Doctoral Dissertation Summary

Italian, UCLA, 2010

Ciascun saria di color vinto:

The Philology and Philosophy of Terms for Color and Light

in Occitan and Italian Poetry from the Troubadours through Petrarch

Gianpiero W. Doebler, Ph.D.

[William M. Doebler]

Ciascun saria di color vinto...   (Purg. VII:77)


This dissertation examines the lexicon of early vernacular poetry in Occitan and Italian (through 1375) to evaluate: 1) the increasing and evolving use of color terms over a period in which cultural application and codification of color grew significantly; and 2) the reflection of prevailing and emerging physical and metaphysical theories of light. The analysis evaluates the contexts, relative frequencies, and different meanings of light and color terms (LCT) used by a large number of poets writing in the two languages. It also examines the emerging written vernaculars with respect to models from modern linguistic anthropology regarding color names and their sequence of acquisition.

The analysis demonstrates the extent to which early vernacular verse did not merely repeat established concepts of color or light but reflected—both explicitly and indirectly—theories outlined in the thirteenth century by such writers as Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, and Thomas Aquinas, as well as contemporary trends related to color. It examines the growth and variation of LCT, describing variations between the two languages and, within Italian, between various “schools” and periods. Finally, it shows how Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch extend the use and semantic range of these terms, such that the grounding in science and philosophy that had previously influenced their use becomes secondary to the stylistic and thematic intentions of the poets.

The 400-page study is divided into six chapters. Chapter I discusses past research on color and light in early vernacular verse. It notes principal theories and practices of the period regarding these phenomena and lists the ancient and contemporary medieval texts that influenced them. It also discusses modern linguistic research related to color terms that bears upon the analysis in subsequent chapters. Chapter II discusses LCT in Occitan poetry. It delineates the limited number of contexts in which the terms appear and discusses special characteristics of individual color terms. Chapter III examines how the Scuola Siciliana’s LCT differ from Occitan’s and posits several possible reasons for this. Chapter IV examines the varied ways that other thirteenth century poets, from Francis of Assisi to Jacopone da Todi to the Stilnovisti, use light and color terms. Particular attention is given to LCT in the works of Guinizzelli and Cavalcanti. Chapter V raises new questions and observations about Dante’s LCT and notes how semantic consistency in his early work (for example, in his use of the terms luce and lume) yields to greater range in the Commedia. Chapter VI demonstrates how Boccaccio and Petrarch expand the semantic diversity of LCT even further than Dante, largely decoupling the light and color lexicon from past philosophies and practices.

Dissertation Adviser: Luigi Ballerini, UCLA


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