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A middle class poet of noble lineage, Dante Alighieri, lived in a turbulent time of Italy and specifically Florentine history. He wrote his most famous piece, the both politically and spiritually oriented Divine Comedy, while in political exile. It is commented on often that his true inspiration for writing was a girl named Beatrice, that he met at a prominent function before the age of twelve. Dante was very fond of this beautiful girl and her early death caused him to study and contemplate greatly.
Could this be the only factor of motivation for such a rich work? What drove him to write such an impassioned masterful piece, considered by many to be a height of medieval literature? One most only look upon his native citys political history for the answer. Florence's political climate from 1215 until the 1300 s was unsettled by a raging feud between the Guelfs, mostly comprised of lower class nobility and artisans, and the aristocrat Ghibelline parties. These originally German sects of the quarreling Well and Waibiblingens became local Italian parties and fought over control of Florence, the Guelfo's claiming allegiance to the papal authority and the Ghibelline's to imperial rule (Musa IX). It is not known how these feuds began.
An interesting anecdote is given by the 14 th century writer Giovanni Fiorentino. He claimed that the origin of this great free was rooted in an argument between two best friends, Guelfs and Ghibelline. A difference in opinion over the superiority of one of their dogs fueled a heated argument. As the words of Fiorentino explain, escalation continued.
This unlucky division between them still increasing, they on either side collected parties of their followers, in order more effectually to annoy each other. Soon extending its malignant influence over the neighboring lords and barons of Germany, who divided, according to their motives, either with the Guelph or Ghibelline, it not only produced many serious affrays, but several persons fell victims to its rage. Ghibelline, finding himself hard pressed by his enemy, and unable longer to keep the field against him, resolved to apply for assistance to Frederick the First, the reigning Emperor. Upon this, Guelfs, perceiving that his adversary sought the alliance of this monarch, applied on his side to Pope Honorius II. , who being at variance with the former, and hearing how the affair stood, immediately joined the cause of the Guelfs, the Emperor having already embraced the Ghibelline's.
It is thus the apostolic became connected with the former, and the empire with the latter faction (Longfellow). The parties of Florence did cease fighting in 1278, but conflict still resided. By 1300 The Guelfs were divided into two factions; the Blacks, lead by the Donate family, and the Whites, headed by the Cerchi family. The Blacks were staunch Guelfs, and continued to reign in Florence.
The Whites, to which Dante was affiliated, slowly began to side with the Ghibelline's. The Whites ruled Florence for the next two years, but the Blacks soon came back, this time with the power of the pope behind them (Felfoldi). This was an especially trying conflict because the Catholic Church was the single most powerful institution in all of Europe[effecting] almost every facet of life: political, cultural, social, and economic and seeking to take over all of Florence and Tuscany (Role of the Church). Of course, then the pope would be the most powerful position in Europe, and his followers difficult to defeat. Although an arduous task, Dante and other white Guelfs sought to do so.
As one might surmise after reading his Divine Comedy, the famous poet was an active political figure, speaking vehemently on topics of church and state in great opposition of Pope Bonafice VIII, from 1295 until he was banished from his beloved city in 1302 (About Dante). His political life began when he fought in the battle of Campaladino in 1289 (Moustaki 2). In 1295 he enrolled in the Guild of Doctors and Pharmacists and a year later he participated in a citizens government known as the Council of the Hundred (Felfoldi). In the summer of 1300 he and five other magistrates of Florence petitioned the Pope in opposition of papal rule over the Italian state. The tyrannical Bonafice threatened them with excommunication. Once more as the army of Charles of Valois commanded by Bonafice to take control of the Florence's anti-church forces marched into his city, Dante wished to voice his objection to the use of papal force directly to the Pope in Rome.
He traveled to do so and when he returned to his home of Florence, it had been taken over completely by the Black Guelfs (Felfoldi). As if defeat was not disparaging enough, Dante was a wanted man as well. Dante was charged with numerous charges including graft, embezzlement, opposition to the pope, and disturbance of the peace. Dante, however, did not appear for his charges and would not pay for any of his "crimes. " A warrant was issued for his arrest with the sentence that if he was ever seen in Florence again, he would be burned alive (Role of the Church).
Alighieri, more infuriated than ever over the high church's corruption, settled in Verona where he planned with the Ghibelline captain della Small to retake Florence. This never occurred, however. The exiled poet, although in love with his native city, grew bitter of the greedy, materialistic Papal rule. Dante found through many written attempts at gaining respect from the city, that she had turned against him. This is the sentiment that his Divine Comedy, a three part allegorical lyric work of more than 14, 000 lines was written in (About Dante). It is no wonder then, that Dante meets with so many of Florence's political heads and religious leaders in the depths of Hell.
The story of Dante the pilgrim begins on Good Friday as we find him lost in a dark wood. Dante tries to climb a sunny mountain, but cannot because three horrendous creatures, a leopard, a lion, and a she wolf stand in his way. He returns to the forest and meets Virgil who will take him on an adventure through hell, in order for Dante to find the divine good. With each canto, creeping deeper into the funnel of Hell, Dante has dialogue with and sometimes intensely describes the torturous conditions of the sinners, often as descriptive as the nature of the odors in the air. It seems as though Dante, once lost in the dark brush of sin, chronicles his pilgrimage back to the good life.
He travels through hell, purgatory and heaven with the aid of the famous poet Virgil, a man of virtue and wisdom, and later the almost divine Beatrice. We notice Dante learning about human nature and the nature of sin and divinity all along his trek. Primarily and very effectively this is meant to create hope for salvation in desperate souls. Dante almost pleas sinners to find a better path, but this path is not with the church, as we see so many pontiffs in the deep rings of hell. His spiritual journey, through the many obstacles in order to reach the light over the mountain (God) is the main theme of the poem. This is not Dantes only goal, however.
He wonderfully facilitates his trip through the nine rings of hell to vividly illustrate the nature and consequence of sin, and castigate many figures that he places there. This is displayed in the vengeful line "Be joyful, Florence, since you are so great that your outstretched wings beat over land and sea, and your name is spread throughout the realms of Hell!" This would allow the peoples of Italy, especially those of Florentine vernacular, to read of the corruption of their rule, and perhaps lead them to support the division of church and state. Dante illustrates extreme bias against the organization of the Catholic Church, church figures and corrupt Florentine's often in his inferno. Blatant attacks on Bonafice are many, including the story of Panestrino. Boniface told the inhabitants of the town that if they gave up their resistance, he would grant them all amnesty. When they did so, Boniface promptly destroyed the town (Role of the Church).
All of Dantes writings on the third chasm of the eighth circle of hell, the tortuous home of the simonist's, rebukes the church for its greed. Especially notable is his conversation with Pope Nicholas II. The poets passionate lines: Then tell me how, how much gold did our Lord ask that Saint Peter give to him before he placed the keys within his care? Surely the only thing he asked was follow me. And Peter and the others never asked for gold or silver when they asked Matthias to take the place of the transgressing soul well depict his intense abhorrence. During Inferno Dante speaks with Ciaccio, perhaps a political leader of Florence, narrating the story of the white Guelfo's reign on the city.
He also mentions countless leaders that now reside in hell amongst traitors of state and country including Tesauro dei Beccheria, Bocca delhi Anti, and Busoso da Due. He infuses so many more Florentine figures and stories allusions of Inferno that certainly the inclusion of politics was no mistake. This intense underworld packed with allusions that Dante has created may be overwhelming to the reader, especially when cultures of the reader and poet are separated by thousands of miles and hundreds of years. Becoming accustomed to Dantes Italian society, of strict but corrupt religion, a new culture and rocky political system is quite trying at first. This is a boundary the reader of the present day must cross when trying to enjoy the work of Dante.
It is apparent though, that Dante Alighieri had crossed many more boundaries to create such a lengthy and rich poem, filled with fantastic allusions to history mythology and religion. It would be absurd to say that Dantes intense emotion and interesting narrative do not translate. Inferno is a powerful piece on the seeking of salvation which anyone, even a person without a religious background can grow to appreciate. Works Cited About Dante. Columbia University's Digital Dante. November 1997. 10 November 2001 < web Felfoldi, David.
Guelfs VS. Ghibellines: Arches Website. 16 July 1998. 10 November 2001 < web Longfellow. Ed. Dante Database. Dartmouth College. April 2000. 10 November 2001 < web Moustaki, Nikki, James Roberts.
Cliffs Notes Dantes Divine Comedy: Inferno. New York: Hungry Minds, 2001. Musa, Mark. Ed. The Portable Dante.
New York: Penguin Books USA, 1995. The Role of the Church. Columbia University's Digital Dante. November 1997. 10 November 2001 < web library / index . html> .
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