Brian K. Reynolds (Fu Jen) – “Dante’s Prayer to the Virgin, the Commedia and the Marian Tradition”
Thursday September 4 at 4:30pm in Special Collections, Hesburgh Libraries
This lecture will seek to explore some of the multiple directions in which Dante’s Prayer to the Virgin leads us, firstly by placing it within the context of the Marian tradition and then by examining how it relates to the Commedia as a whole. In so doing, I shall draw both on the commentary tradition and on the excellent letture of such eminent scholars as Auerbach, Fubini and Boitani, but I shall seek to move beyond what has already been written to provide a more comprehensive view of how the Prayer fits into the wider context of Marian literature, and how it reveals the fundamental importance of Mary to Dante’s overall vision.
The Prayer is a remarkable synthesis both of the Marian heritage in which Dante was steeped, and of the role, or rather roles – for they are multiple – that he assigns to Mary in the Commedia. Rich in typological and doctrinal references, yet in no way burdened by them, this is a laud, a love song, and a petition, which combines elements from the long tradition of Marian panegyrics with a lexicon that draws on the fin’amor lyric. The prayer-poem expresses the poet’s ardent belief in the extraordinary place that Mary has in the Economy of Salvation, while also making clear his personal indebtedness to her as she has watched over him on his journey upward from the infima lacuna de l’universo (22-23) to the eternal rose (9), fruit of her fiat (Luke 1.38). Without her, his journey would have been vain – sanz’ali (15), just like that of Ulysses –, and now more than ever, it is on her that he must rely if he is to be granted a brief glimpse of the ultima salute (27).
But Mary’s role extends beyond that final vision, for it is she who will continue to guard over him (conservi sani, dopo tanto veder, li affetti suoi , 35-36) as he writes the story of his divine adventure, ensuring that his are words of the Word, and she will continue to guide him even beyond the end of his earthly existence to the ultimate goal of both poet and Poem – God.
Brian K. Reynolds has been on the faculty of the Italian Department of Fu Jen Catholic University, Taipei since 1997. He did his primary degree in University College Dublin and went on to complete his postgraduate studies at Trinity College Dublin. He also taught in both of these universities before moving to Taiwan. Prof. Reynolds has written widely on courtly and religious literature, and on Dante Alighieri, including a number of articles on the Virgin in the Commedia. For some years, he has also been researching in the field of Mariology, on which he recently published a major study, Gateway to Heaven: Marian Doctrine and Devotion in the Medieval and Patristic Periods. He is currently working on the second volume of this study, which deals with Mary’s image and typology, and is also planning a monograph on the relationship between the courtly lady and the Virgin Mary.
Originally published at italianstudies.nd.edu.