Rainbows, heavenly movers and human happiness. Arabic-Latin philosophy of nature and Dante, between iconography and digital humanities

1 Research Collaborator position
(Deadline July 29th, 2021 12:00 )

Medieval philosophy, Arabic philosophy, Philosophy of Nature, Latin translations of Arabic works, Dante's philosophy, Iconography, Digital humanities

Aristotelian natural philosophy, with the mediation of the Peripatetic thought developed in Arabic, becomes quite soon a crucial system of doctrines among the thinkers of the Latin Middle Ages, often in conjunction with metaphysical, ethical and theological reflections that enrich its object, and give value to its study. This legacy is also an essential part of Dante Alighieri’s culture, who reuses its doctrinal items, its foundational ideas and some of its particular developments not only in the purely philosophical framework of his Convivio, but also in the ‘scientific’ poetry of the Commedia, with surprising results.
Through specific inquiries in the domains of ethics and psychology (doctrine of the soul and human happiness), of cosmology (doctrines of the skies and of their heavenly movers), of meteorology (doctrine of the rainbow and its theological aftermath), and of biology and embryology (docrtine od the origin of the soul in animals and humans), the project has thus the aim to reconstruct with renewed attention the purport of the Arabic and Latin philosophy of nature to Dante’s culture, thus helping to bridge the gap too often postulated between the Convivio and the Commedia, and thus also between Dante’s philosophy and his poetry. The acknowledgment of their reciprocal bounds can on the contrary enrich, and shed new light on, both of them.
The project has three maintargets. Dante’s usage of important texts of Avicenna (Ibn Sīnā) and Algazel (al-Ġazālī) in the Convivio has already been partially clarified. Previous studies show that Arabic psychological doctrines – mediated by Albert the Great – appear in Dante in a double fashion, both in their cosmological side – with reference to the moving intellects of the orbs and to their identification with the angels of the monotheistic tradition – and in their anthropological side – with a rich ethical and eschatological discussion on man’s intellectual happiness and the ways to reach it in statu viae and beyond. A systematic analysis of these pieces of evidence with the journey in the hereafter narrated in the Commedia, and with the doctrinal structure proper to the poem, would however still deserve a wider and more thorough philosophical treatment.
2) On another side, also Peripatetic meteorology has a place in the rich theoretical system of the «sacred poem», not only in the Purgatorio, where the terrestrial meteorological phenomena are meticolously listed , but also at the culmination of the journey to Paradise, since Dante describes the Trinity precisely by means of the physical-meteorological image of the rainbow. The celestial rainbow or the iridescent circle, also by mediation of the Bible, is by the way crucial in medieval representations of glorious Christ, both in the iconography of the Last Judgment and in the not less fascinating one of the so-called Dormitio Virginis. On the seemingly merely philosophical and physical theme many different arts – painting and mosaics, literature and poetry – appear thus inextricably interwoven, in a very fascinating cultural exchange which deserves further critical attention. 
3) Recent and well-documented studies have discussed the possible reconstruction of Dante’s (philosophical) library, with specific attention not only to the quotations of other authors found in Dante’s works, but also to the factual availability of manuscripts of those cited works in the libraries of the Italian medieval towns in which Dante lived and composed his oeuvre. The role of Florence in this field is obviously crucial. A specific analysis of the presence, in the Florentine manuscripts prior to Dante, of philosophical and scientific works translated from the Arabic into Latin, with particular reference to texts of natural philosophy, will be an integral part of the project. As such, it will be based on the digital catalogues already existent, but thanks to its specific focus it will also be able to improve and enrich them in both quantity and quality.
Formal requirements
  • Master degree in Humanities;
  • Expertise in Medieval Philosophy;
  • Proved acquaintance with Dante studies;
  • Knowledge of Italian;
  • Reading knowledge of Arabic and Latin.
  • Excellent knowledge of both written and spoken English.
Gross amount

€ 20350/year 


1 year

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Assegno di ricerca


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  • University degree and ongoing PhD (compulsory)


  • Your CV in English (compulsory)