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Nudity and Folly in Italian Literature from Dante to Leopardi

Friday 30 September, 5.30pm

Nudity and Folly in Italian Literature from Dante to Leopardi, edited by Simon Gilson and Ambra Moroncini (Florence: Cesati, 2022)

The editors will discuss their latest book with Prof. Brian Cummings and Dr Lorenzo Dell’Oso

Chaired by Katia Pizzi
Followed by Q&A

Since antiquity, folly, nudity, and poetry have been strictly associated with truth, goodness, and divine ecstasy. The concept of poetic creation as a form of divine ecstasy, or furor, is at the heart of Plato’s Phaedrus, where poetic manìa (madness) is allocated the status of divine madness, along with its prophetic, mystic and amorous counterparts, with the latter, the madness of love, enjoying the highest status among all four. Throughout the pre-modern era, scholars committed to the study of the writings of Plato and Aristotle, alongside Hippocrates, Galen, and Avicenna, have all focused on the link between genius and folly, madness, and melancholy. From a Christian perspective, even though the Middle Ages had placed madness or folly in its hierarchy of vices, the most exemplary figure in early modern Italy who had acted foolishly and made use of nudity for Christ’s sake is Saint Francis of Assisi, also known as God’s Fool. Nearly three centuries after Saint Francis’s evangelical approach to embracing “the nakedness and shame of the Passion,” Desiderius Erasmus, echoing passages in Saint Paul, gave voice to a sublime celebration of folly as the mask Christ himself used to convey his spiritual message, as well as asserting that “only fools have a licence to declare the truth without offence”. With these considerations in mind, the twelve chapters in this volume aim to present original research perspectives, from Dante to Leopardi, exploring how nudity and folly have been drawn upon to consider the ambiguity implicit in the notion of truth when used to address historical, philosophical, political, religious, scientific and social discourses that are still very much relevant in our modern and contemporary world.

Simon Gilson FBA is Agnelli-Serena Professor of Italian at the University of Oxford and Fellow of Madgalen College. He is the author of Dante and Renaissance Florence (Cambridge University Press, 2005; Italian translation: Carocci, 2019) and Reading Dante in Renaissance Italy: Florence, Venice and the ‘Divine Poet (Cambridge University Press, 2018). Among his most recent co-edited books: together with Zygmunt Barański, The Cambridge Companion to Dante’s ‘Commedia’ (Cambridge University Press, 2019); with Luca Bianchi and Jill Kraye, Vernacular Aristotelianism in Italy from the Fourteenth to the Seventeenth Century (Warburg Institute, 2016); with Fabrizio De Donno, Beyond Catholicism: Religion, Heresy and Mysticism in Italian Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

Ambra Moroncini is Senior Lecturer in Italian Studies in the School of Media, Arts and Humanities at the University of Sussex. Her main fields of research are: European Renaissance literature and art during the Reformation; resistance in Italian culture; women’s writing, contemporary Italian culture. She is the author of Michelangelo’s Poetry and Iconography in the Heart of the Reformation (Routledge, 2017), the co-editor, with Darrow Schecter and Fabio Vighi, of Resistance in Italian Culture from Dante to the 21st Century (Cesati, 2019), and the co-editor, with Stefano Jossa, of Satire, Paradox, and the Plurality of Discourses in Cinquecento Italy (Renaissance and Reformation. Special Issue, 2017). She has also published several articles and book chapters in relation to her fields of research. Her current research project, Early Modern Voices in the Contemporary Literature and Film, explores the revolutionary implications of the humanist enterprise in today’s society, fostering reflections on the art of adaptation as interpretation and remediation.

Brian Cummings FBA is Professor of English and Related Literature at the University of York in the Department of English and Related Literature. From 1988 to 2012 he worked at the University of Sussex, first as a Lecturer in European Studies, and later as Professor of English. He has also held visiting fellowships in Munich, Oxford, Toronto, and Washington D.C. His books include Bibliophobia. The End and the Beginning of the Book (Oxford University Press, 2022); The Literary Culture of the Reformation: Grammar and Grace (Paperback, OUP, 2007); Mortal Thoughts: Religion, Secularity & Identity in Shakespeare and Early Modern Culture (Paperback, OUP, 2013); and The Book of Common Prayer: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2018). In 2012 he gave the Clarendon Lectures at Oxford University on ‘Bibliophobia’, and in 2014 the Shakespeare Birthday Lecture at the Folger Library. With Alexandra Walsham (Cambridge) he directed the project “Remembering the Reformation”, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council from 2016 to 2019.

Lorenzo dell’Oso is an Alexander von Humboldt Postdoctoral Fellow in Medieval Italian Literature at the University of Göttingen. He holds a Ph.D. in Italian from the University of Notre Dame (2020) and has been a Research Fellow in Italian at Trinity College Dublin (2021-2022). His research focuses on the relationship between Dante and medieval thought, and in particular on the importance of the Florentine convent context for the Florentine’s theological-philosophical education. He is currently completing his first monograph, entitled The Poet and the ‘Schools of the Religious Orders’: Dante’s Scholastic Formation in Florence (1290-1302).