«Totus poema eius ubique mirabiliter figuratus». Identifying, classifying and describing Dante’s metaphors


  • Gaia Tomazzoli Université Paris 3 - Sorbonne Nouvelle




Dante, Metaphor, Stylistics, Corpus linguistic, Italian Philology


This paper explores how metaphors in Dante’s Commedia can be identified, classified and organized in a database so as to provide thorough and solid data to aid their understanding. All metaphors in the poem are first identified through a linguistic procedure called MIP (i.e. Metaphor Identification Process), based on the comparison between the contextual and the basic meaning of each word-unit. The metaphors thus identified are later classified based on syntactic, semantic and rhetorical structure criteria, taking into account both medieval explanations of figurative language and the features of Dante’s metaphors that have always struck the readers of his poem. The findings from this combined linguistic and stylistic analysis provide evidence to support tenets put forward by some literary scholars (e.g. that metaphors increase in number and complexity throughout the poem) and show that metaphors converge in sections of political and religious invective, where one of the main purposes of the author is to elevate his style. The study suggests that a systematic multi-dimensional analysis of metaphor can shed light on its conceptual importance in a text and raise awareness of all its stylistic traits.


Alighieri, Dante, and Allen Mandelbaum. 1980. The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri. A Verse Translation with Introductions & Commentary by Allen Mandelbaum. Berkeley - Los Angeles: The University of California Press.

Ariani, Marco. 2009. La metafora in Dante. Biblioteca dell’Archivum Romanicum 358. Firenze: L. S. Olschki.

Bene Florentini. 1983. Candelabrum. Edited by Gian Carlo Alessio. Patavii: In aedibus Antenoreis.

Benvenutus. 1887. Benevenuti de Rambaldis de Imola Comentum Super Dantis Aldigherij Comoediam. Edited by James Philip Lacaita and William Warren Vernon. Florentiae: G. Barbèra.

Berisso, Marco. 1991. ‘Per una definizione di prosopopea: Dante, “Convivio”, II, ix, 2’. Lingua e stile 26: 121–32.

Borghini, Vincenzo. 1971. Scritti inediti o rari sulla lingua. Bologna: Commissione per i Testi di Lingua.

Brandeis, Irma. 1956. ‘Metaphor in “The Divine Comedy”’. The Hudson Review 8 (4): 557–75.

———. 1960. The Ladder of Vision: A Study of Dante’s Comedy. London: Chatto & Windus.

Brooke-Rose, Christine. 1958. A Grammar of Metaphor. London: Secker & Warburg.

Copeland, Rita, and Ineke Sluiter, eds. 2009. Medieval Grammar and Rhetoric: Language Arts and Literary Theory, AD 300 -1475. Oxford-New York: Oxford University Press.

Crisp, Peter, John Heywood, and Gerard Steen. 2002. ‘Metaphor Identification and Analysis, Classification and Quantification’. Language and Literature 11 (1): 55–69.

Eubanks, Philip. 1999. ‘The Story of Conceptual Metaphor: What Motivates Metaphoric Mappings?’ Poetics Today 20: 419–42.

Finazzi, Silvia. 2013. La metafora nella tradizione testuale ed esegetica della Commedia di Dante: problemi ecdotici e ricerca delle fonti. Firenze: Franco Cesati.

Geoffrey of Vinsauf. 1971. The Poetria Nova and Its Sources in Early Rhetorical Doctrine. Edited by Ernest Gallo. The Hague-Paris: Mouton.

Gibbons, David. 2002. Metaphor in Dante. Oxford: Legenda.

Gibbs, Raymond W. jr. 2015. ‘Metaphor’. In Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics, edited by Ewa Dabrowska and Dagmar Divjak, 167–89. Berlin-Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.

———, ed. 2016. Mixing Metaphor. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Grévin, Benoît. 2017. ‘Métaphore et Vérité : La Transumptio, Clé de Voûte de La Rhétorique Au XIIIe Siècle’. In La Vérité : Vérité et Crédibilité : Construire La Vérité Dans Le Système de Communication de l’Occident (XIIIe-XVIIe Siècle), edited by Jean-Philippe Genet, 149–82. Paris: Éditions de la Sorbonne.

Hills, David. 2017. ‘Metaphor’. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta, Fall 2017. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University.

Katz, Albert, and Tamsen E. Taylor. 2008. ‘The Journeys of Life: Examining a Conceptual Metaphor with Semantic and Episodic Memory Recall’. Metaphor and Symbol 23: 148–73.

Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. 1980. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mann, William C., and Sandra A. Thompson. 2009. ‘Rhetorical Structure Theory: Toward a Functional Theory of Text Organization’. Text - Interdisciplinary Journal for the Study of Discourse 8 (3): 243–281.

Pasquini, Emilio. 2001. Dante e le figure del vero: la fabbrica della Commedia. Milano: B. Mondadori.

Punzi, Arianna. 2001. Rimario della Commedia di Dante Alighieri. Roma: Bagatto.

Richards, Ivor Armstrong. 1936. The Philosophy of Rhetoric. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Robey, David. 1985. ‘Language and Style in the Divine Comedy’. Romance Studies 3 (1): 112–27.

Steen, Gerard. 2010. A Method for Linguistic Metaphor Identification: From MIP to MIPVU. John Benjamins Publishing.

———. 2014. ‘Metaphor and Style’. In The Cambridge Handbook of Stylistics, edited by Peter Stockwell and Sara Whiteley, 315–28. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

———. 2017. ‘Deliberate Metaphor Theory: Basic Assumptions, Main Tenets, Urgent Issues’. Intercultural Pragmatics 14 (1): 1–24.

Sullivan, Karen. 2017. ‘Conceptual Metaphor’. In The Cambridge Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics, edited by Barbara Dancygier, 385–406. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tomazzoli, Gaia. 2015. ‘La metafora in Dante: temi e tendenze della critica’. L’Alighieri 46 (2): 41–60.

Venturi, Luigi. 1874. Le similitudini dantesche: ordinate, illustrate, e confrontate. Firenze: G.C. Sansoni.




How to Cite

Tomazzoli, G. (2019). «Totus poema eius ubique mirabiliter figuratus». Identifying, classifying and describing Dante’s metaphors. Umanistica Digitale, 3(6). https://doi.org/10.6092/issn.2532-8816/8630