Recoding the Marvelous: The Medieval Vision Paradigm and Dante’s Commedia

Matt Horn



Most medieval visionary accounts share the characteristics of an empiric visionscape, an ordering of dispensation along the lines of Augustine' s three-fold hierarchy for visions, a tendency toward the visionary' s ultimate self-effacement in the presence of the divine, and an engagement in an passive/active dynamic (passive in receiving the vision, active in styling an authoritative account of the event). Dante' s massive Commedia follows some of these characteristics (the first two) but pulls away into uncharted terrain concerning the last two characteristics. For as Dante moves away from the mundial and progressively enters the presence of the divine, he reveals an intensifying awareness of his psyche and its emotional / cognitive responses, and his scripting of these responses acts as a catalyst to engender similar responses in the reader. Also, he hesitates to interpret his allegorical account past the literal layer, forcing the readers to reveal their own hermeneutical dispositions as they follow his progress. In these ways his Commedia pre-figures the modus operandi of the later, Protestant-styled vision accounts (both literary and historical).