Mind Reading In Dante’S Commedia

Other Titles
This dissertation investigates through the lens of epistemology the topos of mind reading, which is frequent in the Commedia when Vergil and other souls perceive Dante pilgrim’s thoughts. Challenging previous scholarship, this study argues for telepathy as a sign of epistemological crisis that historicizes the poem. The crisis emerges through attention to narrative and rhetorical complications in the text and their place in popular and learned narrative and philosophical contexts from antiquity through the Middle Ages. Chapter 1 demonstrates that rather than enact a fantasy of perfect knowledge in heaven, telepathic rhetoric reveals inconsistencies in the mind reading of Vergil and of souls in heaven. These ruptures suggest that we should not wholly accept or reject the ambiguous powers of Vergil or take for granted the telepathy of blessed souls. In this way mind reading emerges as an unstable system of knowing throughout the poem. Remaining chapters contextualize this pattern within relevant histories, emphasizing texts in cultural dialogue. Chapter 2 explores epiphany scenes, showing that telepathy in the Commedia partly inherits the problems of recognizing divine figures in pagan epic and Christian popular narratives. Chapter 3 investigates philosophical and narrative sources of mind reading itself, which reflect deep theoretical and practical contradictions throughout the Middle Ages, ambiguities that inform Dantean telepathy as immanent. Developing these conclusions, chapter 4 situates Dantean mind reading in the AristotelianNeoplatonic framework but also in an epistemological debate that was moving beyond this traditional model. The final chapter mobilizes speech-act theory to advance the historical findings of previous chapters. It concludes that the language of mind reading, as utterances bearing the force of action, urgently performs social conventions that bring to light further historical evidence, including the subjectivity implied by Dante’s experience of exile. In powerful new ways the dissertation situates the Commedia in history, which has rarely been done in part due to Dante’s brilliant strategies of narrative and poetic transcendence. By tracing the histories that make Dantean telepathy possible, this study challenges scholarly assumptions by showing how the poem’s language anticipates epistemological concerns that became increasingly urgent throughout the humanist fourteenth century.
Journal / Series
Volume & Issue
Date Issued
Effective Date
Expiration Date
Union Local
Number of Workers
Committee Chair
Committee Co-Chair
Committee Member
Degree Discipline
Degree Name
Degree Level
Related Version
Related DOI
Related To
Related Part
Based on Related Item
Has Other Format(s)
Part of Related Item
Related To
Related Publication(s)
Link(s) to Related Publication(s)
Link(s) to Reference(s)
Previously Published As
Government Document
Other Identifiers
Rights URI
dissertation or thesis
Accessibility Feature
Accessibility Hazard
Accessibility Summary
Link(s) to Catalog Record