The English Wikipedia article about Dante's Divine Comedy contains the following paragraph, which contains a statement that has no source (emphasis mine):

The work was originally simply titled Comedìa (pronounced [komeˈdiːa]; so also in the first printed edition, published in 1472), Tuscan for "Comedy", later adjusted to the modern Italian Commedia. The adjective Divina was added by Giovanni Boccaccio in 1360,[citation needed] due to its subject matter and lofty style,[18] and the first edition to name the poem Divina Comedia in the title was that of the Venetian humanist Lodovico Dolce,[19] published in 1555 by Gabriele Giolito de' Ferrari.

The German Wikipedia article Göttliche Komödie gives the same unsourced statement about the origin of "Divina" and adds that more recent critical editions of the text avoid using the adjective:

Dante hat die Commedia im Paradiso zwar auch als sacrato poema (‚heiliges Gedicht‘) bezeichnet, das Titelbeiwort Divina (‚Göttliche‘) stammt jedoch nicht von ihm selbst, sondern wurde erst später von Boccaccio geprägt, als Ausdruck der Verehrung für die übermenschliche Inspiration und dichterische Qualität dieses Werkes. Seit dem 16. Jahrhundert hat sich dieses Beiwort in den gedruckten Ausgaben als fester Bestandteil des Titels etabliert, während kritische Ausgaben in jüngerer Zeit den Zusatz als spätere Hinzufügung wieder vermeiden.

The Spanish Wikipedia article Divina comedia does not provide a source either:

Fue el escritor y humanista Giovanni Boccaccio quién añadió el adjetivo "divina" durante la época en la que se encargó de leerla y comentarla públicamente por diferentes ciudades italianas, también por ser un poema que canta a la cristiandad.

Assuming that the attribution is not in doubt, where did Giovanni Boccaccio refer to Dante's best known work as Divina Comedia (or, in modern Italian, Divina Commedia)?

1 Answer 1


Boccaccio used the title Divine Comedy for the first time in a work that has variously been called Vita di Dante ("Life of Dante") or Trattatello in laude di Dante ("Short Treatise in Praise of Dante"). I quote below the relevant section from G. R. Carpenter's translation Boccaccio's Life of Dante (New York, The Grolier Club, 1900):

Iacopo and Piero, sons of Dante, each of whom was a writer of verse, on the persuasion of some of their friends, had resolved, so far as they could, to finish their father's work, that it might not go imperfect, when to Iacopo, who was much more in earnest than the other, appeared a marvelous vision, which not only destroyed his foolish presumption, but showed him where were the thirteen cantos which were lacking to the Divine Comedy and which they could not find.

In Carpenter's translation, the word combination "Divine Comedy" does not occur anywhere else, accept in the title of the chapter (Chapter XIV) which I quoted above: "Some Accidents that Happened with Regard to the Divine Comedy".

James Robinson Smith's of The Life of Dante (New York: Henry Holt, 1901), which can be found on Wikisource, renders the same chapter title as "On Certain Incidents Relating to the Divina Commedia", but does not use the adjective "divine" or "divina" in the passage about Iacopo and Piero:

Dante's two sons, Jacopo and Piero, both of whom were poets, being persuaded thereto by their friends, resolved to complete their father's work, so far as in them lay, that it might not remain unfinished. But just at this time Jacopo, who was much more fervent in this matter than his brother, saw a remarkable vision, that not only put an end to his foolish presumption, but revealed to him where the thirteen cantos were that were missing.

It is worth pointing out that Boccaccio substantially reworked his Vita or Trattatello twice, but English translators seem to prefer the first and longest version [Armstrong, 2004, page 3]. The chapter titles found in English translations of the Life of Dante are an artefact of these translations; in fact, Boccaccio's text did not even have chapter divisions [Armstrong, 2004, page 3].

Below is the relevant passage from the Italian text, made available on Mauro Novelli's website (emphasis added):

Eransi Iacopo e Piero, figliuoli di Dante, de' quali ciascuno era dicitore in rima, per persuasioni d'alcuni loro amici, messi a volere, in quanto per loro si potesse, supplire la paterna opera, acciò che imperfetta non procedesse; quando a Iacopo, il quale in ciò era molto più che l'altro fervente, apparve una mirabile visione, la quale non solamente dalla stolta presunzione il tolse, ma gli mostrò dove fossero li tredici canti, li quali alla divina Comedia mancavano, e da loro non saputi trovare.

Note that the adjective "divina" is not capitalised, and adding that adjective to the title was the work of publishers, as mentioned in the question.



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