The precursor as shadow and light: Ovid in Dante's Comedy

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Dante Alighieri is undoubtedly among the West’s greatest writers and his most famous work, the Comedy, continues to be one of Western literature’s unparalleled triumphs. This rich poetic compendium of theology, history, philosophy, literature and mythology is interwoven with the ideas, techniques and writings of an impressive array of authors, ancient, historical and medieval. The works of such thinkers as Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle and Virgil are ever present in the Comedy. And to such writers it seems due homage is paid: in the very first canto of the poem, Virgil is credited with being one of the greatest sources of poetic inspiration for Dante:
“You are my teacher and my author.
You are the one from whom alone I took
the noble style that has brought me honor.

Yet there are other authors of equal note in the Comedy toward whom Dante appears to remain ambivalent. One of the most prominent is the Roman poet, Ovid. The number of direct references to his works are second only to those of Virgil and Ovid’s most famous poem, the Metamorphoses, in particular, provides a valuable source of transformation myths and imagery from which Dante borrows heavily. What makes the dialogue between the two figures more interesting is that both shared a similar experience of political exile that significantly influenced their writings.

In this paper I seek to explore how the predecessor can become both blessing and curse: a valuable source of learning and inspiration and therefore a beacon for those that follow but one that necessarily casts heavy shadows of originality and talent. I suggest that the relationship that Dante poet creates with Ovid throughout the poem mirrors, on a literary level, the spiritual transcendence story of his protagonist in the Comedy and that Dante’s success with this literary relationship is therefore linked to his going beyond the Ovidian source.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2009
EventThe Shadow of the Precursor: Flinders Institute for Research in the Humanities - Kangaroo Island, Australia
Duration: 7 Dec 20099 Dec 2009


ConferenceThe Shadow of the Precursor
CityKangaroo Island


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