Dante's New Life of the Book: A Philology of World Literature

Martin Eisner

2021

Oxford University Press

book cover

Dante's Vita nuova has taken on a wide variety of different forms since its first publication in 1294. How could one work have generated such different physical forms? Through examining the work's transformations in manuscripts, printed books, translations, and adaptations, Eisner reconceives of the relationship between the work and its reception. Dante's New Life of the Book investigates how these different material manifestations participate in the work, drawing attention to its distinctive elements. Dante framed his book as an attempt to understand his own experiences through the experimental form of the book, and later scribes, editors, and translators use different material forms to embody their interpretations of Dante's collection of thirty-one poems surrounded by prose narrative and commentary. Traveling from Boccaccio's Florence to contemporary Hollywood with stops in Emerson's Cambridge, Rossetti's London, Nerval's Paris, Mandelstam's Russia, De Campos's Brazil, and Pamuk's Istanbul, this study builds on extensive archival research to show how Dante's strange poetic forms, including incomplete canzoni and sonnets with two beginnings, continue to challenge readers. Each chapter focuses on how one of these distinctive features has been treated over time, offering new perspectives on topics such as Dante's love of Beatrice, his relationship with Guido Cavalcanti, and his attraction to another woman. Numerous illustrations show the entanglement of the work's poetic form and its material survival. Eisner provides a fresh reading of Dante's innovations, demonstrating the value of this philological analysis of the work's survival in the world.