Dante, the famous Italian critic and poet was a reputed public figure of his time. He is more popular as a poet than as a critic. His main critical work is the fragmentary work named ‘Of the Vulgar Tongue.’ He made a fervent advocacy of the vernacular (Italian) against the use of classical Latin and the French. His work on criticism is the most important critical document between Longinus and the seventeenth century. The Language of Poetry
Dante worked as a crusader for the cause of the mother-tongue and rejected Latin and Greek as assiduous, involving wastage of time. He made the vernacular the language of poetry to magnify the object loved, to be jealous for it and to defend it. He wanted to approach the common by writing his Divine Comedia in the Florentine idiom and not in classical Latin.
His Theory of Poetic Diction
Dante was the first critic who supported the claims of the Vernacular against Classical Latin and the French Provence. But he did not favour slipshod native language. He pleaded that the language of poetry should be an ideal language fit to express the best thoughts of the greatest poet. The langaage of poetry should be proper, elevated and illustrious; it should be the language of culture.
According to Dante, grand style follows a grand theme; style depends on the excellence of vocabulary. For Dante each individual word is spoken of almost as if it had a separate personality of its own, certainly a distinctive character which it may possess independently of its context.” He sets about his task of collecting words as if he were choosing a company of trusty comrades, and there is not one of them which must not play its part worthily in the texture of the poem.”
He requires that the vocabulary of his illustrious vernacular should be composed of grand words only—words that lend themselves to the grand manner. He rejects words which are childish, effiminate, rough, slippery and rumpled. Words should also be chosen with a view on their sounds. Ornamental words may be used for a beautiful harmonious conjunction. As
As a Critic
Dante holds a high place for his advocacy of the vernacular for literary purpose. He was the first to make the division of the power f language into ‘signum rationale’ and ‘signum sensuale’ which is exactly a distinction of’semantic’ and ‘phonetic’. He insisted upon the need of noble poetic diction. His contribution was also in the field of comparative criticism. “No ancient critic could have made such a survey as he makes of the different language of Europe; no ancient critic did make such a survey of the dialects of Greek as he makes of the dialects of Italian.” Furthermore, Dante gave a symbolic meaning to poetry.