Two Sacred, Encyclopedic Poets: Dante and Bernard Silvestris

Doctoral Dissertation


In this thesis, I consider Dante’s Commedia in light of an understudied literary tradition (the sacred, encyclopedic poem), which has its roots in Greek Neoplatonic critical endeavors to elucidate Homer and to rescue poetry as a tool for philosophizing. These ideas were applied to Virgil by Macrobius, who inaugurated a critical tradition in the Latin West (Chapter One). A crucial figure for the transmission of these late antique ideas was Bernard Silvestris, who not only operated as a critic but also responded to this tradition in his own creative work, the Cosmographia, thus giving rise to a renewal of the sacred, encyclopedic poem in the Middle Ages (Chapter Two). It is my contention that Dante knew this literary tradition and expended great effort to surpass the authors whom he emulated. His Commedia, then, can be read as the ultimate sacred, encyclopedic poem. Chapter Three analyzes Dante’s response to the encyclopedic Virgil, particularly as presented in Bernard Silvestris’s commentary. Chapter Four explores Dante’s use of the sacred, encyclopedic poetic tradition in Purgatorio XXVIII and discusses the significance of Dante’s attempt to draw our attention to its presence. The dissertation concludes with suggesting what implications Dante’s knowledge of the sacred, encyclopedic poem might have for our reading of Paradiso.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-04172014-002949

Author Jason Michael Baxter
Advisor Vittorio Montemaggi
Contributor Stephen Gersh, Committee Co-Chair
Contributor Vittorio Montemaggi, Committee Co-Chair
Contributor Zygmunt Baranski, Committee Member
Contributor Ann Astell, Committee Member
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Literature
Degree Name PhD
Defense Date
  • 2013-11-05

Submission Date 2014-04-17
  • United States of America

  • sublime

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


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