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Beyond the Law

Beyond the Law


(p.53) 2 Beyond the Law
Dante and the Limits of the Law
Justin Steinberg
University of Chicago Press

This chapter argues that Dante’s use of “libero arbitrio” (often translated as “free will” but closer in actual meaning to “free choice”) has a legal connotation as well as a philosophical one. In Dante’s time, arbitrium referred to a judge’s discretion or to a special grant of political power. Viewed by contemporaries as essentially rule-bound and normative, it is not be confused with our modern concept of sovereignty. Accordingly, when Dante employs the concept of arbitrium to characterize his theory of literary innovation, his aesthetic philosophy differs starkly from our modern liberal myth of artistic freedom. For Dante, poetic license is rule-bound, case-specific, and an expression of the continuing relevance of tradition. The chapter takes issue in particular with Ernst Kantorowicz’s reading of the coronation scene atop Mount Purgatory as an allegory for the emergence of the modern poet as sovereign.

Keywords:   libero arbitrio, free will, discretion, sovereignty, poetic license, Ernst Kantorowicz, coronation

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