On this day in 1321 (or was it yesterday?), Italy's greatest writer, Dante Alighieri, died in-exile in Ravenna, Italy. Dante, born in Florence, found himself on the losing side of a political battle, after which he was banished from his beloved hometown on pain of death. He settled in Ravenna, some 65 miles away. It was here that he wrote his greatest work, the Divine Comedy.
Ravenna, at first glance, is a somewhat modest town. But the city's plain appearance belies the glorious Early Christian (5th & 6th Century) mosaics which encrust the interiors of many churches and tombs. I sometimes imagine Dante standing before (or under) them—they were already 800 years old when Dante lived in Ravenna—gaining inspiration for his work.
After Dante's death, Florence realized the mistake it had made, banishing this greatest of writers. Florence appealed for the return of Dante’s body but Ravenna was not about to surrender the relics. Popes and artists (including Michelangelo) attempted to cajole Ravenna into repatriating the dead writer’s bones without any luck. Florence even built a grand tomb in the Church of Santa Croce—but to this day, the tomb remains empty. At one point, when Florence came with soldiers to take the body by force, Franciscan priests hid him within the walls of their church. Dante seems to have been forgotten there—for it was 350 years later that a workman re-discovered the writer’s remains while doing restoration to the church walls. Today, Dante lies-at-rest in a handsome, Nineteenth Century tomb in the center of Ravenna. Florence still wants him.
These bookends, shown above, capture il Sommo Poeta's hawkish authority. Perhaps they might inspire your favorite writer to finish that long-awaited (and brilliant!) novel. Click on the photo above to learn more about them.
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