sins and eternal life for our goodness".]

4. Jacopo della Lana (Italian, ca. 1328)

4. Comedia di Dante degli Allagherii col commento di Jacopo della Lana Bolognese (ed. Luciano Scarabelli, Bologna, 1866). There is a more recent edition by F. Schmidt-Knatz, Frankfurt am Main, 1939, which I have not seen. Jacopo's treatment of fourfold allegory would seem to be indebted to Guido's, or Guido's to Jacopo's, as each uses Minos as its example. Here, in his proemio, Jacopo is following the usual distinction, also made in the Letter to Can Grande, and here somewhat garbled, between the form of the treatise and the form of the treatment (p. 98):

“ forma poetica, la qual’ è fittiva ed esemplipositiva ave IIII intendimenti; lo primo si è lo letterale o vero storiale, lo quale non si stende più innanti che sia la lettera, ne oltre lo termine, in ch’ ella è posta, siccome quando elli pone Minos nell'lnferno per uno demonio iudicatore delle anime. Lo secondo si è allegorico, per lo quale lo termine della litteratura uno suona e altro intende, siccome e interpretare lo detto Minos per la giustizia, la qual giudica le anime secondo lor condizione. Lo terzo è detto tropo cioè morale, per lo quale s’interpreta il detto Minos primo re, che fu in Creta, giusto, donando al vizioso pena, e a li virtuosi merito; cosi moralmente si pone per giudice in Inferno, che dicerna per la condizione delle anime a ciascuna il luogo, e la pena che a lei si avviene. Lo quarto è detto anagogico, per lo qual s’interpreta spiritualmente gli esempli a similitudine della detta Comedia, siccome quando fa menzione d’alcune singolari persone, come quivi: Ell’ e Semiramis ecc., che non si deve intendere che quella persona sia pasta in inferno o altrove in luogo determinativamente qui posta; imperochè questo e occulto e segreto alli mondani: ma spiritualmente s'intende che quel vizio che e attribuito a colui overo virtiu per tal modo si e punito o purgato o rimunerato per la giustizia di Dio, salvo di quelli de' quali Santa Chiesa scrive; non in quanto l’autore d’essi scrive, ma in quanto la Chiesa li canonizza e per santi tiene, siamo certi che ivi sono”.]

[... the form of the poetry, which is fictional and example-giving, has four meanings; the first is the literal, or historical, and it does not extend beyond the letter, nor beyond the intention the letter implies, as when the author puts Minos in Inferno as the demon who judges the souls. The second is allegorical, by which the intention of the letter is to say one thing and mean another, as when this same Minos is to be interpreted as justice, which judges the souls according as to their quality. The third is called tropological, or moral, by which Minos is to be interpreted the first king, who lived in Crete, just, rendering punishment to the sinful man, reward to the virtuous; thus, morally, he has his place as judge in Inferno, discerning by the quality of each soul its proper place and proper punishment. The fourth is called anagogical, by which we may interpret the spiritual meaning of similar examples in this same Commedia, as when any particular person is mentioned, for instance: "That is Semiramis," etc. (Inf. V, 58), which should not be understood to mean that this person was put in Inferno, or any other place which we may ascertain; rather, such matters are occult, hidden from earthly eyes. Spiritually, nevertheless, we are to understand that the sin attributed to one, or indeed the virtue, similarly, is punished or purged or rewarded by God's justice. However, when the author writes of those of whom the Holy Church has written, and when the Church has canonized them, holding them as saints, we may then be sure that where he says they are they are".]

5. L’Ottimo Commento (Italian, 1333)

5. L’Ottimo commento della Divina Commedia: testo inedito d’un contemporaneo di Dante (ed. Alessandro Torri, Pisa, 1827-1829) begins with a most brief proemio, given in full below. Although it makes no reference to fourfold exegesis at the outset, it is still interesting in that it initially commits itself to the processes of personification allegory, as is immediately apparent (p. 1):

“Ad aprire l’intenzione dell’Autore, è da sapere delle figure, ch'ei usa in questo suo volume: ed e da notare, che Dante pone se in forma comune d’uomo, nel quale e l’anima ragionevole, e la potenza sensibile, e la potenza vegetabile, e lo libero arbitrio: e d'uomo, dico, intento nelle sensualitadi di questo mondo, inclinato ad esse; o vero se in forma del libero arbitrio, inchinante alle sensualitadi: Virgilio per la ragione sensuale, dirizzante lo libero arbitrio alla cognizione de' vizj e delle virtudi: Beatrice per la Teologia della Divina Scritture: la gentile Donna, che si compiange nel Cielo, per la Grazia preveniente ed impetrante da Dio, che per l'amore, che l’Autore porta alla Divina Scrittura, gli sia mandato lo suo soccorso: Lucia per la Grazia cooperante ed ausiliante; senza le quali non era sufficiente la salute. E così commincia:”]

[“To lay bare the intention of the author, and to come to know the figures of speech which he employs in this his volume, we must take note that Dante takes on the common form of man, who has a rational soul as well as a sensitive and a vegetative potency, and also freedom of the will. And, I say, he takes on himself the form of the man who is concerned with the sensory aspects of this world, and is even inclined to them. Indeed, he presents himself as free will leaning toward sensuality; Virgil as worldly reason directing the free will toward the cognizance of the vices and the virtues; Beatrice as the Theology of Holy Scripture; the kind Lady, who pities him in Heaven, as the prevenient and rogatory Grace of God, which, by the love the author bears for Holy Scripture, sent him aid; Lucy as cooperating and auxiliary Grace, without which his salvation in Heaven were not enough. And the poem begins:”]

6. Pietro di Dante (Latin, ca. 1340)

6. Petri Allegherii super Dantis ipsius genitoris comoediam, Commentarium (pub. W. W. Vernon, ed. V. Nannucci, Florence, 1846) contains the longest and possibly the most interesting discussion of Dante's, his father's, allegory. The sevenfold division is curious. It is probably fair to say that the first four senses represent an attempt to define, or at least analyze, varying degrees of literalness, while the last three are the conventional second, third, and fourth senses. Despite this ingenious and complex (and perhaps confusing) introduction, Pietro's actual commentary is hardly ever concerned with any kind of rigorous application of the principles he enunciates here, preferring the safer, or at least more usual, techniques of personification allegory, as is evident, for example, within his treatment of brachium Dei in the final paragraph below. The passage occurs in the introductory statement which precedes the text of the poem (pp. 4-8):

“Causa formalis duplex est, scilicet, forma tractatus, et forma tractandi. Forma tractatus est divisio ipsius libri, qui dividitur et partitur per tres libros; qui libri postea dividuntur per centum capitula; quae capitula postea dividuntur per suas partes et rhythmos. Forma tractandi est septemcuplex, prout septemcuplex est sensus, quo utitur in hoc poemate noster auctor.
Nam primo utitur quodam sensu, qui dicitur literalis, sive superficialis et parabolicus: hoc est, quod scribit quaedam, quae non importabunt aliud intellectum nisi ut litera sola sonabit; nam non omnia hic scripta includunt sententiam, sed propter verba sententiam et figuram importantia inseruntur. Unde Augustinus in 15.° de civitate Dei ait: non omnia, quae gesta narrantur, signifcare aliquid putanda sunt, sed propter illa, quae aliquid significant, attexuntur. Solo vomere terra perscinditur, sed ut hoc feri possit, etiam cetera alia membra aratri sunt necessaria. Et ut scribitur in Decretis: licet in veteri lege multa sub figura ponantur, tamen quaedam ad literam sunt solum intelligenda, ut in praecepto illo: non occides, non moechaberis etc. Secundo utitur quodam sensu, qui dicitur historicus, dictus ab historia: quae historia dicitur ab historin, quod est videre, ex eo quod ea quae in historia narrantur, ac si essent subjecta visui declarantur: et continet res veras et verisimiles. Nam haec vox Hierusalem historice intelligitur ipsa civitas terrestris, quae est in Syria, in illa parte quae dicitur Palestina etc., iciest gesta.
Tertio utitur quodam sensu, qui dicitur apologeticus, ab apologus, qui est oratio, quae nee veras nec verisimiles res continet, est tamen inventa ad instructionem transumptivam hominum. Unde Philosophus: transferentes secundum aliquam similitudinem. De quo stylo ait Horatius sic in poetria:

Scribendi recte sapere est et principium et fons.
Ficta voluptatis causa sint proxima veris,
Nec quodcumque velit poscat sibi fabula credi.
Omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulci,
Nam prodesse volunt, aut delectare poetae.

Ut etiam facit iste auctor, reducendo fabulas tales ad nostram informationem. Et differt a fabula, quae dicitur a fando, quae nihil informationis habet nisi vocem. Tamen poeta eis fabulis utitur aut delectationis causa, aut rerum naturam ostendendo, aut propter mores informandos, secundum Isidorum Ethimolog.: de cujus speciebus vide Macrobium de Somnio Scipionis circa principium.
Quarto utitur alio sensu, qui dicitur metaphoricus, qui dicitur a meta, quod est extra, et fora naturam, unde metaphora, quasi sermo, sive oratio extra naturam: ut cum auctor noster fingit lignum loqui, prout facit infra in XIII° Capitulo Inferni.
Quinto utitur alio sensu, qui dicitur allegoricus, quod idem est quam alienum; nam allegoria dicitur ab alleon, quod est alienum. Et differt a metaphorico superdicto, quod allegoricus loquitur intra se, metaphoricus extra se, ut ecce: haec vox Hierusalem, quae historice, ut dixi, pro terrestri civitate accipitur, allegorice pro civitate Dei militante. Et scribitur allegorice, quando per id quod factum est intelligitur aliud quod factum sit, ut ecce de duello David cum Golia, quod significat bellum commissum per Christum cum Diabolo in ara crucis. Sic et cum auctor iste dicit se descendisse in Infernum per phantasiam intellectualiter, non personaliter, prout fecit, intelligit se descendisse ad infimum statum vitiorum, et inde exisse etc.
Sexto utitur alio sensu, qui dicitur tropologicus, unde tropologia dicitur, quasi moralis intellectus, et dicitur a tropos, quasi conversio; ut cum verba nostra convertimur ad mores informandos. Et scribitur tropologice, quoniam per id quod factum est datur intelligi quod faciendum sit; ut haec vox Hierusalem tropologice accipitur pro anima fideli.
Septimo utitur quodam alio sensu, qui dicitur anagogicus, unde anagogia, iciest spiritualis intellectus, sive superior; uncle dicta vox Hierusalem anagogice intelligitur coelestis et triumphans Ecclesia. Nam anagogice quis loquitur, cum datur intelligi quod desideratum est, et cum per terrena dantur intelligi coelestia; unde dicitur ab ana, quod est supra, et gage, quod est ducere. Ad quae praedicta facit quod dicit Gregorius in Moralibus: quaedam historic expositione transcurrimus, et per allegoriam typica investigatione perscrutamur: quaedam per sola allegoricae moralitatis instructa discutimus. Nam aliqua juxta literam intelligi nequeunt; nam literaliter talia accepta non instructionem, sed errorem inducerent. Nam si ad literam intelligeremus illum sanctum virum Job, ubi dicit: eligit suspend ium anima mea, et mortem ossa mea, quid erroneum esset. Igitur ipse Job et alii scribentes sub talibus superdictis sensibus intelligi debent; et etiam auctor noster. Nam quis sani intellectus crederet ipsum ita descendisse, et talia vidisse, nisi cum distinctione dictorum modorum loquendi ad fguram? Nam non est ipse literalis sensus ipsa figura, sed id quod est figuratum; nam et cum scribitur brachium Dei, ut in Joan. 22. ex dicto Isaiae, non est sensus quod brachium Deo sit, sed id quod per brachium significatur, scilicet virtus operativa. Amodo cum auctor loquitur et describit talem et talem in Inferno, Purgatorio, et Paradiso, cum dictis sensibus diversimode intelligatur, ut poeta, cujus officium est ut, ea quae vere gesta sunt, in alias species obliquis figurationibus cum decore aliquo conversa traducat, secundum Isidorum”.

[“The formal cause is twofold, to wit, the form of the treatise and the form of the treatment. The form of the treatise is the division of the work, which is divided in parts corresponding to the three books; these books are in turn divided into one hundred chapters; and the chapters are in turn divided into smaller parts and rhythmic feet The form of the treatment is sevenfold, as our author makes use in this poem of seven senses.
Now the first sense he employs is called literal, or superficial and parabolic: that is, according as he writes certain things which have no meaning except as the letter alone is meaningful; for not everything written here contains significance, but is put into the poem alongside of words which carry with themselves significance and figure. Augustine speaks to this point in the fifteenth book of the City of God: Not all things narrated as fact are to be thought of as signifying something else. Some things are woven in among others which do have further signification. The earth is rent asunder by the ploughshare alone, but in order to accomplish this result, certain other parts of the plough are also necessary. And as is written in the Decretals: It is fitting that in the Old Law many things are set down as figures, while certain others are only to be understood literally, as in the Commandments, 'Thou shalt not kill,' 'Thou shalt not commit adultery,' etc.
The second sense he uses is called historical, from historia, which derives from historin, that is, to see, because in this sense things are narrated as history, or else, if they are presented as things seen, declared to be history. And this sense contains things true and things true-seeming. For by the word Jerusalem is understood, historically, that terrestrial city which is in Syria, in that area which is called Palestine, etc., and it is a fact.
The third sense he uses is called apologetic, from moral tale [the word is frequently used to describe Aesop's fables], a discourse which contains things neither true nor true-seeming, yet which are, nonetheless, devised for the uplifting instruction of man. Whence Aristotle: transposing in accord with some similarity. Of which mode of expression Horace discourses in verse:

Of writing well is wisdom source and font.
Fictions that would please should pass for true.
Let your tale not beg us to believe in what it pleases,
For he wins every point who with pleasure blends instruction,
And to be of use or else delight is every poet's aim.

And in this way also our author composes, shaping such tales to our conception. And they differ from the usual tale, a word deriving from the word hearsay, which contains no ideas but only words. Moreover, the poet employs these tales either to delight, or to expose to view the nature of things, or to shape morals, as Isidore says in his Etymologies: concerning whose views see the Dream of Scipio, by Macrobius, near the beginning.
The fourth sense he uses is called metaphorical, which derives from meta, which means apart from, or beyond, nature, whence the word metaphor, which means discourse or use of language departing from nature: as when our author makes the tree speak, which he does in the thirteenth chapter of Inferno, below.
The fifth sense he uses is called allegorical, because itself is as another [compare Horace, ‘tamquam alter idem’]; for allegory is derived from alleon, which means other. And this differs from the metaphorical sense discussed above because the allegorical has meaning within itself, the metaphorical beyond itself, as the following example makes plain: this word Jerusalem, by which historically, as I have said, is understood the terrestrial city, is allegorically understood as the Militant City of God. And writing is allegorical, when by what is understood to have happened something else that has happened is also understood, as in the example of the battle of David with Goliath, which signifies the war undertaken by Christ against the Devil on the altar of the cross. And thus, when the author says that he descended into Hell, in his imagination, intellectually, not personally - as he had done - he discerns that he had gone down to the lowest state of sin, and then had come back up, etc.
The sixth sense he uses is called tropolo gical, or moral sense, and derives from tropos, or a turning toward; as when words turn us toward the shaping of our moral lives. And writing is tropological when by what is understood as having happened what should be done is given to be understood; as by this word Jerusalem is tropologically understood the faithful soul.
The seventh sense is called anagogical, from which word comes anagoge, the spiritual, or higher, sense; whence by the aforementioned word Jerusalem is anagogically understood the celestial Church Triumphant. For we understand anagogically when what is longed for is given to be understood, when heavenly things are given to be understood by earthly ones; whence the word derives from ana, which means above, and gage, which means to lead. And in these premises he follows what Gregory says in his Moralia: We pass over certain historical matters in our exposition, while we scrutinize the types by means of allegory; we discuss certain other instructive matters only in light of their moral sense. For some things may not be understood literally, and such are the things which, when taken literally, lead not to instruction, but to error. For if we take literally the words of that holy man Job, when he says: My soul chooseth strangling, and death my bones [Job 7:15], how misleading it might be. Therefore, Job and the other writers must be understood in such senses as I have described above. And the same is true of our author. For who of sane mind would believe he himself made such a descent, or himself saw such things, unless enjoining the distinction concerning the modes of things said in figurative speech? For the literal sense is not itself a figure; but it is what is figured. And when the words the arm of God [probably a reference to Isaiah 51:9] are written, as in chapter 22 of John, quoting Isaiah, the meaning is not that God has an arm, but what is signified by ‘arm’, that is, the power of action. And it is just so when our author speaks, describing this or that in Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, since it should be understood that, in diverse ways, by means of the senses I have discussed, it is the office of the poet to transpose those things which have truly happened into other appearances by means of indirect figurations, and with some decorum, as Isidore says."]

7. Giovanni Boccaccio (Italian, 1373)

7. Esposizioni sopra la Comedia di Dante (ed. Giorgio Padoan, Milan, 1965) by Giovanni Boccaccio offer a sharp contrast to the highly developed sense of Scriptural exegesis to be found in Pietro. Boccaccio deals perfunctorily with allegory in his accessus (p. 2). However, in his lengthy commentary on Inferno I, 73 - Virgil's phrase poeta fui he will return at greater length to the subject when he cites the Psalm "In exitu Israel de Aegypto (p. 57). That passage is for the most part a fairly faithful reproduction of the key paragraphs of the Letter to Can Grande. Thus, although it is important to know that Boccaccio seems to have been acquainted with the text of that document, in whatever form and under whatever auspices, there is little reason to reproduce it in turn here, and only one of its sentences shall detain us. Summarizing the distinction between the literal and the other senses, and before he goes on to cite the Epistola with some exactitude, Boccaccio would seem to recapitulate his own exegetical method rather than Dante's. The literal sense, he says, is that signified by the letter, as you have heard him expound above. The allegorical sense, consonant with Boccaccio's own non-“historical” literal sense, is described as follows: “II secondo senso è ‘allegorico’, o vero ‘morale’”. As Padoan's note points out, Boccaccio has omitted the third spiritual sense here. Or has he? It is difficult to be sure, but I believe that Boccaccio has merely kept to his own definition of allegory, which, though paying lip service to four senses, essentially operates in only two: literal and allegorical/moral. He has not, it is my opinion, pointed to sense two and sense three of theological allegory, but only to the generalized allegorical sense of the allegory of the poets, which is often enough called the “allegorico ovvero morale” by any number of medieval personification allegorists. Immediately after this sentence, Boccaccio slips into the Epistola's clear distinctions among the four senses. I realize that it seems at first foolish to maintain that Boccaccio quotes faithfully a document he did not comprehend. Yet we have seen that others before (and after) him have also done so. The practice of his commentary is thoroughly to do without the distinctions he has copied into his text. The theoretical basis for his allegorical practice is clearly enunciated in the accessus, which, as I have said, deals not with fourfold, but with twofold "allegory of the poets".

“Le cause di questo libro son quatro: la materiale, la formale, la efficiente e la finale. La materiale, nella presente opera, doppia, così come e doppio il suggetto, il quale e colla materia una medesima cosa: per ciò che altro suggetto e quello del senso litterale e altro quello del senso allegorico, li quali nel presente libro amenduni sono, sì come manifestamente aparirà nel processo. E adunque il suggetto, secondo il senso litterale, lo stato dell'anime dopo la morte de' corpi semplicemente preso, per ci che di quello, e intorno a quello, tutto il processo della presente opera in tende; il suggetto secondo il senso allegorico e: come l'uomo, per lo libero arbitrio meritando e dismeritando, e alla giustizia di guiderdonare e di punire obligato”.

To be sure, Boccaccio's language would suggest at least indirect, and probably direct, acquaintance with the Epistola. Yet what is also true is that this section of it can, and often has been, read as a plea on Dante's part merely for a twofold interpretation. And that, at any rate, is precisely what he gets from Boccaccio's reading, with its strict delineation of each canto into “esposizione litterale” and “esposizione allegorica”.

[“The causes of the work are four in number: material, formal, efficient and final. The matter is, in the present work, twofold, since the subject-which is the same as the matter-is twofold; the one subject, thus, is that of the literal sense, the other that of the allegorical sense, both of which are to be found in the present work, as shall be clear from what follows. The subject, according to the literal sense, is then, simply understood, the state of the souls after the death of the body; the entire process of the present work is understood from this and around this. According to the allegorical sense the subject is man, as by his free will he is worthy and unworthy, is liable to compensatory or punishing justice”.]

8. Benvenuto da Imola (Latin, 1373-1380)

8. Benevenuti de Rambaldis de Imola, Comentum super Dantis Aldigherij Comoediam (ed. J. P. Lacaita, pub. W. W. Vernon, Florence, 1887) contains, once again in the Introductio, the briefest of allusions to the four Biblical senses (pp. 7-8). And I must point out that the authority of later editors does not support the genuineness of the passage I offer here as a matter of interest, and which is absent from the edition of Promis and Negroni (Milan, 1888) of the commentary of Stefano Talice da Ricaldone, which, following Barbi, many scholars now believe to be a better version of Benvenuto's actual commentary than Vernon's edition, which bears his name, although it was written about 1475:

“Hic nam que poeta peritissimus, omnium coelestium, terrestrium, et infernorum profunda speculabiliter contemplatus, singula quaeque descripsit historice, allegorice, tropologice, et anagogice, ut merito de ejus opere totius sapientiae et eloquentiae plenissime dicere posset...”.

[“For he, the most skilled poet, having gazed upon the depths of all heaven, earth, and hell, has written down each thing he saw historically, allegorically, morally, and anagogically, so that one may say that his great work is most full of all wisdom and eloquence…”]

9. Francesco da Buti (Italian, 1385-1395)

9. The Commento di Francesco da Buti sopra la Divina Comedia di Dante Allighieri (ed. Crescentino Giannini, Pisa, 1858-1862) also contains a proemio, one which frequently refers to the “senso allegorico, ovvero morale”, and which concludes with the following statement (pp. 14-15):

“Et inanzi che si cominci la esposizione, si dee notare che tutte le esposizioni si fanno in uno di questi quattro modi; cioè o secondo la lettera, com' io o ora sposta la storia litterale; o secondo la nostra fede, e questa si chiama sposizione allegorica; o secondo la moralità delle virtù e del modo del vivere, e questa si chiama morale; o secondo l’eterna vita, che da noi si spera, e questa si chiama esposizione anagogica…”.

It then goes on to give illustration of the above by giving an analysis, which closely corresponds to the one offered in the Letter to Can Grande, of Psalm 114 (113 in the Vulgate), "In Israel de Aegypto", finally concluding with the following explanation of the familiar distich, one that clearly displays the writer's misunderstanding of fourfold allegory by turning it into twofold personification allegory:

“E di queste esposizioni dicono li versi: Littera gesta refert, quid credas allegoria, moralis quid agas, quid speres anagogia. E però esporremo prima la lettera et appresso secondo l'allegoria o vero moralità, secondo ch' io crederò che sia stata intenzione dell'autore”.

Once again the essential tactic within the commentary is to "explain" the literal, that is, to paraphrase it, and then to go on to the “allegorical, or moral” meaning, which is consistently expressed as though only personification allegory were at stake.

[“And before I begin my exposition, it should be noted that all the expositions are made in one of these four ways: that is, either according to the letter, as I have just now explained the literal story; or according to our faith, and that is called allegorical exposition; or according to the moral sense of the virtues and of our way of life, and that is called moral; or according to eternal life, for which we hope, and that is called anagogical exposition…”.

“And of these expositions tell the verses: The literal reports deeds; what you should believe, the allegorical; the moral, what you should do; what you should hope for, the anagoge. And therefore we shall expound first the letter, and then second according to the allegory or moral sense, according as I believe it was the intention of the author”.]

10. Anonimo (Italian, ca. 1400)

10. Commento alla Divina Commedia d’anonimo fiorentino del secolo XIV (ed. Pietro Fanfani, Bologna, 1866- 1874). This commentary follows that of Pietro di Dante in its seven-part division of the forma tractandi, as is readily apparent. The prefatory matter given below appears within the commentary to Canto I, rather than in a proemio (pp. 9-10):

“La forma del trattare e di sette guise, siccome di sette guise lo intendimento che usa il nostro Autore in questa sua poesia, cioè litterale, superficiale e parabolico, cioè, che scrive alcune cose che non importono altro intendimento, se non come suona la lettera; et secondariamente usa senso storico, et contiene cose vere et verisimili: siccome dice storialmente Jerusalem, s'intende quella Città ch’ è in Sorìa. In terzo luogo usa senso apologico quando non contiene verita ne simile a verita; ma e trovato a amaestramento transuntivo degli uomini; pero che l'Autore, inducendo le favole a nostra informazione, o vuogli fare utile, o dilettare, o mostrare la natura delle cose o pur costumi. Il quarto e senso metaforico. Metafora uno detto quasi fuori di natura, come quando l'Autore finge uno legno parlare, siccome nel xiij° canto d'lnferno. Il quinto e allegorico: l'allegorico favella infra sè; il metaforico fuori di se: Jerusalem storialmente e la Città di Sorìa; allegoricamente e la Chiesa di Dio militante. Scrivesi allegoricamente quando per quello ch’ è fatto s'intende un'altra cosa fatta, siccome per la battaglia fatta fra Davit et Golia s'intende la battaglia che Cristo fece col diavolo in sulla croce: et così quando l’Autore dice se essere sceso in Inferno per fantasia et non personalmente, ma essere disceso allo ‘nferno allo strazio de' vizj, et quindi essere uscito. Il sesto senso e tropologico. Tropologia e detta quasi Morale intendimento, quando le nostre parole convertiamo a informare costumi: et scrivesi tropologicamente, quando per quello ch' e fatto si dà a intendere quello ch' è da fare, come questa voce Jerusalem s'intende per l’Anima fedele. II vij° luogo usa senso anagogico. Anagogico ciò è Spirituale intendimento, overo soprano, siccome la detta voce Jerusalem anagogicamente s'intende la celestiale et triunfante ecclesia. Anagogicamente si favella quando si danno a intendere cose celestiali”.

Since the debt this commentary owes to that of Pietro di Dante approaches the debt a translator owes his author, it is not surprising that this introductory statement of allegorical principles, like Pietro's, shows a greater familiarity with the actual techniques of fourfold exegesis than almost any other.

[“The form of the treatment is of seven modes, as is the intention of our author in this poem, that is, literal, superficial and parabolic, that is, writing certain things which have no other meaning, except for the literal; and secondly he employs the historical sense, and it contains things true and true-seeming, as Jerusalem means, historically, that City which is in Syria. Third, he uses the apologetic sense, which does not contain things true or true-seeming, but is devised for the uplifting instruction of man; moreover, the author, shaping such tales to our conception, wants to make them be of profit or delight, or to expose to view the nature of things, or of morals. The fourth is the metaphorical sense. Metaphor is something said beyond nature, as when the author makes a tree speak, as in the thirteenth canto of Inferno. The fifth is allegorical: the allegorical has meaning within itself, the metaphorical beyond itself: Jerusalem is historically the City in Syria; allegorically it is the Militant City of God. Writing is allegorical when by what has happened is understood something else that has happened, as the battle of David with Goliath signifies the battle made by Christ against the Devil on the cross. And thus, when the author says that he descended into Hell, in his imagination, and not personally, he means to say that he went down to the hell that is the torture of sin, and then came back up again. The sixth sense is tropological. Tropology signifies Moral meaning, as when words turn us toward the shaping of morals; and writing is tropological when by what has happened is understood what should be done, as by this word Jerusalem is understood the faithful Soul. Seventh, he uses the anagogical sense. The anagogical is the Spiritual, or higher, sense, as when by the aforementioned word Jerusalem is anagogically understood the celestial Church Triumphant. We understand anagogically when we are given to understand things heavenly”.]

11. Filippo Villani (Latin, ca. 1400)

11. Il comento al primo canto dell’Inferno pubblicato e annotato da Giuseppe Cugnoni (Città di Castello, 1896) of Filippo Villani is, of all the commentaries, the most involved with fourfold allegory, not only in its relatively clear statement of principles at the outset, but in its handling of the text of Inferno I, where Villani frequently looks into Christian history in order to find analogues to the poetic action. It is unfortunate that all we have from Villani is his critical insight into a single canto. Nevertheless, even this commentary makes the usual critical neglect of his work in favor of the better known and more complete fourteenth-century commentaries a cause for dismay.
The passage below is to be found in Villani's prefatio, pp. 25-28:

“...nostri theologi quatuor dumtaxat in sacris licteris posuerunt theotoricos intellectus, videlicet hystoricum, allegoricum, moralem, et anagogicum: quos in expositione uersus prophete dicentis: 'In exitu Israel de Egypto, domus Jacob de populo barbaro,' exemplariter ostendunt. Nam, si simplicis hystorie ueritatem uelimus agnoscere, liberatio ebrayci populi de seruitute Pharaonis facta per Moysem apparebit. Huie ei persimilem licteralem poterimus applicare, qui nichil affert significati citra uerborum sonum; de quo dicit Aurelius Augustinus ‘Non enim omnia, que in complexione orationis, costructionis gratia, inseruntur, significare aliquid morale putanda sunt; sed procter ea que aliquid significant attexuntur’. Si uero de licterali hystoricoque allegoriam uelimus elicere, tropum intelligemus, quo aliquid nobis dicitur, et aliud significatur; iuxta illud: Eua fabricata est de latere Ade dormientis; hoc est Ecclesia producta est de latere Christi pendentis in cruce. Similiter in uersu nostro figuratur nostra redemptio facta per Christum. Ceterum allegorie species, secundum gramaticos, septem sunt: videlicet yronia, enigma, anthifrasis, carientismos, paroemia, sarchasmos, et antismos. Sed horum uestigationem peritis gramatice derelinquo, cum non sit intentionis poete vulgariter docere gramaticam; sed moralem tradere philosophyam. Audi Gregorium, romanum pontificem, de se dicentem, dum Iob exponit: Non miotacismi collisionem fugio, non barbarismi confusionem deuito, situs motusque etiam propositionum casus seruare contempno, quia indignum uehementer existimo, ut uerba celestis oraculi restringam sub regulis Donati'. Ego intellectum potius considerans, quam exquisitam gramaticam, sicubi error inueniretur gramatice discipline in scripturis meis, si uerborum intellectum uerum capiant, oro pios lectores ne curent. Et, prosequendo, dico, quod grecum nomen allegoria est, compositum ab allon, quod alienum seu diuersum latine sonat, et gore, quod est intellectus. Et sub isto generali nomine omnes sensus, ab hystorico licteralique differentes, allegorici nuncupantur. Post allegoricum, in specie sua, subsequitur moralis, in quo, in uersu prophete, ostenditur anime conuerse ymago de luctu miseriaque peccati ad statum gratie. Verumtamen huic poterimus sotiare apologicum, hoc est fabulosum, qualem efferunt elegantes Esopi fabule, quo transumptiue ad instructionem nostram, irrationabilium nature, collocutiones gestaque trasferuntur. Hiis duobus adicitur tropologicus, id est conuersiuus, in quo, per illud quod factum est, quad fieri debet datur intelligi; et sic resoluitur in moralem. Nam dum inuchit poeta in peccatores, ad instructionem nostram sermo conuertitur. Post moralem theologi anagogicum posuerunt, id est spiritualem, pro quo versus prophete nobis significat, exitum anime sancte, exute corpore, a corruptionis seruitute, ad eterne glorie libertatem. Hine motus, dicebat apostolus: Cupio dissolui, et esse cum Christo.' Super istos quatuor theotoricos intellectus principales, per prudentes, uersus editi sunt, qui dicunt: 'Lictera gesta refert; quid credas allegoria; - Moralis quid agas; quid speres anagogia. Ex istis colligere possumus, in hoc opere duplex fore subiectum, circa quad alterni sensus isti decurrunt. Nam, si spectemus ad licteram, erit pro materia et subiecto status animarum exutarum corpore simpliciter sumptus; nam circa ipsum totius operis processus uersatur: si uero ad allegoriam mentis oculos inflectamus; subiectum atque materia erit homo uiator, pro ut, merendo uel demerendo per arbitrii libertatem, iustitie premiandi et puniendi erit obnoxius”.

[“...our theologians have set down precisely four theological senses for Scripture, and they are these: historical, allegorical, moral, and anagogical. They are seen exemplified in the following prophetic verse, 'When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language.' And, if we wish to know simply the historical truth of these lines, the liberation of the Hebrew people from their slavery under Pharoah, which was wrought by Moses, will be apparent. We may also understand that a similar literal sense at times conveys nothing of significance beyond the literal meaning of the words, concerning which fact Aurelius Augustine says: 'For not all things which, in the complexity of discourse are introduced for the sake of arrangement, are to be thought of as having some moral significance; for some are merely woven in among those things which do have such significance.' If from the literal and historical we wish to draw out the allegory, we must understand the trope by which one thing is told us and another is meant along with it: Eve was created from the side of sleeping Adam; thus was the Church brought out of the side of Christ hanging on the cross. Similarly, in our verse is figured our redemption wrought by Christ. The various kinds of allegory, according to the grammarians, are seven: to wit, irony, enigma, antiphrasis, carientismos, paroemia, sarcasm, and antismos. But I leave the investigation of these to those skilled in grammar, since it is not the intention of the poet to teach rhetoric in the vernacular, but to transmit moral philosophy. Hear Gregory, bishop of Rome, speaking of himself while he expounds Job: 'I do not flee a confrontation with metacism, nor do I shun other confounding improprieties of speech, but I do disdain service in the cause of the proper placement and cases of prepositions, because I urgently believe it unworthy of me to subjugate the words of heavenly prophecy to the rules of Donatus.' Paying more attention to what should be discerned than to exquisite considerations of grammar, I entreat my pious readers not to mind if in any place an error should be found in the rhetorical technique of my writings, so long as they understand the true meaning of the words. And, continuing, I say that the word allegory is from the Greek, made up of allon, which means other or different, and gore, which means sense. And by this generic name all the senses which depart from the historical and literal are called allegorical. After the allegorical, and in its own respect, follows the moral, by which, in the prophetic verse, is revealed the representation of the conversion of the soul from the misery of sin to the state of grace. Furthermore, to this sense we are able to add the apological, which is fictitious, that which may be drawn with good judgment from Aesop's fables in order to draw forth from them, despite their irrational nature, sayings and deeds for our uplifting instruction. Superadded to these two is the tropological, or conversionary,' where because of what has happened, what we ought to do is given to be understood; and thus this sense flows into the moral. For while the poet inveighs against sinners, his discourse is turned toward our instruction. After the moral sense the theologians put the anagogical, or spiritual, as where the prophetic verse points to the escape of the holy soul, having put off its flesh, from the slavery of corruption to the liberty of eternal glory. Thus moved, the Apostle said: I desire to depart, and to be with Christ? [Philippians 1:23]. Of these four theological senses tell those verses which were made known by the wise: 'The letter reports facts; the allegory, what you should believe; the moral, what you should do; what you should hope for, the anagoge.' From all this, we may gather that the subject of this work, around which the various senses play, is twofold. For, if we inspect the letter, taken simply, its subject or matter will be the state of the souls which have left behind the flesh, for the process of the whole work turns about this. If we turn the eyes of our mind to the allegory, the subject matter will be homo viator, according as, in the freedom of his will, by good or ill deserts, he becomes liable to rewarding or punishing justice”.]

To recapitulate briefly what may be the most precise and useful complex statement of fourfold allegory ever put down by a secular man of letters, Filippo identifies and distinguishes among the senses as follows:

1. further-signifying literal/historical: Israel out of Egypt; distinct from
1a. non further-signifying literal/historical (following Augustine);

2. allegorical (not that of the grammarians) is typology: Israel = our redemption;

3. moral: Israel, type of us, urges our conversion; based on literal/historical;
3a. moral developed from fictional tales, like Aesop's, called apological;
3b. tropological, which is part of the moral; as opposed to apological, it depends on actual events; the kind of moral sense you find depends on the kind of literal sense it comes from: further-signifying literal/historical or fabula.

4. anagogical, again based on literal/historical: Israel points to Glory.

Although I confess I do not understand why Filippo should have attempted to distinguish between moral (3) and tropological (3b), since he ends up admitting that they flow into one another, I still do not know a single critic of Dante's poem who has put the theory so succinctly. His commentary, once it sets to the work of explication, while it is lacking in the classical learning we find in Pietro (his father's son on that score), is far more effective in pointing to the Biblical analogues that lie beneath the poem's literal sense. I am aware that my championing of Filippo Villani is self-serving. Perhaps if dantisti had been reading him all these years this book would have been written long ago by someone else.

Date: 2021-12-25