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Dante: Monarchy (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought)


Dante: Monarchy (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought)

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    Available in PDF Format | Dante: Monarchy (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought).pdf | English
    Prue Shaw(Editor)
This book, first published in 1996, was the first new translation for forty years of a fascinating work of political theory. Dante's Monarchy addresses the fundamental question of what form of political organization best suits human nature; it embodies a political vision of startling originality and power, and illuminates the intellectual interests and achievements of one of the world's great poets. Prue Shaw's translation is accompanied by a full introduction and notes, which provide a complete guide to the text, and which place Monarchy in the context of Dante's life and work.

'All English-speaking students of Dante will be immensely grateful to Prue Shaw for her splendid edition and translation of Dante's Latin treatise on world government. This is by far the best English translation of the Monarchia …'Italian Studies

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Book details

  • PDF | 174 pages
  • Prue Shaw(Editor)
  • Cambridge University Press; 10th Revised ed. edition (30 May 1996)
  • English
  • 5
  • Society, Politics & Philosophy

Review Text

  • By B. Alcat on 23 November 2004

    Many people have read Dante's "Divine Comedy", but only some know that besides being a wonderful poet he was also a noteworthy political thinker. If you read "Monarchy", a book that he wrote in 1313, you will realize why...Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) was born in Florence, Italy, and he participated actively in the political life of his city, being one of the officials in charge of the government of Florence. As such, he took some decisions that were considered by many anti-papal, but that he deemed not only adequate but essential in order to limit the influence of the Church in politics. As a result, sometime later (when the balance of power changed, and the Church had the upper hand), he was exiled from Florence and told that if he were to return he would be executed. It is rather unsurprising that this event only made him more sure of what he already thought: that the Church shouldn't be involved in politics.The mere idea that the Church wasn't more important than the Empire was rather controversial at the time that this book was written, because some said that the Church had a right to oversee the Empire, to watch over it and direct it if necessary. Others, for example Dante, were vehemently opposed to that idea, and took upon themselves the task of increasing the power of the Emperor. In "Monarchy" he tries to explain what form of political organization is the one that allows human beings to reach their objectives more easily. Dante distinguishes two orders and two authorities (Church and Empire), and says that the basis for that distinction is the two main objectives that men have in their lives: eternal happiness and happiness in this life. He defends the importance of the Empire, and says that it doesn't need to obey the Church. Dante also points out that the authority of the secular prince is not derived from the Church, but comes directly to him from God.On the whole, this book is quite interesting, and it introduces you to a different side of Dante: the political thinker. Moreover, it allows you to know more about the controversy regarding the Church and the Empire, a debate that was very important in the XIVth century. It is also worthwhile pointing out that "Monarchy" is quite short, so you won't lose too much of your time reading it, but you are likely to learn a lot. So, all in all, recommended...Belén Alcat

  • By Ashtar Command on 24 August 2008

    Dante Alighieri has the reputation of being one of the world's greatest poets, because of his "Divine Comedy". This book is very different. "Monarchy" is a prose text, outlining Dante's views on politics and state-church relations."Monarchy" is divided into three parts. In the first part, Dante argues for a world empire, ruled single-handedly by a monarch modelled on the pagan Roman emperors. The arguments are framed in the manner of Aristotelian syllogisms. Still, most of them look vaguely familiar: just as God is the single ruler of the universe, the emperor should be the single ruler of humanity; since universal peace is good for humanity, and since two or more rulers can wage war against each other, there must be a single ruler of the whole world; there must be a final court of appeal somewhere, and that can only be the emperor, etc.Dante further claims that the emperor can't be greedy: since he already rules the world, and therefore has everything, greed cannot enter his mind, and he is therefore perfectly just. "Therefore since the monarch is the most universal cause among mortals that men should live the good life, it follows that the good of mankind is dear to him above all else".The Supreme Poet then declares that humanity is truly free only if subject to an autocratic world ruler: "Thus it must be borne in mind that a thing is free which exists for its own sake and not for the sake of something else, as Aristotle states in the Metaphysics. Mankind exists for its own sake and not for the sake of something else only when it is under the rule of a monarch, for only then are perverted forms of government (i.e. democracies, oligarchies and tyrannies), which force mankind into slavery, set right. Since the monarch loves men most, as we have already noted, he wants all men to become good, and this cannot happen under perverted forms of government."In the second part, Dante attempts to show that the pagan Roman Empire ruled the whole world by the will of God, and that the best form of rule is therefore the re-establishment of said empire. In part, Dante accomplishes this by recounting the heroic deeds of various figures from the Roman Republic, as if there was a direct continuity between the Republic and the later Empire. He further states that the founder of Rome, Aeneas, was the noblest person in the world, and that the kingdom established by him therefore had the right to conquer and subdue its neighbours. Another important proof is that a large shield fell from heaven when the Roman king Numa sacrificed to the pagan gods. This miracle shows that Rome had divine favour.To modern readers, these arguments look very strained, but they must have seemed pretty strained even to Dante's contemporaries. Dante, after all, was a Christian, not a pagan, and yet he sees pagan miracles as proof that a world monarchy is desirable. The most stunning argument offered by Dante Alighieri in this section is that since Jesus was born under Roman rule, and was condemned to die by the Roman authorities, the divine legitimacy of the Roman Empire is proven (!).The plot thickens in the third section, where our poet refutes arguments for *papal* world rule, put forward by people we would today call Ultramontanists. Dante manages to demolish all the usual arguments for papal supremacy (the two lights, the two swords, etc). Sometimes, this section is actually quite humorous - the "Ultramontane" arguments were *very* weak. But even this section contains a stunning statement: Dante rejects the so-called Donation of Constantine, since he believes that Constantine acted without proper authority when he gave the popes temporal power (actually, the Donation is a forgery, but this was unknown in Dante's day). To Dante, Constantine's donation was in effect a division of the empire, something no emperor has the right to do. Thus, Dante is forced into the rather strange position, for a Christian, that the pagan emperors were better than the first Christian emperor!What are we to make of "De Monarchia"? If taken at face value, the work is frankly absurd. The safest course, perhaps, is to see it as a piece of panegyric, perhaps written to appease the Holy Roman emperor Henry VII, who Dante hoped could unite Italy. Dante had originally opposed the power of the Holy Roman emperors, but later changed his mind on the subject, after a series of complex events in his native Florence best left aside here. Personally, I was struck by two things when reading "Monarchy". First, Dante makes a strong case for the temporal power against the papacy. This makes him one of several 14th century theorists who paved the way for a secularized form of government, free from the power of the Church. Second, Dante doesn't call for a democratic form of government, in contrast to Marsilius of Padua or William of Ockham (who, ironically, were associated with a later Holy Roman emperor, Louis of Bavaria). Instead, he adopts a position strangely reminiscent of 16th, 17th and 18th century absolutism.I'm not sure if Henry VII ever read this text. But the Sun King would have been proud.

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