Is there anything better than T. S. Eliot talking about his debt to Dante? Here is the majority of his famous essay “What Dante Means to Me” (hence my own “What Eliot Means to Me”), which can be found in his collection of essays, To Criticize the Critic and Other Writings. The essay was originally presented as a speech given at the Italian Institute of London, on July 4, 1950, when Eliot was sixty-one:
May I explain first why I have chosen, not to deliver a lecture about Dante, but to talk informally about his influence upon myself? What might appear egotism, in doing this, I present as modesty; and the modesty which it pretends to be is merely prudence. I am in no way a Dante scholar; and my general knowledge of Italian is such, that on this occasion, out of respect to the…
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by Mauro Savino
The references to Fioretta and Violetta are only a few examples of the importance of women in Dante’s poetry often considered by many scholars a shield to hide his secret love for Beatrice. In his Work Vita Nova, Dante speaks about his love representing her as an angel or a kind of miracle. In fact, her name means beatitudo, that is “she who gives bliss”, an angelic being coming down from Heaven thus it’s difficult to understand whether their relationship is real or divine representing a recurrent question by scholars and common people. Notwithstanding, it’s possible to identify Beatrice. Her name was Bice, she was Folco Portinari’s daughter, a Florentine wealthy banker. Dante made her acquaintance around 1285 and she died five years later.
Did Dante really love Beatrice? He dedicated her Vita Nova, but we are unable to state if it is the story of a physical relationship since Beatrice represented something sacred. Influenced by the Franciscan spirit of his time, Dante considered Beatrice a literary and symbolic figure, a way to reach God representing the role of Christ thus her death is like the Ascension into Heaven. It is relevant to understand if Dante really loved Beatrice only just as an anecdote whilst it is less important to the author’s aims. Our curiosity is not satisfied but it should be evidenced that Dante lived during the Middle Ages and at that time the body itself was considered insignificant. Dante himself considered his love for Beatrice a supreme and unique love and although he loved her only in this way, he certainly loved her a lot.
(English revision by Silvia Maiella)
Chiesa di Santa Margherita de’ Cerchi (Dante’s Church)
[Special thanks to Alberto Gherardini, SB]
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.