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700th anniversary of Dante's death

Today (14 Sept) is the anniversary of the death of Dante, author of the Divine Comedy, in 1320.

Here's how the Writer's Almanac describes his tetchy relationship with the city of Firenze:

On this day in 1320, Dante died from malaria, just months after completing Paradiso, the third and final part of Divine Comedy.

"The Italian poet died in exile from his beloved city of Florence after supporting a failed challenge to the pope's authority. Dante had been a member of the White Party, which wanted the city to remain independent from the influence of the Vatican, but the Black Party wanted to form an alliance with the pope. Dante had tried to help work out a compromise to avoid any real conflict. He traveled to Rome to negotiate with Pope Boniface about the situation, but while he was there, the Blacks launched an uprising and took over the city of Florence. Dante was actually on his way home when he got the news that he had been banished from the city. The government announced that Dante would be buried alive if he ever set foot in Florence again.

Stripped of his wealth, Dante retreated from politics and spent the rest of his life wandering from city to city in northern and central Italy, estranged from his wife and kids and often living in poverty. His only solace during his exile was writing, and sometime around 1308, he started work on his epic poem, The Divine Comedy, and he spent the rest of his life working on it. He chose to write the poem in colloquial Italian rather than Latin, which had been the language for Western literature for more than a thousand years. At the time, Italian society was fractured and politically unstable, and Dante believed that a common literary language would help bring unity to the country. It was also the first epic poem in Western literary history in which the author served as the main character.

Dante had hoped that the success of his poem would be so great that he would be invited back to his home city, but he wasn't. Just before his death, his children visited him in Ravenna; it was the first time he had seen them since he left Florence almost 20 years before. He died a few years later on this date in 1320.

In the years after his death, the influence of Dante's work helped establish Italian as a serious literary language worldwide. His hometown of Florence came to regret having banished him and requested that his remains be transferred back for burial. But it wasn't until 2008 that the city officially rescinded his sentence of perpetual exile."

There's a great website for educators who want to share Dante with their students here:

Posted by
755 posts

Thank you for posting this, Avi. I enjoyed browsing through the excellent website, too. Dante is one of my favorite poets of all time.

Posted by
472 posts

avirosemail, if there was a Classiest Post of the Day/Week/Month award, you should win it. (Extra points for using tetchy.)

Posted by
3937 posts

Avi, thank you for this post, and your previous detailed posts, they are always fun to read and re-read. Very enlightening. I have to confess I have never read his work but am going to check it out tomorrow. I have a feeling I won’t get too far.

Posted by
2031 posts

I read this in college and it made quite the impression. I have enjoyed re-reading it since. Barbara, don’t abandon hope just yet.

Posted by
7400 posts

Thank you for posting this, avirosemail. I took some photos of Dante’s memorial when I stayed two nights in Ravenna in 2018. I remember seeing the lamp that is lit from oil sent from Florence. Quite the story of moving his bones during different periods of time, plus the Ravenna - Florence rivalry. Here’s more info:

Posted by
2532 posts

Jean, that's a great article - thanks for sharing it!

It's got a lot great info but I also notice that it avoids going into the machinations of Ravenna's ruling families, which rivaled those of Florence when it comes to putting a thumb on the scale. The Medici, after all, were different only in degree, not in kind, from their contemporaries.

Posted by
987 posts

Thank you for sharing this information. I haven’t read the Divine Comedy since university and downloaded it last night as the result of your post. I am enjoying rediscovering this literary masterpiece.