Italian Program

Lectures by Eva Del Soldato and Kevin Brownlee coming October 13

This fall, our series of events opens with a double-bill of back to back lectures: Galileo, the Jesuits and the Errors of Aristotle. How to Justify (and Exploit) the Philosopher by Professor Eva Del Soldato and The Concealed and the Revealed. Dantean Subtexts and Petrarchan Identity in the Africa by Professor Kevin Brownlee, both from the University of Pennsylvania.

The event takes place in Gilman 108, starting at 3:00 pm. Refreshments will be served after the discussion.

Galileo, the Jesuits and the Errors of Aristotle. How to Justify (and Exploit) the Philosopher

By the seventeenth century, the truth that Aristotle was a man and therefore fallible had become obvious even to those, like the Jesuits, who wanted to maintain the centrality of his philosophy, and in particular of his cosmology. For this reason, rhetorical strategies needed to be concocted in order to justify and rescue the Philosopher, and it was precisely Galileo – an opponent of Aristotelian cosmology – who provided the Jesuits with a promising rhetorical line of argument: Aristotle had erred because instruments like the telescope were not available to him. Were he alive today, he would have offered correct doctrines. Such an argument, which was applied by Galileo only to limited and precise aspects of cosmological inquiry, could be nonetheless recovered and modified by Jesuits for apologetic reasons as well, by postulating a back-to-life Aristotle who had converted to Catholicism and was eager to attract Protestants to his new faith. This talk will address a precise moment in the history of the expression “if Aristotle were alive,” highlighting unexpected exchanges and improbable recourses to the principle of authority at the intersection of science and religion, in a decisive phase of the confessional age.

The Concealed and the Revealed. Dantean Subtexts and Petrarchan Identity in the Africa.

Throughout his life, Petrarch was creatively tormented by the fame of his predecessor Dante, whose Commedia was by far the dominant epic poem of the Italian trecento. In this paper, I contend that the literary identity of Petrarch in his only epic poem, the Africa, is significantly contrasted with that of Dante. To this end, I analyze key passages from the beginning, the middle and the end of the work. In Book 1, Dante’s name is explicitly unmentioned while the Commedia is presented as a model that Petrarch claims to bypass. The Latin poets of Dante’s bella scuola (especially Virgil) are also revised here. In Book 5, the specific details of the Dantean story of Paolo & Francesca in Inferno 5 function as one of the key (unmentioned) models that Petrarch correctively rewrites. In Book 9, on the other hand, Petrarch’s name is explicitly mentioned as the happy 14th-century culmination of new classical translatio of epic poetry, one that is visibly non-Dantean. Petrarch then concludes the work by speaking extensively in his own voice.