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Design in the Wax

The Design in the Wax

The Structure of the Divine Comedy and Its Meaning

Marc Cogan

“This is far more than an essay on Dante as Aristotelian; the subtlety and refinement of Cogan’s explication of the distinctions between Aristotle and medieval Aristotelianism, and between theological appropriations of Aristotle and Dante’s highly specific strategies of use of Aristotle to both organize and liberate his poetic program, guarantees a reorientation of the long scholarly debate on Dante’s philosophical positions and allegiances.” —
Nancy S. Struever, Professor, Humanities Center, Johns Hopkins University

The most important clue to an understanding of the Divine Comedy lies within this volume. The Design in the Wax recovers the specifically medieval interpretation of the structure which underlies each part of the poem and the poem as a whole, and shows readers how to discover the single consistent principle which organizes each part and the overall narrative.

The incidents of the poem would remain hopelessly ambiguous were it not for the philosophical and theological distinctions embodied in the structure of the narrative, in whose light it is possible to reduce the ambiguity of concrete incidents to their intended allegorical content. Through medieval interpretations of Dante’s sources, Marc Cogan discovers a single consistent moral and theological principle organizing each of the sections of the poem and its overall narrative. He argues that, using one common principle, Dante brings the separate allegories of the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso together into one great allegory, making the transformation of the principle into an ordered set of variations on the theme of love and its representation in human beings as the image of God. This allegory, he points out, provides a meditation on the nature of God and the capacities of human beings.

ISBN: 978-0-268-05558-5
420 pages
Publication Year: 1999

Marc Cogan is former associate professor in the department of humanities at Wayne State University. He is the author of The Human Thing: The Speeches and Principles of Thucydides’ History.

“Cogent, learned, and in some ways almost defiantly old-fashioned (as the author, in his introduction, is the first to recognize), this is an unusual and substantial contribution to Dante studies. Cogan returns to what most recent scholars have considered a long-settled, if not actually abandoned, critical issue—the ways in which the structure of the Divine Comedy helps to organize meaning—and triumphantly shows that, when one undertakes to beat a dead horse, the fruitfulness of the outcome can owe much to a careful choice of implement. Through painstakingly accurate exploration of Dante’s Aristotelian sources and detailed analysis of the poem itself, Cogan re-creates a plausible, authentically medieval understanding of Aristotle; shows how deeply this differs from the modern understanding that many readers of Dante have tried in vain to superimpose on the Comedy; and identifies the underlying moral and theological principle that links the poem’s three sections into a coherent whole. At once dense and sinuous, Cogan’s argument certainly requires careful attention from its readers—but it repays that attention in full measure.” — Choice

“[T]ightly argued and deeply learned book. . . . [I]t is one of the many strengths of Cogan’s work that questions of mere intellectual or critical fashion soon come to seem utterly trivial when set beside the importance of the inquiry he undertakes and the value of the results to which that inquiry so compellingly leads. [T]he volume . . . deserves to be read with careful attention by anyone seriously interested in Dante.” —_Speculum_

“These are subtle and often compelling readings. Cogan’s scholarship is impressive. “ — International Journal of the Classical Tradition

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Savage Economy

The Returns of Middle English Romance

Walter Wadiak

P03194

Civic Cycles

Artisan Drama and Identity in Premodern England

Nicole R. Rice and Margaret Aziza Pappano

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Law, Rulership, and Rhetoric

Selected Essays of Robert L. Benson

Robert L. Benson
Edited by Loren J. Weber in collaboration with Giles Constable and Richard H. Rouse
Foreword by Horst Fuhrmann

The Design in the Wax

The Structure of the Divine Comedy and Its Meaning

Marc Cogan

The Design in the Wax: The Structure of the Divine Comedy and Its Meaning
Cloth Edition
Paper Edition

“This is far more than an essay on Dante as Aristotelian; the subtlety and refinement of Cogan’s explication of the distinctions between Aristotle and medieval Aristotelianism, and between theological appropriations of Aristotle and Dante’s highly specific strategies of use of Aristotle to both organize and liberate his poetic program, guarantees a reorientation of the long scholarly debate on Dante’s philosophical positions and allegiances.” —
Nancy S. Struever, Professor, Humanities Center, Johns Hopkins University

The most important clue to an understanding of the Divine Comedy lies within this volume. The Design in the Wax recovers the specifically medieval interpretation of the structure which underlies each part of the poem and the poem as a whole, and shows readers how to discover the single consistent principle which organizes each part and the overall narrative.

The incidents of the poem would remain hopelessly ambiguous were it not for the philosophical and theological distinctions embodied in the structure of the narrative, in whose light it is possible to reduce the ambiguity of concrete incidents to their intended allegorical content. Through medieval interpretations of Dante’s sources, Marc Cogan discovers a single consistent moral and theological principle organizing each of the sections of the poem and its overall narrative. He argues that, using one common principle, Dante brings the separate allegories of the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso together into one great allegory, making the transformation of the principle into an ordered set of variations on the theme of love and its representation in human beings as the image of God. This allegory, he points out, provides a meditation on the nature of God and the capacities of human beings.

ISBN: 978-0-268-05558-5

420 pages

“Cogent, learned, and in some ways almost defiantly old-fashioned (as the author, in his introduction, is the first to recognize), this is an unusual and substantial contribution to Dante studies. Cogan returns to what most recent scholars have considered a long-settled, if not actually abandoned, critical issue—the ways in which the structure of the Divine Comedy helps to organize meaning—and triumphantly shows that, when one undertakes to beat a dead horse, the fruitfulness of the outcome can owe much to a careful choice of implement. Through painstakingly accurate exploration of Dante’s Aristotelian sources and detailed analysis of the poem itself, Cogan re-creates a plausible, authentically medieval understanding of Aristotle; shows how deeply this differs from the modern understanding that many readers of Dante have tried in vain to superimpose on the Comedy; and identifies the underlying moral and theological principle that links the poem’s three sections into a coherent whole. At once dense and sinuous, Cogan’s argument certainly requires careful attention from its readers—but it repays that attention in full measure.” — Choice

“[T]ightly argued and deeply learned book. . . . [I]t is one of the many strengths of Cogan’s work that questions of mere intellectual or critical fashion soon come to seem utterly trivial when set beside the importance of the inquiry he undertakes and the value of the results to which that inquiry so compellingly leads. [T]he volume . . . deserves to be read with careful attention by anyone seriously interested in Dante.” —_Speculum_

“These are subtle and often compelling readings. Cogan’s scholarship is impressive. “ — International Journal of the Classical Tradition

The William and Katherine Devers Series in Dante and Medieval Italian Literature