Dante as a politician

by Stefania Bufano



by Mauro Savino

During the first half of his life Dante Alighieri was an important politician of Florence, his hometown. He left it in 1302, because of the allegations of the Black Guelphs (sided with the Pope), the party opposed to the one in which Dante was engaged, namely that of the White Guelphs (sided with the Emperor). Thus the Black Guelphs, thanks to the complicity of Boniface VIII, who wanted to extend his domain on Florence, and the King Philip IV of France, get the power in the city and condemned Dante to the exile for two years and to pay a huge fine but the poet refused to pay. In fact he didn’t consider himself guilty at all. Finally he was condemned to the perpetual exile and if he had returned to Florence without paying the fine, he would have sentenced to death.

The story of Dante’s exile is quite complicated and refers to the bloody struggle between Papacy and Empire for the political power in Italy. It marked the end of communal era and prepared the advent of the Signoria.

In this scenario we focus on some Dante’s attitude as a politician before his exile.

In 1295 Dante proposed a mitigation of the Ordinances of Justice created by Giano della Bella. Also in 1300, after a battle between the White and Black Guelphs, the Priors of Florence, including Dante, decided to condemn to the exile eight members of both parties. Among the White Guelphs there is Guido Cavalcanti, friend of Dante and his political ally. In another circumstance Dante opposed to Boniface VIII who wanted soldiers at his disposal allocated to Florence.

On one hand if we try to see these facts as a whole we may say Dante was probably concerned for the nobility to which he belonged, so he thought the White Guelphs were more willing to find a solution to the conflict between magnates and peoples that made difficult the position of the nobility itself.

On the other hand, Dante was certainly interested in a preservation of the communal liberty, against the temporal power of Papacy. Also we may see in his attitude a sort of Franciscan spirit that postulated the necessity of a Spiritual Church.

Dante dreamed a political era in which Papacy and Empire were distinct in their prerogatives and the cities were ruled by a democratic and rigorous government. He decided to condemn his friend Cavalcanti for the good of his city despite his personal interests.

Finally he gave us a great example of a politician who has both a practical attitude and a moral depth.

Unfortunately the contemporary political world has forgotten this lesson.