June 18, 2008

A Florentine story

Once upon a time, Anno Domini 1302, a sentence on Dante, for political reasons, was pronounced in Florence. It stated that the Sommo Poeta (Supreme Poet, as in Italian Dante is known) would be executed if he stepped foot in the city again. To tell the truth, in 1315, Uguccione della Faggiuola, the then captain general controlling the town, forced Florence to grant an amnesty to people in exile, including Dante. But Floretines—who have always been archetypical stubborn people—required that all exiles would do public penance, thus impliciticly recognizing their own “fault.” Dante, whose almost boundless pride is legendary, obviously refused, preferring a perpetual exile and thus spending the last 20 years of his life wandering through Italy. He ended his days in Ravenna, where his tomb is still nowadays, in 1321.

Ok, these are all well-known stories, where is the news? Well, the news is that, after 700 years, Florence's city council has approved a motion revoking that sentence! It’s a “decisive step towards Dante's complete rehabilitation,” said center-right politicians presenting the motion. In turn, the mayor of Florence said that the town should award the great poet—through one of Dante's descendants— “the highest city honor at the public ceremony at which his offence is wiped out.”

Oh, so fine, you’d say, but … wait a moment: did they all agree? Nah, the motion passed with 19 councillors in favour and five against. Opposing it, Green councillors called it a ”stunt” and argued that Dante's “sublime poetic dimension” was linked to his suffering in exile and portrayal of old rivals, Ansa reports. Which is quite right, I guess—at least from a certain point of view, because there is another face of the issue: so many masterpieces were written under the pressure of political persecutions, but this can by no means justify political persecution in itself. It’s elementary, Watson.

But no problem, this is Florence, folks, the town of which Dante wrote :

Godi, Fiorenza, poi che se' sì grande,
che per mare e per terra batti l'ali,
e per lo 'nferno tuo nome si spande!

[Inferno, Canto XXVI]

(Be joyful, Florence, since you are so freat
That your outstretched wings beat over land and sea,
And your name is spread throughout the realm of Hell!)

Fierce, isn’t he? Well, you know, he was himself a Florentine, and was bearing his fellow countrymen a grudge …