MEDIEVAL OPTICS AND THEORIES OF LIGHT IN THE WORKS OF DANTE

Author: Gilson, Simon
Year:2000
Pages:316
ISBN:0-7734-7808-6
978-0-7734-7808-4
Price:219.95
This study investigates Dante’s knowledge of several traditions of the extensive medieval literature on light and optics and examines how he assimilates and reworks related imagery, themes, and motifs in his writing.

“Gilson’s account demonstrates the extent to which in Dante’s mind art and science are closely akin. Equally, he provides a valuable survey of the debates which were current in Dante’s time in the field of optics (as well as revealing the deficiencies of most recent studies of the issue). The book is written with great clarity and considerable subtlety in the analysis of Dante’s text. It draws together material from a wide range of medieval sources and is likely to be of interest as much to the student of medieval philosophy as to readers of the Commedia.” – Dr. R. Kirkpatrick

Reviews

Simon Gilsons book offers the reader precisely what the title advertises& Part 1 considers the place in Dantes thought and poetry of perspectiva, the science of geometrical optics that by 1300 had achieved a notable level of sophistication&. The authors point is that the cultural matrix that nourished Dantes thought and poetry was a complex reality endowed with a multiplicity of channels whereby specialist knowledge of this kind was given currency. Part 2 turns to the relationship between Dante and the light-metaphysics tradition&.. Dante is above all a poet who, while making use of ideas current in the culture of his time, rethinks, combines, and artistically transforms his material in accordance with his aesthetic vision and the purposes of his poetry. Gilsons account of the place of medieval optical science and concepts of light in Dantes oeuvre is admirably thorough&. A valuable feature of this well-informed and well-documented study is the wealth of bibliographical material it offers the reader who wishes to pursue matters further.  Italian Studies

Gilsons account demonstrates the extent to which in Dantes mind art and science are closely akin. Equally, he provides a valuable survey of the debates which were current in Dantes time in the field of optics (as well as revealing the deficiencies of most recent studies of the issue). The book is written with great clarity and considerable subtlety in the analysis of Dantes text. It draws together material from a wide range of medieval sources and is likely to be of interest as much to the student of medieval philosophy as to readers of the Commedia.  Dr. R. Kirkpatrick

. . . it presents the medieval sources for the study of optics and light, including those that derive from Islamic writers, in fascinating detail and in a style that is both scholarly and accessible to the non-specialist. Particularly intriguing in this respect are the links between optical studies and medieval explanations of meteorological phenomena. . . investigates and questions received opinion on Dante, convincingly demolishing or qualifying what have become cliches concerning his knowledge of optical theories and his use of so-called light metaphysics. This was a task that needed to be done, and as a result Dr. Gilson adds new dimensions to our understanding of Dantes thought in its cultural context. . . . most importantly, Dr. Gilson remains sensitive to the fact that Dante was a creative writer and poet, and he illustrates his arguments with excellent examples of how, especially in the Divine Comedy, Dante transmuted this scientific and intellectual material into the imagery of great poetry.  Peter Armour

Simon A. Gilson has provided us with a fine example of what Dante scholarship should be all about  very original research that illuminates both Dante and his medieval culture. In exploring medieval optics and theories of light in Dantes works, Gilsons methods are absolutely top drawer. He judiciously cites, clearly explicates and profoundly develops the relevance of ancient and medieval primary sources in making his case. . . . Gilson is at his best in analyzing the poetry of the Comedy, distinguishing between general medieval ideas on light and optics, and Dantes reformation of them into his own poetic vision.  Marc A. Cirigliano

Table of Contents

Table of Contents:
Preface; Introduction
Part One: Optical Science in Dante’s Thought and Poetry
1. The Science of “Perspective”: Light, Vision, and Optics in the 13th Century
2. Optics and Vision in Dante before the Comedy
3. Aspects of Vision in the Comedy: Blinding, Optical Illusions, and Visual Error
4. Light Reflection, Mirrors, and Meteorological Optics in the Comedy
Part Two: Theories of Light in Dante
5. Dante and the “Metaphysics of Light”: A Reassessment
6. Light in the Cosmos and in God’s Creative Act
7. Adaptations Drawn from Light in the Imagery and Doctrine of the Paradiso
Conclusion; Appendix; Bibliography; Index of Longer Quotations from the Works of Dante; Name and Subject Index