Durante degli Alighieri—best known as “Dante”—was born in Florence, Italy about the year 1265 (the best estimate of literary scholars). He is considered the greatest-ever writer in the Italian language and, indeed, is amongst the most important poets in the world. His signature works, The Divine Comedies, trace his travels through the Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio, and Paradiso—guided by the ancient Roman poet, Virgil, and then Dante’s imaginary muse, Beatrice (a character possibly inspired by a real-life Florentine woman of the same name).
Dante was politically active, a member of The White Guelphs (who opposed papal meddling in Florentine affairs). While part of a delegation to Rome, Dante was kept behind by Pope Boniface. During his delay, The Black Guelphs (who supported papal involvement in Florence) ransacked Florence, taking control by force. Dante was charged by the new leadership with “absconding” and a large fine was imposed upon him. Dante refused to pay resulting in a terrible sentence: Dante would be burned at the stake if he ever again set foot in his beloved Florence. Such exile was a crushing punishment for a man who identified so much with his beloved hometown.
In 1321, a 56 year old Dante died in Ravenna. He is buried in a small chapel in Ravenna near the Basilica of Saint Francis. One can see his modest but beautiful tomb to this day.
Of course, Florence has come to regret deeply its treatment of Il Somma Poeta (“The Supreme Poet”). A grand (but empty) tomb has been built for Dante in Florence’s famous Basilica of Santa Croce (where other notables like Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli are buried). Florence has been lobbying for the return of Dante’s remains for years; so far, Ravenna is not relinquishing. In 2008, Florence rescinded the (700 year old) sentence on the master poet.
The bronze-clad bookends above capture a serene Dante. Click on the photo above to learn more about them.
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