Italy’s most famous writer gazes hawkishly from atop his plinth which is styled as a Medieval book. Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321) finished his epic poem, The Divine Comedy, a year before his death. In it he describes a creative Medieval view of the afterlife as he is taken on a tour of Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. To this day, it is considered the finest work written in the Italian language and it remains one of the world’s greatest literary achievements. Prior to Dante, most Medieval literature was written in Latin which made it inaccessible to most of the populace. Dante wrote The Divine Comedy in Italian—and more specifically, in the Tuscan dialect. This marked a turning point for works being written in the vulgate and helped establish the Tuscan dialect as central to the modern Italian language.
Dante was a son of Florence and loved his home town very much. Alas, he got caught-up in a nasty local political squabble and chose to support the side which ultimately lost. Dante was banished from Florence, and sentenced to be burned at the stake, should he return. Dante settled in Ravenna where he wrote The Divine Comedy and eventually died. In time, Florence realized the great mistake they had made, banishing their most famous citizen, and petitioned to collect the master’s body. Ravenna refused. Popes, politicians and great artists (including Michelangelo) have tried to persuade Ravenna (in vain) to release the body—for nearly 700 years! Florence has even built a tomb-in-waiting (which remains empty) in the historic Basilica of Santa Croce. Instead, Italy’s greatest writer lies in a handsome Eighteenth Century tomb in Ravenna. The tomb is well worth seeing as are Ravenna’s glorious (!) early Christian mosaics from the 5th and 6th Centuries.
The bronze-clad bookends above, made in the 1920’s, are inspired by a famous bronze bust of Dante.
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