Review of Dante’s De Monarchia

Publisher: CreateSpace, 2012

Translator: Aurelia Henry

Editor: Paul A. Boer, Sr.

 

 

The text of this book is intriguing. It is an attempt to use logic, especially Aristotelian logic, to justify the historic importance of the Roman Empire as a manifestation of God’s will, with the intent to show that a similar universal monarchy would promote peace and benefit mankind. The logic is brilliant, though some of it is forced and overly formal, such that it is persuasive to some degree, but I cannot agree with Dante’s whole premise.

One of the most intriguing aspects of this text to me is its parallels with later peace theorists such as Thorstein Veblen and Immanuel Kant, both of whom argue that only when all societies carry the same kind and form of leadership, placed under one ultimate head, can peace be sustained perpetually. In Kant’s case he argues for republican government across the board, with one super-national republican institution at the head; in Veblen’s case he says that either all must be united under an Imperial monarchy (which the democracies would never agree to) or all must be united as democracies under an international democratic organization (which would take tons of time to develop, as Germany and Japan in 1917 carried legacies of monarchism that were too strong to just wipe out immediately). One of the things that makes this text so interesting is that in Dante’s time they were living under conditions whereby they were much closer to being able to establish a universal monarchy. (T.S. Eliot says something very similar in his essay on Dante, in a different context.)

I have one HUGE problem with this edition, which dragged the book down to four stars: its footnoting is atrocious. The numbers are in plain font, the same size as the writing of the book, so that they interfere with how you read it; and unless you go from start to finish checking every footnote, you can’t isolate and find any of them individually in the back. For someone like me who has read most of Dante’s sources and some of his other work and knows what he is referring to, this makes finding the ones I haven’t read an absolute nightmare. There are tons of pages of footnotes, I think about fifty of them, and no clear delineation of where the notes for specific pages or chapters start and end. If you are the translator/editor of this work, it means you have wasted the effort to footnote in the first place!

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