DANTE ALIGHIERI° (1265–1321), Italy's greatest poet. Dante's Divina Commedia (c. 1307–21), generally regarded as the outstanding literary work of the Middle Ages, is in three parts: the Inferno, the Purgatorio, and the Paradiso. From biographical or autobiographical sources it cannot be proved for certain that Dante was in close touch with Jews or was personally acquainted with them. Jews are mentioned in his Divina Commedia mainly as a result of the theological problem posed by their historical role and survival. Such references are purely literary: the term judei or giudei designates "the Jews," a people whose religion differs from Christianity; while ebrei denotes "the Hebrews," the people of the Bible. Dante knew no Hebrew and the isolated Hebrew terms which appear in the Commedia – Hallelujah, Hosanna, Sabaoth, El, and Jah – are derived from Christian liturgy or from the scholastic texts of the poet's day. The Commedia contains no insulting or pejorative references to Jews. Although antisemites have given a disparaging interpretation to the couplet: "Be like men and not like foolish sheep, So that the Jew who dwells among you will not mock you" (Paradiso, 5:80–81), the Jews of Dante's time considered these lines an expression of praise and esteem. In the course of his famous journey through Hell, Dante encounters no Jews among the heretics, usurers, and counterfeiters whose sinful ranks Jews during the Middle Ages were commonly alleged to swell.
In the 19th century, scholars were convinced that Dante was on terms of friendship with the Hebrew poet *Immanuel of Rome. The latter and one of Dante's friends, Bosone da Gubbio, marked Dante's death by exchanging sonnets; and the death of Immanuel gave rise to another exchange of sonnets between Bosone and the poet Cino da Pistoia, in which Dante and Immanuel are mentioned together. Twentieth-century scholars, headed by M.D. (Umberto) Cassuto, showed that there is no basis for the alleged friendship between the two
To mark the 600th anniversary of Dante's death, Samuel David *Luzzatto composed a Hebrew sonnet that became famous in scholarly circles throughout Europe. Many attempts have been made to translate the Divina Commedia into Hebrew. A translation of the first part by S. Formiggini was published in 1869; S. Sabbadini's Hebrew version of the other two parts remains in manuscript. Other partial translations were made into a more poetic and comprehensible Hebrew by Lelio della Torre (1871), V. Castiglioni (1912), E. Schreiber (1924), and V. *Jabotinsky (Inferno, chaps. 1, 3, 5, 33, in Ha-Tekufah, 19 (1923), 163–92). Immanuel *Olsvanger produced the first complete Hebrew translation of the Commedia (1943, 1953, 1956). Olsvanger also translated Dante's Vita Nuova (1957) while his De monarchia was translated into Hebrew by H. Merḥaviah (1961).
Sources:F. Servi, Dante e gli Ebrei (1893); U. Cassuto, Dante e Manoello (1921, Heb. tr. 1965); J. Schirmann, in: YMḤSI, 1 (1933), 132–47; J. Sermoneta, in: Romanica et Occidentalia, Etudes dédiées à la mémoire de Hiram Peri (1963), 23–42; idem, in: Studi Medievali, 3rd series, 6 fasc. 2 (1965), 3–78; G. Rinaldi, in: L'Alighieri: Rassegna Bibliografica Dantesca, 7:2 (1966), 25–35; A. Cronbach, in: HUCA, 35 (1964), 193–212; R. Mondolfi, Gli Ebrei. Qual luogo oltremondano sia per essi nella Commedia di Dante (1904); H. Rheinfelder, in: Judenthum im Mittelalter (1966), 442–57; idem, Dante e la Bibbia (1988); U. Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language (1995); B. Chiesa, in: Henoch, 23:2–3 (2001), 325–42; D. Bregman, in: Prooftexts, 23:1 (2003), 18–24; G. Battistoni, Dante, Verona e la cultura ebraica (2004); D. Stow, Dante e la mistica ebraica (2004).
[Joseph Baruch Sermoneta / Alessandro Guetta (2nd ed.)]
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