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Hellish Imaginations from Augustine to Dante: An Essay in Metaphor and Materiality

Medieval literature and art abounds in descriptions of grotesque torments (punitive in hell, redemptive in purgatory) being meted out to the unhappy dead. But how can pain be experienced in the absence of the body? Can the main agents of suffering specified in Old Testament prophecies, fire and the worm, actually trouble a disembodied soul? The relative merits of material and metaphorical understandings of the economy of pain were debated throughout the Middle Ages, and extended far beyond, surviving the abolition of purgatory within Protestantism. This book brings to life many of the intellectual clashes, beginning with Augustine’s foundational yet troubling doctrines, proceeding to the problems caused by Aristotle’s insistence that death kills off all sense and sensation, and culminating in a fresh reading of Dante’s Purgatorio, Canto XXV. Wide-ranging, lucid and bristling with ideas on every page, it illustrates superbly well the variety, liveliness and continuous creativity of scholastic thought, particularly in respect of the contribution it made to literary theory.


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