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ENG 6018
Criticism and Theory I

Class 8: Geoffrey of Vinsauf, Thomas Aquinas, Dante

Reading Assignment:

    Geoffrey of Vinsauf, Aquinas, Dante (NATC 226-252)
    Reports: Jude Wright and Joe Ward on biblical exegesis and Jeff Tallman on allegory

    Due: Post #7

Class Objectives:

  • Analyze excerpts from Vinsauf's Poetria Nova;
  • Analyze excerpts from Aquinas's Summa Theologica;
  • Analyze excerpts from Dante's Il Convivio and Letter can Grande Della Scalla;
  • Discuss three reports.

The readings for this week mark the end of our texts from the Medieval period. As such they raise concerns that we have seen repeatedly in this era: the relationship between tradition and innovation (and this is related to questions of vernacular usage), the distinctions between literal and figurative language (and this is related to the combination of poetics and rhetoric); the interpretation of allegory in scriptural versus poetic texts. As you consider the works, try to explain each author's position on these subjects and distinguish the unique contributions of each.

You also will have received your midterm, which is due on Oct. 23 at 6:00 pm through Safe Assignment. While you are free to discuss the authors works that might pertain to your answers on the midterm, you should not be strategizing your answers in the public forums or mentoring groups. Everyone is responsible for his or her own unique answers.

Notes and Discussion Questions:

Geoffrey of Vinsauf

Describe the nature of Horace's influence on the Poetria Nova.

Consider the style of Geoffrey's writing and, in particular, his use of metaphor. What effect does this have on his content? How does it reflect his theories of creativity or aesthetic appreciation?

What are the implications for the poet as "prudent workman"? What of the parts of the poem as "a courteous attendant," "a diligent host," and "a herald" (229)?

Who is the audience for this work? What is its objective?

Evaluate Geoffrey's advice on the use of techniques for amplification and abbreviation.

Under difficult ornaments, Geoffrey describes metaphor or "translatio." How does this concept of metaphor compare with that of earlier theorists? What subcategories of translatio does he include?


Who is the audience for this text? What is its objective? What place does poetry play in the sciences described here?

In what ways does Aquinas' defence of figurative language in scripture reinvoke arguments against poetry? How do his arguments ultimately come to the service of poetry's defence?

Describe the impact of Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus and Augustine in the arguments that Aquinas presents.

How does Aquinas defend the use of similitudes in scripture? What claims does he make for the literal sense?

How does Aquinas resolve the conflict between the polysemous nature of language and the law of God?


In what ways do Dante's writings represent a synthesis of the "allegory of the poets" and "the allegory of the theologians"?

Dante insists that "the explication of the literal sense is the foundation of the others," and he repeatedly emphasizes that the literal must be known first (250). What does he mean by the literal and why does he emphasize its priority? What are the implications for literary criticism?

Analyze Dante's theory of comedy in his explanation of the title to The Divine Comedy.

What is beneficial about the use of the vernacular for Dante?


Taking Macrobius, Hugh of St. Victor, Maimonides, Geoffrey of Vinsauf, Aquinas and Dante, how would you describe the differences between the medieval critical theories and practices and the classical ones that came before them?

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