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Time, eternity, history: Dante, Petrarch, Machiavelli

  • Italian Cultural Institute 233 Domain Road South Yarra, VIC, 3141 Australia (map)

One of Italy’s foremost intellectuals speaks on the giants of Italian culture, Prof. Remo Bodei.

The Italian Cultural Institute and Co.As.It. are proud to invite you to a lecture;

Time, eternity, history: Dante, Petrarch, Machiavelli

(Talk in English)

My task will be to sketch a conceptual and historical analysis of terms such as “time” and “eternity”, and “history”, in order to restore them to their original set of implications and to brighten up the colors that have been lost or altered in the course of centuries. In this way, we will be able to measure the distances between Dante, Petrarch, and Machiavelli.

For example, we derive the concept of eternity from our notion of time, imagining eternity as a very long time, extended to infinity. For millennia, however, “eternity” has been synonymous with “life” or, better, with plenitudo vitae (plenitude of life), a stable possession of a never-ending and simultaneous life, the complete opposite of time, which is instead a haemorrhage of life, a loss of fullness.

Dante describes his journey in the afterlife as a path “from man’s time to Divine eternity” (Paradise, XXXI, 38), from our earthly life, constantly chasing after fulfillment, to the endless joy of paradise. Far from having a duration, an extension in time, eternity is, therefore, as un-extended as a geometrical point. It is a “point / in which all times are present” (Paradise, XVII, 17-18). Even Petrarch’s “three parts of time” (past, present, and future) coincide in eternity, according to his Triumph of Eternity.

In Machiavelli, on the contrary, the concept of eternity vanishes altogether, and we are left with the time of human history, the time in which individuals are irrevocably immersed during the brief span of their existence.


Italian philosopher Remo Bodei, now professor emeritus at the University of Pisa, has taught for many years at the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa and at the University of California, Los Angeles. He studied for many years in Germany and taught in various European and American Universities. He is a Fellow of the Italian Academy at Columbia University and of the Italian Accademia dei Lincei. His scientific interests were initially focused on German classical philosophy, then on political philosophy; in the last two decades, he has concentrated on the theory and the history of oblivion, delusion, and individuality, and on the nature of passions and desires. His books have been translated into fifteen languages.

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