Dante and Paul's "Five Words with Understanding"
Bernardo Lecture Series, No. 1
Argues there is a program of five-word utterances that imitate fallen language in Dante’s Commedia.
Dante and Paul's "Five Words with Understanding" is the first in a series of publications occasioned by the annual Bernardo Lecture at the Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies (CEMERS) at Binghamton University. This series is designed to make available to a broad audience studies on a wide variety of subjects by leading medieval and Renaissance scholars.
In this volume, Hollander argues that in Dante's Commedia there is a program of five-word utterances that imitate fallen language and thus reflect Paul's admonition to the Corinthians to give over the desire to speak publicly in tongues. Five words spoken with understanding, Paul tells them, are preferable to "ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. "
Hollander analyzes the speeches of Nimrod (Inferno 31. 67) and Plutus (Inferno 7. 1) and other instances of garbled or mixed speech from the Purgatorio and Paradiso that appear to belong to this five-word program.
Robert Hollander is professor of European Literature at Princeton University. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow and a Senior Fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities. He served from 1974 to 1980 as vice chair of the National Council on the Humanities, and held the post of president of the Dante Society of America for three years.