TitleThe medieval hearing paradigm: insights from Dante’s Commedia
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsFranz, Leonardo
Secondary TitleAudiologia e Foniatria
Date Published11/2021
PublisherPadova University Press
Place PublishedPadova, IT
ISSN Number2531-7008
KeywordsAcoustics, Commedia, Dante Alighieri, Hearing perception, Middle Ages

At the beginning of the 14th century, the understanding of human physiology was still limited, and relayed mainly on what of the Aristotelian doctrines had been handed out. Nevertheless, several phenomenological approaches to the perception mechanisms were developed. Among the authors that contributed most significantly to the medieval conception of hearing phenomena, Augustin and Severinus Boethius were particularly relevant. Among the medieval literary works, Dante Alighieri’s Commedia stands out for the amount and the comprehensiveness of data on the medieval culture and philosophy, which provides to the modern reader. In this paper, we will try to obtain insights about the medieval idea of hearing from Dante Alighieri’s Commedia. In this poem, it is possible to find traces of all medieval theories on hearing, integrated within the text, coherently with the narrative structure, the topic, and the stylistic register. In particular, in Inferno, Dante seems to explore from a phenomenological point of view the topic of noise and its interaction with speech. In Purgatorio, the focus is centered on the concept of time and its relationship with acoustic phenomena. As a result, the principal acoustic phenomenon treated is music. In Paradiso, Dante moves from the description of physical phenomena, to characterize a completely metaphysical setting, in which the soul is the subject of perception, according to the doctrines of Bernard de Clairvaux. In conclusion, in the medieval culture several theories on hearing coexisted and overlapped, creating a spectrum of concepts that ranged from physical to teleological interpretations.