Thursday, December 31, 2015

Dante and Islam

Father Miguel Asín Palacios, S.J. is best remembered for his 1919 book, La Escatologia Musulmana en la Divina Comedia,[58][59][60] which sparked lively and extended discussions among Dante scholars. Asíin here suggests Islamic sources for the theological landscapes used by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) in his work La Divina Commedia,[61][62] written c.1308 to 1320.[63] Specifically, Asín compares the Muslim religious literature surrounding the night journey [al-'Isra wal-Mi'rag] of Muhammad (from Mecca to Jerusalem and thence up with the prophets through the sevenheavens),[64][65][66][67] with Dante's story describing his spiritual journey in which he meets various inhabitants of the afterlife and records their fate.[68]
Dante, detail from Luca Signorelli fresco at Duomo di Orvieto.

Accordingly, Asín (I) discusses in detail the above night journey in Muslim literature,[69] (II) compares it to episodes in the inferno,[70] the purgatorio,[71] and the paradiso[72] of La Divina Commedia, (III) investigates Muslim influence on corresponding Christian literature predating the poem,[73] and (IV) conjectures how Dante could have known directly of the Muslim literature in translation.[74]
Prior to Asín's La Escatologia it was assumed that Dante drew from the long poem the Aenead by the ancient Roman poet Virgil for the inspiration to create the memorable scenes of the afterlife.[75] In his Divina Comedia, Dante himself plays the leading role; he is guided by the deceased poet Virgil as they travel through the Inferno and thePurgatorio.[76][77][78] Asín remarks that the addition of the Muslim sources in no way detracts from Dante's achievement, and that Dante remains a luminous figure and his poem retains its exalted place in world literature.[79]
Asín's book inspired a wide and energetic reaction, both positive and negative, as well as further research and academic exchanges.[80][81][82] Eventually two scholars, an Italian and a Spaniard, independently uncovered an until-then buried Arabic source, the 11th-century Kitab al-Mi'raj[Book of the Ladder (or of the ascent)],[83][84] which describes Muhammad's night journey. This work was translated into Spanish as La Escala de Mahoma [The Ladder of Muhammad] by a scribe (Abrahim Alfaquim) of the Spanish king Alfonso X el Sabio in 1264.[85]
Information also surfaced about another translation of it into Latin, Liber Scalae Machometi, which has been traced to the Italian milieu of the poet, Dante Alighieri.[86][87] Evidently Dante's mentor Brunetto Latini met the Latin translator of the Kitab al-Mi'raj while both were staying at the court of king Alfonso X el Sabio in Castilla.[88][89][90] Although this missing link was not available to Asín, he had based his work on several similar accounts of Muhammad's ladder then circulating among the literary or pious Muslims of Al-Andalus.[91]

P.S. Here is an academic article with more details on the same.
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