This will have to be the most cursory of reviews. I took nearly 2600 words of notes as I read the book, and I’ll find the time soon to distill them into a review (along with everything else I’m behind on writing here). Suffice to say in the meantime: this book blew my mind, and both the depth and the breadth of the erudition are staggering.
The book starts from, seemingly, a simple premise: what exactly was meant by the term “the king is dead; long live the king”? On this slender reed is solidly balanced a mountain of scholarship. In what at times feels like extreme amounts of word parsing, Kantorowicz elaborates on the slow evolution, from Aristotle through to George III, of our understanding of kings’ dual natures — to simplify greatly, they are part man and part god. (If you want the less-simplified version, I’d recommend you read the whole book.)
When we say that the king is dead but that the King lives on, we mean something like: the immortal institution of the Crown persists, even though the fallible body of the king may have passed on. But what is this immortal institution of the Crown? Is it the corporate body of the people? Is it, like Jesus, the angelic soul of the King himself, set aside the corruptible body of the king?
I really must be going, but let me just say in parting (temporarily, I assure you) that, almost as a passing thought, Kantorowicz’s next-to-last chapter contains a full elaboration of Dante’s philosophy (drawing heavily on Gilson, it seems). It completely upends my understanding of the Inferno, which I formerly took to be about Christianity. To Kantorowicz, Dante is doing nothing less than inventing a humanistic parallel to Christianity for man’s intellectual ideals, as manifested in the human community.
Periodically I encounter a book that gives me a feeling of intellectual vertigo; the last book that did that before Kantorowicz was Plagues and Peoples. The King’s Two Bodies is the first book I can remember that combines intellectual vertigo with an extraordinary level of intellectual precision. I was focusing intently on each sentence, even while each chapter drew me through centuries of scholarly history. It’s a shockingly expansive masterwork. Recommended in the highest terms.