We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more

E-book purchase
Choose a subscription

Downloaded copy on your device does not expire. Includes 4 years of Bookshelf Online.


Where applicable, tax will be added to the above price prior to payment.

E-book purchasing help


Dante's New Life of the Book

A Philology of World Literature

Martin Eisner

Publication Date - May 2021

ISBN: 9780198869641

288 pages
8.0 x 5.3 inches

In Stock


Dante's Vita nuova has taken on a wide variety of different forms since its first publication in 1294. How could one work have generated such different physical forms? Through examining the work's transformations in manuscripts, printed books, translations, and adaptations, Eisner reconceives of the relationship between the work and its reception. Dante's New Life of the Book investigates how these different material manifestations participate in the work, drawing attention to its distinctive elements. Dante framed his book as an attempt to understand his own experiences through the experimental form of the book, and later scribes, editors, and translators use different material forms to embody their interpretations of Dante's collection of thirty-one poems surrounded by prose narrative and commentary. Traveling from Boccaccio's Florence to contemporary Hollywood with stops in Emerson's Cambridge, Rossetti's London, Nerval's Paris, Mandelstam's Russia, De Campos's Brazil, and Pamuk's Istanbul, this study builds on extensive archival research to show how Dante's strange poetic forms, including incomplete canzoni and sonnets with two beginnings, continue to challenge readers. Each chapter focuses on how one of these distinctive features has been treated over time, offering new perspectives on topics such as Dante's love of Beatrice, his relationship with Guido Cavalcanti, and his attraction to another woman. Numerous illustrations show the entanglement of the work's poetic form and its material survival. Eisner provides a fresh reading of Dante's innovations, demonstrating the value of this philological analysis of the work's survival in the world.


  • A fresh interpretation of Dante's first work, based on extensive archival research
  • Extensively illustrated, providing an opportunity to experience the work's varied material forms
  • Offers a different model for thinking about interactions between literary form and material survival

About the Author(s)

Martin Eisner, Chair of Romance Studies and Professor of Italian, Duke University

Martin Eisner is Professor of Italian and Chair of Romance Studies at Duke University. He is the author of Boccaccio and the Invention of Italian Literature (Cambridge, 2013) and Boccaccio: A Life in Books (Reaktion Books, forthcoming).


"Ultimately, the book is both a useful summary of the most important critical problems linked to the Vita nuova and an overview of the different interpretative positions that they pose. Moreover, it is an interesting application of a working method which, although philologically correct, can be called "comparative" at all levels, and which has the merit of overturning the common expository approach by starting with the legacy of the text to reveal new meanings in the "original." -- Andrea Quaini, French & Italian, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Comitatus

"Dante's New Life of the Book will be interesting not only for Dante scholars but also for anyone interested in intersections between form, literary history, and material textuality. Every chapter contains intriguing instances of the transmission of Dante's text, insightful readings of Vita nuova, and new ways of understanding the point of contact between the two. Dante's New Life of the Book is thus a valuable addition to the life that it commemorates." -- Kara Gaston, University of Toronto, Speculum

"Dante's New Life of the Book also charts stimulating pedagogical directions, as it shows that the timelessness of Dante's many contributions to world literature depends on the intrinsic tensions, contradictions, and innovations that are the trademark of his literary experimentation and cultural restlessness." -- Filippo Gianferrari, UC Santa Cruz, Modern Philology

"As the Veronica is for Christ, the Vita Nuova is a substitute for Beatrice's presence that can be circulated amongst the faithful." -- Stefano Milonia , Medium AEvum

Table of Contents

    Prologue: A Philology of World Literature
    Part One: Interpreting Beatrice
    1. The Encounter (Postcard)
    2. The Dream (Film)
    3. The Crisis (Musical Staves)
    Part Two: Glossing Beatrice
    4. The Mouth (Marginal Gloss)
    5. The New Homer (Ultraviolet Colophon)
    6. The Interruption (Picture Frame)
    Part Three: Remembering Beatrice
    7. The Painting (Composition)
    8. The Other Woman (Collation)
    9. The Veronica (Tipped-in)