Past Event

Columbia-Berkeley Seminar on Dante and Arabic Philosophy

March 9, 2023
12:15 PM - 2:00 PM

Dante and Arabic Philosophy

A Columbia University and UC Berkeley Joint Seminar organized by Pier Mattia Tommasino (Columbia, Italian) and Akash Kumar (UC Berkeley, Italian Studies)

Session 2: Limbo’s Five Surprises - Avicenna in Dante’s Divina Commedia

Presenter: Amos Bertolacci (Scuola IMT Alti Studi Lucca)

Respondent: Teodolinda Barolini (Columbia University)

Dante’s characterization of the Muslim thinker Avicenna in the Divina Commedia is surprising in many respects. Avicenna is presented primarily as a physician, rather than as a philosopher, among the “spiriti magni” of Limbo, despite the enormous influence of the Latin translations of his philosophical work, the Book of the Cure/Healing, surely well-known to Dante. Also, he is portrayed in agreement with his arch-enemy in falsafa Averroes, whose criticisms of Avicenna in his commentaries on Aristotle could not have escaped Dante. Moreover, the presence of Avicenna, together with Averroes and Saladin, in Limbo is surprising since these three unbaptized Muslims neither lived before Christ nor were totally unaware of him, as the other inhabitants of this otherworldly space are said to be. Finally, the status of Avicenna, Averroes, and Saladin in the “city of lights” that is Limbo is sharply opposed to that of Muḥammad and ʿAlī in the eighth circle of Hell (Inf. XXVIII), as an attestation of the ambivalent attitude that Dante held towards Islamic civilization, praising the latter’s culture but rejecting their religion.

Co-sponsored by the Italian Mediterranean Colloquium (CU), the European Institute (CU), the Department of Italian (CU), the Center for the Study of Muslim Societies (CU), and the Department of Italian Studies (UCB)

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European Institute