Saturday, March 29, 2008

Dante’s Florence Week 5 Part Two

Dante’s Exile from Florence

Dante entered politics in 1295 and in 1300 he became a Prior, one of the Governors of the City giving him great prestige. It was a dangerous time with fighting between the factions of Guelfs and Ghibellines. The Guelfs supported the Pope, opposing the Ghibellines who supported the Holy Roman Emperor. The political situation was very complicated and became more so when the Guelfs split into two opposing factions, known as the Whites and the Blacks. The Whites, including Dante, opposed the Pope wanting more control of their own affairs – Dante thought the Pope, Boniface VIII was corrupt and was too involved with temporal affairs. He wanted more independence for Florence and a split between the Church and the State. Dante attacked the Pope and the Church in The Divine Comedy, for example in Canto 19 Inferno he describes the punishment for simony, the crime of buying a position within the church and denounces Boniface as a simonist.

In 1302 Dante was accused of fraud and as he refused to pay the fine he was sentenced to death by burning and was banished from Florence. He was offered an amnesty in 1315, but the conditions were too humiliating for him to accept and he never returned to Florence. He refers to his exile in The Divine Comedy through a conversation in Canto 17 Paradiso XVII with his great-great grandfather Cacciaguida, with Cacciaguida forecasting Dante's exile from Florence:

“You will leave everything you love most dearly;
This is the arrow which is
loosed first
From the bow of exile.

You will learn how salt is the
taste
Of other people’s bread, how hard the way
Going up and down other
people’s stairs.”

Dante spent 19 years in exile. He championed writing in the vernacular and in 1304 he published De Vulgari Eloquentia(On Eloquence in the vernacular). He started to write The Divine Comedy in 1306/7 and finished it just before his death in 1321 in Ravenna. During, 1315 – 1316 whilst he was the guest of Can Grande della Scala in Verona he wrote part of Purgatorio. Below is Maria Spartali Stillman's painting of Dante in Verona, showing Dante surrounded by a group of admiring women.

In 1317 he was offered a home by Guido Novello da Polenta in Ravenna, where he completed Purgatorio and began Paradiso. Can Grande was a patron of the arts and sheltered exiles, giving Dante his own apartments and treating him very well. Dante dedicated Paradiso to Can Grande in gratitude.

Dante died on 14 September 1321and was buried in the Church of San Francesco in Ravenna, where there is a shrine containing his sarcophagus and a votive lamp.

Despite requests from Florence to return his body to the city, Dante’s tomb in the church of Santa Croce is empty.

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