Reading Dante: The Pursuit of Meaning examines the problem of determining the thematic unity of Dante's Divina Commedia in the history of Dante studies. The question of unity has puzzled Dante readers for centuries, due to an apparent discrepancy between Dante's construction of the afterworld and medieval Christian teachings on the conditions of the afterlife. If all sins condemned in Hell can be forgiven, we would expect to see them purged in Purgatory and their virtuous opposite celebrated in Paradise. In Dante's account, however, the three realms of the afterlife appear as self-contained entities with only partially related structures that undermine the establishment of thematic correspondences and the determination of the poem's thematic unity. Was Dante inconsistent in his exposition of the divine order, or have Dante scholars been inconsistent in their treatment of the poem's thematic content? Jesper Hede examines the prevalent strategies of reading applied by Dante scholars in their attempt to solve the problem of unity. Detailing the major contributions to the resolution of the problem and focusing on medieval philosophy and modern hermeneutics, Hede argues that a systematic parallel reading of the poem's three parts reveals that it is the vision of divine order that gives the poem its thematic unity.
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Jesper Hede is the academic secretary to the dean at the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Copenhagen.Review:
Jesper Hede has produced one of the most informative and challenging inquiries into the structure of Dante's great epic up to now. It is both a rehabilitation and a continuation of T. K. Seung's study of the unity of The Divine Comedy, published in 1962. Bound to be controversial, Hede's thesis takes Seung's conclusions about theology and psychology as the two fundamental disciplines for Dante's exposition of God's universal order one step further. He tests his precursor's idea of the thematic coherence of The Comedy on a set of cardinal scenes from Dante's Hell and Paradise, effectively showing how the medieval poet's Trinitarian design informs every part of his work. Along the way, Hede delivers a penetrating scrutiny of a large number of prominent Dante scholars, combining close readings with critical observations. Accordingly, his work can be read as a hermeneutic summa of recent research on the structure of The Comedy, but above all it constitutes a bold contribution to the understanding of its unity of vision, an issue which certainly was at the heart of our medieval poet's conception of the universe. (Anders Cullhed, University of Stockholm)
Jesper Hede has concentrated the research of many years into an illuminating and accessible study of Dante. Well aware of the huge amount of criticism devoted to Divina Commedia, Hede provides a much-needed and convincing treatment of the poem's thematic unity. Hell, purgatory, and heaven are bound together in this new reading, which shows deep humanistic insight. (Brian Patrick McGuire, professor of Medieval history, Roskilde University, Denmark)
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