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possible to master the omne scibile, and he seems
to have accomplished it. How lofty his theory of
science was, is plain from this passage in the Con-
vito : " He is not to be called a true lover of wis
dom (filosofo) who loves it for the sake of gain, as
do lawyers, physicians, and almost all churchmen
(li religiosfy, who study, not in order to know, but
to acquire riches or advancement, and who would
not persevere in study should you give them what
they desire to gain by it. ... And it may be said
that (as true friendship between men consists in
each wholly loving the other) the true philosopher
loves every part of wisdom, and wisdom every part
of the philosopher, inasmuch as she draws all to
herself, and allows no one of his thoughts to wan
der to other things." 2 The Convito gives us a
glance into Dante's library. We find Aristotle
(whom he calls the philosopher, the master) cited

1 Vit. Nuov., c. xxxv.

2 Tratt III. cap. xi.


seventy-six times ; Cicero, eighteen ; Albertus Mag
nus, seven ; Boethius, six ; Plato (at second-hand),
four; Aquinas, Avicenna, Ptolemy, the Digest,
Lucan, and Ovid, three each ; Virgil, Juvenal,
Statius, Seneca, and Horace, twice each ; and Al-
gazzali, Alfrogan, Augustine, Livy, Orosius, and
Homer (at second-hand), once. Of Greek he
seems to have understood little ; of Hebrew and
Arabic, perhaps more. But it was not only in the
closet and from books that Dante received his edu
cation. He acquired, perhaps, the better part of it
in the streets of Florence, and later, in those home
less wanderings which led him (as he says) wher
ever the Italian tongue was spoken. His were the
only open eyes of that century, and, as nothing es
caped them, so there is nothing that was not pho
tographed upon his sensitive brain, to be afterward
fixed forever in the Commedia. What Florence was
during his youth and manhood, with its Guelphs
and Ghibellines, its nobles and trades, its Bianchi
and Neri, its kaleidoscopic revolutions, " all parties
loving liberty and doing their best to destroy her,"
as Voltaire says, it would be beyond our province
to tell even if we could. Foreshortened as events
are when we look back on them across so many
ages, only the upheavals of party conflict catching
the eye, while the spaces of peace between sink out
of the view of history, a whole century seems like
a mere wild chaos. Yet during a couple of such
centuries the cathedrals of Florence, Pisa, and
Siena got built; Cimabue, Giotto, Arnolfo, the
Pisani, Brunelleschi, and Ghiberti gave the im-


pulse to modern art, or brought it in some of its
branches to its culminating point; modern litera
ture took its rise ; commerce became a science, and
the middle class came into being. It was a time
of fierce passions and sudden tragedies, of pictur
esque transitions and contrasts. It found Dante,
shaped him by every experience that life is capa
ble of, rank, ease, love, study, affairs, statecraft,
hope, exile, hunger, dependence, despair, until
he became endowed with a sense of the nothingness
of this world's goods possible only to the rich, and
a knowledge of man possible only to the poor. The
few well-ascertained facts of Dante's life may be
briefly stated. In 1274 occurred what we may
call his spiritual birth, the awakening in him of
the imaginative faculty, and of that profounder
and more, intense consciousness which springs from
the recognition of beauty through the antithesis of
sex. It was in that year that he first saw Beatrice
Portinari. In 1289 he was present at the battle of
Campaldino, fighting on the side of the Guelphs
who there utterly routed the Ghibellines, and
where, he says characteristically enough, " I was
present, not a boy in arms, and where I felt much
fear, but in the end the greatest pleasure, from the
various changes of the fight." l In the same year
he assisted at the siege and capture of Caprona. 2
In 1290 died Beatrice, married to Simoiie dei
Bardi, precisely when is uncertain, but before 1287,
as appears by a mention of her in her father's will,

1 Letter of Dante, now lost, cited by Aretino.
a Inferno, XXI. 94.


bearing date January 15 of that year. Dante's
own marriage is assigned to various years, ranging
from 1291 to 1294 ; but the earlier date seems the
more probable, as he was the father of seven chil
dren (the youngest, a daughter, named Beatrice)
in 1301. His wife was Gemma dei Donati, and
through her Dante, whose family, though noble,
was of the lesser nobility, became nearly connected
with Corso Donati, the head of a powerful clan of
the grandi, or greater nobles. In 1293 occurred
what is called the revolution of Gian Delia Bella,
in which the priors of the trades took the power
into their own hands, and made nobility a disquali
fication for office. A noble was defined to be any
one who counted a knight among his ancestors, and
thus the descendant of Cacciaguida was excluded.

Delia Bella was exiled in 1295, but the nobles
did not regain their power. On the contrary, the
citizens, having all their own way, proceeded to
quarrel among themselves, and subdivided into the
popolani grossi and popolani minuti, or greater
and lesser trades, a distinction of gentility some
what like that between wholesale and retail trades
men. The grandi continuing turbulent, many of
the lesser nobility, among them Dante, drew over
to the side of the citizens, and between 1297 and
1300 there is found inscribed in the book of the
physicians and apothecaries, Dante d 1 Aldighiero,
degli Aldighieri, poeta Florentine. 1 Professor de
Vericour thinks it necessary to apologize for this
lapse on the part of the poet, and gravely bids us
1 Balbo, Vita di Dante, Firenze, 1853, p. 117.


take courage, nor think that Dante was ever an
apothecary. 1 In 1300 we find him elected one of
the priors of the city. In order to a perfect mis
understanding of everything connected with the
Florentine politics of this period, one has only to
study the various histories. The result is a spec
trum on the mind's eye, which looks definite and
brilliant, but really hinders all accurate vision, as
if from too steady inspection of a Catharine-wheel
in full whirl. A few words, however, are necessary,
if only to make the confusion palpable. The rival
German families of Welfs and Weiblingens had
given their names, softened into Guelfi and Ghibel-
lini, from which Gabriel Harvey 2 ingeniously,
but mistakenly, derives elves and goblins, to two
parties in Northern Italy, representing respectively
the adherents of the pope and of the emperor, but
serving very well as rallying-points in all manner of
intercalary and subsidiary quarrels. The nobles, es
pecially the greater ones, perhaps from instinct,
perhaps in part from hereditary tradition, as being
more or less Teutonic by descent, were com
monly Ghibellines, or Imperialists ; the bourgeoisie
were very commonly Guelphs, or supporters of the
pope, partly from natural antipathy to the nobles,
and partly, perhaps, because they believed them
selves to be espousing the more purely Italian side.
Sometimes, however, the party relation of nobles
and burghers to each other was reversed, but the
names of Guelph and Ghibelline always substan-

1 Life and Times of Dante, London, 1858, p. 80.
a Notes to Spenser's Shepherd's Calendar.


tially represented the same things. The family of
Dante had been Guelphic, and we have seen him
already as a young man serving two campaigns
against the other party. . But no immediate ques
tion as between pope and emperor seems then to
have been pending ; and while there is no evidence
that he was ever a mere partisan, the reverse would
be the inference from his habits and character.
Just before his assumption of the priorate, how
ever, a new complication had arisen. A family
feud, beginning in the neighboring city of Pistoja,
between the Cancellieri Neri and Cancellieri Bian-
chi, 1 had extended to Florence, where the Guelphs
took the part of the Neri and the Ghibellines of
the Bianchi. 2 The city was instantly in a ferment
of street brawls, as actors in one of which some of
the Medici are incidentally named, the first ap
pearance of that family in history. Both parties
appealed at different times to the pope, who sent
two ambassadors, first a bisnop and then a cardi
nal. Both pacificators soon flung out again in a
rage, after adding the new element of excommuni
cation to the causes of confusion. It was in the
midst of these things that Dante became one of
the six priors (June, 1300), an office which the
Florentines had made bimestrial in its tenure, in
order apparently to secure at least six constitutional
chances of revolution in the year. He advised

1 See the story at length in Balbo, Vita di Dante, cap. x.

2 Thus Foscolo. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that
at first the blacks were the extreme Guelphs, and the whites those
moderate Guelphs inclined to make terms with the Ghibellines.
The matter is obscure, and Balbo contradicts himself about it.


that the leaders of both parties should be banished
to the frontiers, which was forthwith done ; the os
tracism including his relative Corso Donati among
the Neri, and his most intimate friend the poet
Guido Cavalcanti among the Bianchi. They were
all permitted to return before long (though after
Dante's term of office was over), and came accord
ingly, bringing at least the Scriptural allowance
of " seven other " motives of mischief with them.
Affairs getting worse (1301), the Neri, with the
connivance of the pope (Boniface VIII.), entered
into an arrangement with Charles of Valois, who
was preparing an expedition to Italy. Dante was
meanwhile sent on an embassy to Rome (Septem
ber, 1301, according to Arrivabene, 1 but probably
earlier) by the Bianchi, who still retained all the
offices at Florence. It is the tradition that he said
in setting forth : " If I go, who remains ? and if I
stay, who goes ? " Whether true or not, the story
implies what was certainly true, that the counsel
and influence of Dante were of great weight with
the more moderate of both parties. On October
31, 1301, Charles took possession of Florence in
the interest of the Neri. Dante being still at
Eome (January 27, 1302), sentence of exile was
pronounced against him and others, with a heavy
fine to be paid within two months ; if not paid, the
entire confiscation of goods, and, whether paid or
no, exile ; the charge against him being pecuniary
malversation in office. The fine not paid (as it

1 Secolo di Dante, p. 654. He would seem to have been in
Rome during the Jubilee of 1300. See Inferno, XVIII. 28-33.


could not be without admitting the justice of the
charges, which Dante scorned even to deny), in
less than two months (March 10, 1302) a second
sentence was registered, by which he with others
was condemned to be burned alive if taken within
the boundaries of the republic. 1 From this time
the life of Dante becomes semi-mythical, and for
nearly every date we are reduced to the " as they
say" of Herodotus. He became now necessarily
identified with his fellow-exiles (fragments of all
parties united by common wrongs in a practical, if
not theoretic, Ghibellinism), and shared in their
attempts to reinstate themselves by force of arms.
He was one of their council of twelve, but withdrew
from it on account of the unwisdom of their meas
ures. Whether he was present at their futile as
sault on Florence (July 22, 1304) is doubtful, but
probably he was not. From the Ottimo Comento,
written at least in part 2 by a contemporary as early
as 1333, we learn that Dante soon separated him
self from his companions in misfortune with mu
tual discontents and recriminations. 3 During the
nineteen years of Dante's exile, it would be hard
to say where he was not. In certain districts of
Northern Italy there is scarce a village that has

1 That Dante was not of the grandi, or great nobles (what we
call grandees), as some of his biographers have tried to make out,
is plain from this sentence, where his name appears low on the list
and with no ornamental prefix, after half a dozen domini. Bayle,
however, is equally wrong in supposing his family to have been

2 See Witte, " Quando e da chi sia composto 1' Ottimo Co-
mento," etc. (Leipsic, 1847).

9 Ott. Com. Farad. XVIL

DANTE ' 133

not its tradition of him, its sedia, rocca, spelonca,
or torre di Dante ; and what between the patri
otic complaisance of some biographers overwilling
to gratify as many provincial vanities as possible,
and the pettishness of others anxious only to snub
them, the confusion becomes hopeless. 1 After his
banishment we find some definite trace of him first
at Arezzo with Uguccione della Faggiuola ; then
at Siena ; then at Verona with the Scaligeri. He
himself says : " Through almost all parts where
this language [Italian] is spoken, a wanderer, well-
nigh a beggar, I have gone, showing against my
will the wound of fortune. Truly I have been a
vessel without sail or rudder, driven to diverse
ports, estuaries, and shores by that hot blast, the
breath of grievous poverty ; and I have shown my
self to the eyes of many who perhaps, through some
fame of me, had imagined me in quite other guise,
in whose view not only was my person debased, but
every work of mine, whether done or yet to do,
became of less account." 2 By the election of the
Emperor Henry VII. (of Luxemburg, November,

1 The loose way in which many Italian scholars write history
is as amazing as it is perplexing. For example : Count Balho's
Life of Dante was published originally at Turin, in 1839. In a
note (lib. i. cap. x.) he expresses a doubt whether the date of
Dante's banishment should not be 1303, and inclines to think it
should be. Meanwhile, it seems never to have occurred to him
to employ some one to look at the original decree, still existing
in the archives. Stranger still, Le Monnier, reprinting the work
at Florence in 1853, within a stone's-throw of the document itself,
and with full permission from Ealbo to make corrections, leaves
the matter just where it was.

2 Convito, Tratt. I. cap. iii.


1308), and the news of his proposed expedition
into Italy, the hopes of Dante were raised to the
highest pitch. Henry entered Italy, October, 1310,
and received the iron crown of Lombardy at Milan,
on the day of Epiphany, 1311. His movements
being slow, and his policy undecided, Dante ad
dressed him that famous letter, urging him to crush
first the "Hydra and Myrrha" Florence, as the
root of all the evils of Italy (April 16, 1311). To
this year we must probably assign the new decree
by which the seigniory of Florence recalled a por
tion of the exiles, excepting Dante, however, among
others, by name. 1 The undertaking of Henry, af
ter an ill-directed dawdling of two years, at last
ended in his death at Buonconvento (August 24,
1313 ; Carlyle says wrongly September) ; poi
soned, it was said, in the sacramental bread, by a
Dominican friar, bribed thereto by Florence. 2 The
story is doubtful, the more as Dante nowhere al
ludes to it, as he certainly would have done had
he heard of it. According to Balbo, Dante spent
the time from August, 1313, to November, 1314,
in Pisa and Lucca, and then took refuge at Ve
rona, with Can Grande della Scala (whom Voltaire
calls, drolly enough, le grand-can de Verone, as if
he had been a Tartar), where he remained till
1318. Foscolo with equal positiveness sends him,

1 Macchiavelli is the authority for this, and is carelessly cited
in the preface to the Udine edition of the Codex Bartolinianus
as placing it in 1312. Macchiavelli does no such thing, but
expressly implies an earlier date, perhaps 1310. (See Macch. Op.
ed. Baretti, London, 1772, vol. i. p. 60.)

2 See Carlyle's Frederic, vol. i. p. 147.


immediately after the death of Henry, to Guido da
Polenta 1 at Ravenna, and makes him join Can
Grande only after the latter became captain of the
Ghibelline league in December, 1318. In 1316
the government of Florence set forth a new decree
allowing the exiles to return on conditions of fine
and penance. Dante rejected the offer (by accept
ing which his guilt would have been admitted), in
a letter still hot, after these five centuries, with in
dignant scorn. " Is this then the glorious return
of Dante Alighieri to his country after nearly three
lustres of suffering and exile ? Did an innocence,
patent to all, merit this? this, the perpetual
sweat and toil of study? Far from a man, the
housemate of philosophy, be so rash and earthen-
hearted a humility as to allow himself to be offered
up bound like a school-boy or a criminal! Far
from a man, the preacher of justice, to pay those
who have done him wrong as for a favor ! This is
not the way of returning to my country ; but if
another can be found that shall not derogate from
the fame and honor of Dante, that I will enter on
with no lagging steps. For if by none such Flor
ence may be entered, by me then never ! Can I
not everywhere behold the mirrors of the sun and
stars ? speculate on sweetest truths under any sky
without first giving myself up inglorious, nay, ig-

1 A mistake, for Guido did not become lord of Ravenna till
several years later. But Boccaccio also assigns 1313 as the date
of Dante's withdrawal to that city, and his first protector may
have been one of the other Polentani to whom Guido (surnamed
Novello, or the Younger ; his grandfather having borne the same
name) succeeded.


nominious, to the populace and city of Florence ?
Nor shall I want for bread." Dionisi puts the
date of this letter in 1315. 1 He is certainly wrong,
for the decree is dated December 11, 1316. Fos-
colo places it in 1316, Troya early in 1317, and
both may be right, as the year began March 25.
Whatever the date of Dante's visit to Voltaire's
great Khan 2 of Verona, or the length of his stay
with him, may have been, it is certain that he was
in Ravenna in 1320, and that, on his return thither
from an embassy to Venice (concerning which a
curious letter, forged probably by Doni, is extant),
he died on September 14, 1321 (13th, according
to others). He was buried at Eavenna under a
monument built by his friend, Guido Novello. 3

1 Under this date (1315) a fourth condemnatio against Dante is
mentioned facta in anno 1315 de mense Octobris per D. Rainerium,
D. Zacharii de Urbeveteri, dim et tune vicarium regium civitatis
Flarentice, etc. It is found recited in the decree under which in
1342 Jacopo di Dante redeemed a portion of his father's property,
to wit : Una possessione cum vinea et cum domibus super ea, com-
bustis et non combustis, posita in populo S. Miniatis de Pagnola.
In the domibus combustis we see the blackened traces of Dante's
kinsman by marriage, Corso Donati, who plundered and burnt
the houses of the exiled Bianchi, during the occupation of the city
by Charles of Valois. (See De Romanis, notes on Tiraboschi's
Life of Dante, in the Florence ed. of 1830, vol. v. p. 119.)

3 Voltaire's blunder has been made part of a serious theory by
Mons. E. Aroux, who gravely assures us that, during the Middle
Ages, Tartar was only a cryptonym by which heretics knew each
other, and adds : H n*y a done pas trop a s'ftonner des noms bi-
zarres de Mastino et de Cane donnes a ces Delia Scala. (Dante,
herttique, revolutionnaire, et socialiste, Paris, 1854, pp. 118-120.)

3 If no monument at all was built by Guido, as is asserted by
Balbo (Vita, i. lib. ii. cap. xvii.), whom De Yericour copies
without question, we are at a loss to account for the preservation


Dante is said to have dictated the following in
scription for it on his death-bed :




Of which this rude paraphrase may serve as a
translation :

The rights of Monarchy, the Heavens, the Stream of Fire, the Pit,
In vision seen, I sang as far as to the Fates seemed fit ;
But since my soul, an alien here, hath flown to nobler wars,
And, happier now, hath gone to seek its Maker 'mid the stars,
Here am I Dante shut, exiled from the ancestral shore,
Whom Florence, the of all least-loving mother, bore. 1

of the original epitaph replaced by Bernardo Bembo when he built
the new tomb, in 1483. Bembo's own inscription implies an al
ready existing monument, and, if in disparaging terms, yet epi-
taphial Latin verses are not to be taken too literally, considering
the exigencies of that branch of literary ingenuity. The doggerel
Latin has been thought by some unworthy of Dante, as Shake
speare's doggerel English epitaph has been thought unworthy of
him. In both cases the rudeness of the verses seems to us a proof
of authenticity. An enlightened posterity with unlimited super
latives at command, and in an age when stone-cutting was cheap,
would have aimed at something more befitting the occasion. It
is certain, at least in Dante's case, that Bembo would never have
inserted in the very first words an allusion to the De Monarchia,
a book long before condemned as heretical.

1 We have translated lacusque by "the Pit," as being the near
est English correlative. Dante probably meant by it the several
circles of his Hell, narrowing, one beneath the other, to the cen
tre. As a curious specimen of English we subjoin Professor de
Vericour's translation : "I have sang the rights of monarchy ; I
have sang, in exploring them, the abode of God, the Phlegethon
and the impure lakes, as long as destinies have permitted. But
as the part of myself, which was only passing, returns to better
fields, and happier, returned to his Maker, I, Dante, exiled from


If these be not the words of Dante, what is internal
evidence worth ? The indomitably self-reliant man,
loyal first of all to his most unpopular convictions
(his very host, Guido, being a Guelph), puts his
Ghibellinism (Jura monarchic^) in the front. The
man whose whole life, like that of selected souls
always, had been a warfare, calls heaven another
camp, a better one, thank God ! The wanderer
of so many years speaks of his soul as a guest,
glad to be gone, doubtless. The exile, whose sharp
est reproaches of Florence are always those of an
outraged lover, finds it bitter that even his uncon
scious bones should lie in alien soil.

Giovanni Villani, the earliest authority, and a
contemporary, thus sketches him : " This man was
a great scholar in almost every science, though a
layman ; was a most excellent poet, philosopher,
and rhetorician ; perfect, as well in composing and
versifying as in haranguing ; a most noble speaker.
. . . This Dante, on account of his learning, was a
little haughty, and shy, and disdainful, and like a
philosopher almost ungracious, knew not well how
to deal with unlettered folk." Benvenuto da Imola
tells us that he was very abstracted, as we may well
believe of a man who carried the Commedia in his
brain. Boccaccio paints him in this wise : " Our
poet was of middle height ; his face was long, his
nose aquiline, his jaw large, and the lower lip pro
truding somewhat beyond the upper ; a little stoop-

the regions of fatherland, I am laid here, I, to whom Florence
gave birth, a mother who experienced but a feeble love." (The
I4fe and Times of Dante, London, 1858, p. 208.)


ing in the shoulders ; his eyes rather large than
small ; dark of complexion ; his hair and beard
thick, crisp, and black; and his countenance al
ways sad and thoughtful. His garments were al
ways dignified ; the style such as suited ripeness of
years ; his gait was grave and gentlemanlike ; and
his bearing, whether public or private, wonderfully
composed and polished. In meat and drink he was
most temperate, nor was ever any more zealous
in study or whatever other pursuit. Seldom spake
he, save when spoken to, though a most eloquent
person. In his youth he delighted especially in
music and singing, and was intimate with almost
all the singers and musicians of his day. He was
much inclined to solitude, and familiar with few,
and most assiduous in study as far as he could find
time for it. Dante was also of marvellous capacity
and the most tenacious memory." Various anec
dotes of him are related by Boccaccio, Sacchetti,
and others, none of them verisimilar, and some of
them at least fifteen centuries old when revamped.

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