Commentary Par X 133-138

Siger of Brabant, thirteenth-century philosopher and theologian who taught at the Faculty of the Arts of the Sorbonne, located near 'the Street of Straw,' the Rue du Fouarre in Paris (one of the few pieces of 'evidence' seized on by those who believe, as few today do, that Dante visited Paris. On the other hand, the street's name was apparently widely known; and Dante might have heard details about the theological disputes in Paris, for instance from the Dominican Remigio dei Girolami, who had studied with St. Thomas in Paris and who lectured at S. Maria Novella between 1289 and 1303).  In 1270 Thomas wrote his De Unitate intellectus contra averroistas, clearly attacking some of Siger's teaching (along with that of others).  Between 1270 and 1277 Siger was prosecuted by the archbishop of Paris Étienne Tempier (and in 1276 by the inquisitor for France, Simon du Val) for heretical ideas and found guilty.  He went to Orvieto to face the Roman Curia and apparently owned up to his wayward philosophizing, and perhaps was absolved for it.  He then stayed in Orvieto, in a condition perhaps resembling house arrest, where he apparently met his death beneath the knife of a mad cleric, possibly a man assigned to him as a servant, ca. 1283-84.  The author of Il Fiore (Fiore.XCII.9-11) mentions Siger's terrible end.  For a compact bibliography of Siger's extensive body of work, those considered genuine, those possibly or probably by others, and those now lost, as well as a short list of studies of his impact on Dante, see Cesare Vasoli, 'Sigieri (Sighieri) di Brabante' (ED.1976.5, pp. 241b-242a).  For a study that considers the clash in the Commedia of intellectual pride (as represented by Guido Cavalcanti) and great-souled humility (as represented by Saint Francis), see Marco Veglia (Vegl.2000.1).  He argues that this clash is seen in action first with respect to heresy (Inf. X), then with respect to art (Purg. X and XI), and finally with respect to philosophy and theology (Par. X and XI); he sees the parallels established by the numbers of the cantos involved confirming evidence for his thesis.  Naturally, Siger plays a major role in Veglia's considerations.

For a revisionary presentation of the entire question of Dante's opinion of Siger, see Imbach (Imba.1996.1), pp. 141-48, who opposes both Bruno Nardi's basic view (Siger had in fact not said anything heretical) and Maria Corti's (he had indeed, but when challenged, eschewed his Averroism and offered his repentance and a softening of his earlier thought).  Imbach goes on to point out that Dante on at least one occasion (see C.Par.XXIX.79-80) indeed seems to go out of his way to embrace one of Siger's heretical ideas (that the angels have no memory).  But see C.Par.XXIX.82-84.  For recent work on the problems afflicting attempts to come to grips with the complicated issues surrounding the tormented question of Dante's view(s) of Siger, see, among others, Mazzotta (Mazz.1995.3) and Curti (Curt.2002.1), pp. 158-64.  And see Scott ({Scot.2007.1}), a draft of which the author was kind enough to share.

On the possible intellect, the doctrine developed by Averroes from Aristotle's De anima ({Arist.Anima.III.4-8}) and denied by Thomas, but admired by Dante, see Imbach (Imba.1996.1), pp. 174-79; for Dante's 'adjustments' to his precursors' provisions so as to make the possible intellect square with Christian views of the immortality of the soul, see pp. 180-89.  For the question of the freedom of the will in Siger, see Ryan (Ryan.1981.1).

For an invaluable survey of the state of the question regarding the interrelationships among Aristotle, Averroes, Albertus Magnus, and Aquinas, as they affect Dante's own philosophical views, see the first half of the study by Simon Gilson (Gils.2004.1).  For a brief but most helpful summary in English of the strands of Dante's Aristotelianism, see Scott, 'Aristotle' (Lans.2000.1), pp. 61-65.  For a discussion of the major 'heresies' current in Dante's time, see Comollo (Como.1990.1).  In an e-mail of 4 September 2005, Prof. E. Jeffrey Richards suggested that Dante put Siger next to Thomas as a gesture against Tempier's virulent accusations in 1277, not only (clearly if not nominally) against Siger, but against the equally unnamed Thomas as well.  Thus one of the tasks of this canto may be seen as essentially Dante's presentation of his reaction to Tempier's attack on the new champions of Aristotle's authority, including the wide spectrum represented by Albertus Magnus (the least virulent of the new men), Thomas Aquinas (in the middle, literally, of Dante's panoply), and Siger de Brabant (the most extreme).  We in the twenty-first century may not have enough feel for the huge change in theology wrought by the rediscovery of Aristotle in the thirteenth century.  Dante clearly felt himself drawn to the new philosophy, as is evident by his placing Aristotle higher than Plato as a figure of classical philosophical authority, as is first reflected in the Commedia in [Inf IV 131].