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Filippo Gianferrari – Dante and Boccaccio vs. Medieval Education: A Lesson in Cross-Cultural Pastoral

May 4, 2022 @ 12:15 pm - 1:30 pm  |  Virtual and In Person


Readers have always been fascinated by Dante’s distinctive habit of placing episodes from Scripture side by side with ancient pagan myths, as though the latter had a comparable authority. As my reading shows, a popular medieval school text, known as the Eclogue of Theodulus (Ecloga Theoduli), supplied a fitting precedent and model for this practice and might have suggested some specific series of examples that Dante stages in his Purgatorio. By constructing a system of parallel mythological and biblical examples, the Ecloga Theoduli featured a syncretic account of universal history that suggested mythology was a prefiguration of the events recounted in the Bible. Whereas the Ecloga depicts a clash between Christian and pagan cultures, however, dismissing the latter as a lie, Dante harmonizes the two traditions, providing a syncretic program for the moral instruction of the Christian reader. Although the Purgatorio’s syncretic discourse constituted a remarkable innovation, which exerted long-lasting influence on later authors, it nonetheless retained some of the cultural limitations imposed by the Ecloga—as, for instance, in the representation of Virgil’s inability to cross the river Lethe in Eden. The chapter goes on to argue that first in Paradiso 19 and then in his last work, the second Egloga to Giovanni del Virgilio, Dante obliquely criticizes the Ecloga Theoduli’s condemnation of ancient poetic wisdom. The case of the Ecloga, therefore, well encapsulates Dante’s conflicting attitude toward his own education. The paper ends by showing that Boccaccio’s eclogue Olympia (Buccolicum Carmen 14) provides a sophisticated parody and refutation of the Ecloga Theoduli that takes as its model and interlocutor Dante’s wrestling with the same text in his own oeuvre.


The Center for Cultural Studies hosts a weekly Wednesday colloquium featuring work by faculty and visitors. We gather at 12:00 PM, with presentations beginning at 12:15 PM.

For Spring 2022, the colloquium will take a hybrid format, with the option of in-person or virtual attendance. Attendees have the option to attend in person in Humanities 210 or to watch the presentation on zoom. To attend remotely via zoom, please RSVP in advance, and you will receive a zoom link on the morning of the colloquium. In most cases, speakers will appear remotely so that they will not have to present wearing a mask. To RSVP for the full Spring colloquium series, please use this form. If you have any questions about the colloquium, please contact Piper Milton (

Staff assistance is provided by The Humanities Institute.


May 4, 2022
12:15 pm - 1:30 pm