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Dante and the Sciences of the Human

Medicine, Physics, Soul

Webinar – 23 October 2021, 3.30-7 pm (CET)


Organised by  

Matteo Pace – Connecticut College


Click on the Image to Download the Poster

The CSMBR joins the worldwide celebrations for the 700th anniversary of Dante Alighieri’s death (1321-2021) with an international online symposium dedicated to Dante’s poetical and scientific mind. Gathering scholars who approach his work and times from interdisciplinary perspectives, the webinar will address how Dante shaped an understanding of the human body and mind, and his relationship with medical and scientific thought in his philosophical and literary oeuvre.

The event is organized by Matteo Pace (Connecticut College), the recipient of the 2020 Santorio Award for Excellence in Research, and features keynote speakers and topics such as:






Arielle Saiber (Bowdoin College)

Stolen Parts: Bodies and Thing Theory in Inferno 24-25

This talk is an investigation of how the cantos of the thieves problematize the ontological status of a thing, specifically, the distinction between a thing and an object when considering the acts of “change” and “exchange” with which theft, and its punishment in Hell, presents us.  When does a familiar object—even something as intimate and unique as a body part—become an estranged thing, and vice versa?  At what point does it signify differently?  Dante’s word choice, imagery, and syntax in Inf. 24 and 25 reflect the instability of things in both the material world and in the world of language.  He challenges us to consider our understanding of ownership and identity, and what is really lost and gained in appropriating what is not, by law or by nature, ours.


Andrea Celli (University of Connecticut)

Anatomy of Florence: Illness and Body Politics in the Comedy.

This paper focuses on a few loci in the Comedy, in which Dante compares Florence to a human body, the harm or illness of which stand for corruption and flaws affecting the city as a polity. Medical allegories of the body politic are relatively common in scholastic literature. They ultimately stem from Plato, Aristotle, and the vast Greek-Arabic and Latin tradition of their interpreters. One example of this tradition over which I will briefly linger is al-Fārābī’s treatise on the virtuous city (Kitāb arā’ ahl al-madīnah al-fāḍilah), in which the body politic is a city (madīna), rather than principalities or kingdoms, as often in Medieval political thought (Dante’s De Monarchia included). The paper suggests a political-philosophical reading of some of the references to Florence in the Comedy. In a theological-political perspective, the ultimate “source of the ills in the city” (Par. 16: 67-69) is the city’s aspiration to self-governing.


Ivano Dal Prete (Yale University)

Of Earth and Water: Dante’s Quaestio in Context

In January 1320, Dante Alighieri famously lectured in a church of Verona on the meteorological problem of the relation between the sphere of the earth and that of water. Modern scholars have often regarded Dante’s Quaestio as the final refutation of the apparently nonsensical, yet common doctrine postulating that the surface of the ocean would be higher than dry land – with sources and rivers thereby flowing “upwards”. In this talk, I intend to reassess the theory Dante so forcefully rejected by placing it within the wider context of medieval meteorology. In particular, I argue that this doctrine met with widespread popularity because, among other reasons, it offered plausible solutions to real physical problems that other schemes (included Dante’s favorite) struggled to address. Generally seen as an example of failed reasoning and logical fallacies, it shows, on the contrary, the capacity of medieval thinkers and of their readers to accept explanatory models that transcended the immediate perception of the senses.


Eva Del Soldato (University of Pennsylvania)

Dante in the Renaissance Lovesickness Tradition

Renaissance treatises on love often rely on the authority of poets, particularly Petrarch and, later, Ariosto. This happens for good reason, especially in those sections dealing with love as a sickness. Yet occasionally also Dante is used as an authority. This paper investigates the recurring patterns in the use of Dante in Renaissance love treatises, which offer insights into a scarcely investigated aspect of his early modern reception.


Christiana Purdy-Moudarres (Yale University)

A Natural Resurrection? On God’s Creation of the Human Body in Paradiso 7.

In canto 7 of Paradiso, Dante-pilgrim is faced with a conundrum regarding God’s creation of the human body. Beatrice has just distinguished between what God creates immediately (“sanza mezzo” [7.142]) and what he delegates to his angelic intermediaries: while the former – i.e., the spiritual realm that they’re now passing through – is incorruptible, the latter – the material realm they’ve left behind – is subject to corruption. The distinction is not unusual by 14th century standards.  The same cannot be said for Beatrice’s corollary: “And hence you further can infer your resurrection, if you reflect how was the making of human flesh then when the first parents were both formed” [145-148]. The implication seems to be that God’s immediate creation includes the human body, thereby rendering it incorruptible. Hence the necessity of the resurrection. Or so it did to commentators until about a century ago, when this reading was rejected as theologically naïve and, more recently, downright heretical. As one esteemed Dantista has put it, this cannot possibly be what Beatrice is saying, for a naturally immortal body defies not only what our senses show us, for example, but the necessity of Christ’s defeat of death – i.e., it is not a natural endowment but a gift of grace. Hence, as most contemporary commentators note, the lack of any precedent for such a view among Dante’s theological precursors. I propose a rehabilitation of the once standard reading of these lines based on a thus far untapped source of inspiration.  While the notion of a naturally immortal body was unconventional by Western standards, the same cannot be said of the Eastern tradition, via the doctrine of Adam’s double creation. The purpose of this paper is to track the origins and westward journey of this doctrine into Dante’s theological milieu and thence, into Beatrice’s intimation of our natural immortality.


Keynotes’ Bios

Arielle Saiber Professor of Italian Studies at Bowdoin College, Saiber publishes primarily on medieval and early modern Italian literature, the history of mathematics, and science fiction.  Her books include Giordano Bruno and the Geometry of Language (2005), Measured Words: Computation and Writing in Renaissance Italy (2017), and the co-edited anthology Images of Quattrocento Florence: Writings on Literature, History and Art (2000).  In 2006, she built the web archive, Dante Today: Citings and Sightings of Dante in Contemporary Culture, which she continues to co-curate.  In 2020, Saiber began co-editing the University of Minnesota’s new interdisciplinary monograph series, Proximities: Experiments in Nearness.  Her current projects include a study of the presence of the nonhuman in Italian humanist writing, and a piece on mathematical symmetry and literary analysis.


Andrea Celli teaches Italian and Mediterranean Studies at the University of Connecticut. He graduated in “Letteratura moderna” at the Università di Padova (Italy), where he also received his PhD Degree in “Filologia italiana” (2004). Before moving to UConn, he lectured “Ermeneutica e Storia della Critica” at the University of Lugano, Switzerland.  He has published several monographs, essays, and chapters, and translated works from French and Arabic authors.  His current research projects include a study on early-modern representations of Hagar and Ishmael, as genealogical symbols of religious conflict; and a long essay on the ‘afterlife’ of Saladin in Counter-Reformation literature. Forthcoming is the book “A Mediterranean Comedy: Dante and Islam from Medieval Tuscany to Postcolonial Italy.”


Ivano Dal Prete is a senior lecturer at Yale University. He has taught and conducted research at the University of Minnesota, Columbia University, Harvard/Villa I Tatti (Florence), the Huntington Library (Pasadena), and the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America. He has published extensively on the history of early modern Earth sciences, astronomy, popular science, and scientific communication networks. He is the author of Scienza e Società nel Settecento Veneto (FrancoAngeli, Milan, 2008). His forthcoming book, On the Edge of Eternity. The Antiquity of the Earth in Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Oxford University Press, 2022), questions the common narrative of an eighteenth-century discovery of geological time, arguing instead that the idea of an ancient Earth was widespread and freely discussed in medieval and early modern Europe.


Eva Del Soldato is an Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Trained in Philosophy and Intellectual History at the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, her research is primarily devoted to Renaissance thought and culture, with a special attention to the Aristotelian and Platonic traditions. She is the author of the monographs Simone Porzio (2010) and Early Modern Aristotle. On the Making and Unmaking of Authority (2020).  She also authored several articles and editions, including the Italian translation of Bessarion’s In calumniatorem Platonis (2014). She has co-edited the volume City, Court, Academy. Language Choice in Early Modern Italy (2017), and Harmony and Contrast: Plato and Aristotle in the Early Modern Period (2021).  She received – among others – fellowships from the Scuola Normale Superiore, Villa I Tatti, the Herzog August Bibliothek, the Huntington Library, the American Philosophical Society, and she has been Marie Curie Fellow at the University of Warwick. She has been senior visiting professor at the Università Statale di Milano, and she will be a Stars visiting professor at the Università degli Studi di Bergamo. She has been the interim Director (2019/2020) of the Global Medieval Studies Program at Penn, and she is currently the Executive Secretary of the American Association for Italian Studies (AAIS).


Christiana Purdy Moudarres is an Assistant Professor of Italian and Medieval Studies at Yale University. She received her PhD in Italian from the same institution, followed by a Master of Arts in Religion at Yale Divinity School, where she specialized in historical theology. Her work focuses on Dante and the intersections of medieval science and religion. Other areas of interest include transhumanism and gender studies. Edited and co-edited volumes include Table Talk: Perspectives on Food in Medieval Italian Literature (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011); New Worlds and the Italian Renaissance: Contributions to the History of European Intellectual Culture (Brill, 2013); and, most recently, Dante’s Volume from Alpha to Omega (Arizona University Press, 2021).  She is currently completing her first book project, Dante, Poet of the Future: Faith, Science, and the Immanence of the Age to Come, forthcoming with University of Notre Dame Press



The event is free to attend but registration is required. To register click here.

For queries contact: info@csmbr.fondazionecomel.org