Volume 42, 2021

Laurie Shepard
Pages 125-142

From Anthology to Authority in the Vita Nova

This essay examines the “mini-anthology” composed of “Venite a ’ntender li sospiri miei,” “Deh peregrini, che pensosi andate,” and “Oltre la spera che più larga gira,” which Dante recounts at the close of the Vita Nova that he sent to two noble ladies. The mini-anthology offers a new juxtaposition of two of the collection’s poems, and separates all three from the prose context provided in the book. In a close reading of the three sonnets, the essay proposes that, as a discrete entity, the anthology makes a case for the poet’s authority based exclusively on his new understanding of the love of Beatrice in glory, a love that transcends death and the anima sensitiva, as opposed an authority based on the appeal to famous poets for approval made at the opening of the book or on the poetic apprenticeship rehearsed in it. A fundamental shift in the paradigm of conferring poetic authority is also suggested: authority will now arise from the recognition of men and women who are not poets but who have the nobility of mind to appreciate Dante’s new spiritualized poetics. Cavalcanti, both a poet and a nobleman, is the exception to this formulation, and the essay’s third argument concerns Dante’s intense poetic and philosophical dialogue with him, which continues through the three sonnets.