Convivio: new edition and translation

Andrew Frisardi   Independent scholar

My edition and first fully-annotated translation of one of Dante’s ‘minor’ works, Convivio: A Dual-Language Critical Edition, has recently been published by Cambridge University Press. It is hard to explain in a few words what the Convivio, composed by Dante in exile between 1304 and 1307, is like since it is as unique as most of his works. Let me just say that Dante as the quintessential poet-scholar is his truly unpredictable poet-scholarly self in this book. He gives prose commentaries on three of his own long poems, which are in the book as well, and is mind-bogglingly innovative and visionary with what he does with that. I highly recommend it for an experience of what the poetic intelligence can do when it is operating on all levels, as well as for getting closer to Dante’s thought in the Divine Comedy.    Dante wrote the Convivio explicitly to reach an audience of cultured people who were too busy with practical life to study in the universities. Its contents are encyclopedic, touching on linguistics, history, politics, ethics, metaphysics, poetics, and more — all of them treated with Dante’s characteristic inventiveness and power of insight. Also, parts of it communicate something of Dante the man — his anxieties as an exile and his aspirations and intuitions as an inspired poet with a razor-sharp intelligence.

The Convivio is a bridge-text between Dante’s years in Florence, where he became famous as the author of lyrical poems and the Vita nova, and the culmination of his life’s work in the Divine Comedy. In the Convivio, Dante translates themes which occupied him from the start—love, knowledge, and nobility—into a new conceptual language. The prose is written in Italian so that those who were not educated in Latin could take part in what Dante called his convivio, or ‘banquet’ of knowledge. So, he establishes one of the fundamental features of his masterwork: the expressive use of the vernacular. Contemporary scholars consider the Convivio as one of the most important prose works of the time.

Nearly all contemporary readers wishing to understand the Convivio in some depth will need help from an accessible commentary. To provide this, I have made use of a vast amount of the available scholarship on the subject, much of it in Italian but translated or paraphrased in the notes so that readers who do not know Italian can benefit from these sources. The notes also provide pertinent quotations and citations of primary sources to contextualize and clarify Dante’s thought. The substantial introduction to the volume is divided into four sections—’The Convivio: A Portrait,’ ‘Dante and Lady Philosophy,’ ‘Dante’s Quest for Knowledge,’ and ‘Dante and Nobility’ — which will orient readers to the text. In addition, there are two indexes for following up on items of interest, one index for my introduction and notes and one for the Convivio itself. The parallel Italian text is also included for the first time in an English translation of the Convivio. My hope is that the fresh translation and up-to-date introduction, notes, and bibliography in this edition will make this important work of Dante fully accessible to all Anglophone readers for the first time.

Originally from Boston, Andrew Frisardi lives in Central Italy. His work as a writer, translator, and independent scholar has been awarded with a Fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation, a Raiziss de Palchi Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets, and a Hawthornden Literary Fellowship. His edition of Dante’s Vita nova, with translation, introduction, and notes, was published in 2012. He has also published translations of the poetry of Giuseppe Ungaretti and Franco Loi.

 

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