THE LEARNING AND LITERARY CHARACTERISTICS OF DANTE
Most of the learning of his age Dante possessed—the science of Albertus Magnus, the philosophy of Aristotle, the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, the fragment of Latin literature that time had spared. We find abundant evidence of it, not only in the "Divina Commedia," but also in the unfinished "Convivio," or "Banquet," an encyclopædic work in the shape of a commentary on some of the author's poems.
He wrote Latin with fluency and vigor: besides his letters and a couple of eclogues, he composed a treatise, "De Monarchia," on the relation of state to church, and began a discussion of verse forms and the use of the Italian language in poetry, called "De Vulgari Eloquentia"; there is ascribed to him also a lecture, the "Quaestio de Aqua et Terra," debating a curious problem of physical geography. But while his facts, ideas, and interests were those of his day, certain traits differentiate him from his fellows: with Petrarch he shares intensity of feeling and strong personality; with Chaucer and Boccaccio clearness of vision and the gift of vivid dramatic characterization; with none, his artistic reaction to the wilder aspects of nature, his stupendous imagination, his conciseness, his power of suggestion.In language, too, he stands quite apart from his predecessors and contemporaries. Such picturesqueness, such wealth of vocabulary,had never been conceived since classic antiquity. Before him, in fact, clerical Latin had been the regular medium of serious discourse. His use of the vernacular for the elucidation of philosophy and religion was a daring innovation, which he defends in the "Convivio." Especially in his own country was the modern tongue despised, and the literary output in Italian, before the fourteenth century, was correspondingly meager.
LITERARY FASHIONS OF THE MIDDLE AGES
Northern France had long since witnessed a glorious development of narrative poetry, of warlike epic and courtly romance—songs of kings and feudal lords, adventures of knights (particularly those of the Round Table) in distant lands and times. Out of liturgical
- See Dr. Maynadier's lecture on "Malory" in the course on Prose Fiction.