He walks. Or is he on horseback, as he once walked in military campaigns for Florence’s elite company. This chivalrous plume is now far away, like its childhood in the boiling of sestiere de la porte Saint-Pierre, or the euphoria of rhymes drawn up for the love of Beatrice when he was a teenager. From the place where he is, not far from Verona, perhaps he sees other exiles also raising the dust of the road, men confused by the internal struggles which tear Italy between lordships and communes, temporal powers and spiritual.
It is almost three years since he left Rome, coming in the autumn of 1301 to plead in vain for the freedom of Florence before a Pope Boniface VIII imbued with his desire for Tuscan annexation. He did not see his hometown again, he who “Drank the Arno water even before having teeth”, who likes “Florence to the point of suffering unjustly exile for having loved her »(EV, I, vi). He suspects it, he will never see her again.
→ STORY. In Dante’s Footsteps (1/34)
He was banished there in January 1302, then in March was sentenced to die by fire. In June, in Gargonza, he reunited with other White Guelph exiles ready to ally with their Ghibelline enemies against the Black Guelphs who now rule Florence. These compromises are repugnant to him. He joined Forli, then moved closer to Tuscany again, in a last hope of a comeback.
Pope Boniface died, then his successor Benoit XI; hostilities do not cease. He is 39 years old. He wants to try everything, regain the approval of the rulers, and that of the people. He writes to the Florentines, invokes a start, and the first words of his epistle offer a strange echo to those of the prophet Micah (6,3) and to the Improper sung for the office of Good Friday, raising the sorrow of a betrayal of the Good by humanity: ” Popule mee, quid feci tibi? “(” My people, what have I done to you? “)
“You will have to leave Florence”
His great-grandfather, the knight Cacciaguida, has taught him since his century, in the way in which, under the pen of Virgil, Anchises once built his son Aeneas in a dream: “ Like Hippolyte left Athens because of a cruel and treacherous stepmother, so you will have to leave Florence, he whispers.
This is what we want and seek, already, and those who think it will soon do so in places where Christ is trafficked every day. The rumor will blame the offended, as usual; but vengeance will testify to the truth which dispenses it. You will leave all that you love most dearly; and this is the arrow that the bow of exile shoots to begin with. You will smell like salt the bread of others, and how hard it is to descend and climb the stairs of others “(Par, XVII, 46-60).
→ READ. Pope Francis celebrates Dante, “prophet of hope”
Yes, he is reduced to begging for hospitality from more settled than himself. Today, far from him, Florence burns, real flames in the heart of summer 1304. The fire takes away most of the documents that could offer traces of his life to future generations. The words of his ancestor still resonate, towards Bologna, Arezzo or Treviso, where he flees bad company: “ It will be beautiful for you, then, to have made a party to you alone »(By XVII, 68-69).
He is soon in Padua, where he can see Giotto painting the Scrovegni Chapel; there perhaps he understands. He is a “ ship without sail or rudder, carried to various ports and estuaries and shores by the dry wind exhaled by painful poverty »(Banq I). Alone with his genius and his art. Renouncing direct political action, he now completely engages in the literary path, through which he intends to speak to everyone and act on the world.
Next episode, Thursday July 15: a look piercing the soul
All the bibliographic sources for this story are available at the bottom of the article.
BIBLIOGRAPHY on which this account is based:
* Works by Dante Alighieri:
– The Divine Comedy (Enfer, Purgatoire et Paradis), translated from Italian, presented and annotated by Danièle Robert (Actes Sud, large bilingual format or Babel pocket); translated from Italian, presented and annotated by Jacqueline Risset (Flammarion, large format or pocket GF); translated and annotated by Joachim-Joseph Berthier (Desclée de Brouwer).
– Vita Nova, translated from Italian, annotated and presented by Louis-Paul Guignes (Poésie / Gallimard); translated from Italian, annotated and presented by René de Ceccatty (Points / Seuil)
– Feast, translated from Italian, annotated and presented by René de Ceccatty (Seuil)
– Rhymes, translated from Italian, presented and annotated by Jacqueline Risset (Flammarion, large format or pocket GF)
– Eloquence in vulgar, translated from Latin and commented under the supervision of Irène Rosier-Catach (Fayard)
– The monarchy, translated from Latin by Michèle Gally (Belin)
– Complete Works (New life, Rhymes, Banquet, vulgar eloquence, Monarchy, Epistles, Eclogues, Water and earth quarrel, Divine Comedy), translated from Italian and Latin, presented and commented by André Pézard (La Pléiade).
* Biographies of Dante Alighieri:
– Boccaccio, Life of Dante Alighieri: Florentine poet (Via Valeriano editions)
– Elisa Brilli and Giuliano Milani, Dante, new lives (Fayard)
– Enrico Malato, Dante, translated from Italian by Marilène Raiola (Les Belles Lettres)
– Jacqueline Risset, Dante, a life (Flammarion)
– Giorgio Agamben, The Kingdom and the Garden, translated from Italian by Joël Gayraud (Rivages)
– Erich Auerbach, Writings on Dante, translated from German and English and presented by Diane Meur (Macula)
– Erich Auerbach, Mimesis, The representation of reality in Western literature, translated from German by Cornelius Heim (Tel Gallimard)
– Yves Bonnefoy, Preface to Hell translated from Italian by Lamennais (Rivages)
– Hans Urs von Balthasar, Glory and the Cross – the aesthetic aspects of Revelation II, Styles. From Irenaeus to Dante, translated from German by Robert Givord and Hélène Bourboulon (Cerf)
– Samuel Beckett, Band and saraband, translated from English and presented by Edith Fournier (Midnight)
– Jorge Luis Borges, Nine essays on Dante, translated from Spanish (Argentina) by Françoise Rosset (Gallimard)
– Paul Claudel, Jubilee Ode for the Six-Hundredth Anniversary of Dante’s Death (New French Revue)
– Paul Claudel, Introduction to a poem about Dante (in Complete works, Gallimard)
– Umberto Eco, The search for the perfect language, translated from Italian by Jean-Paul Manganaro (Seuil)
– Étienne Gilson, Dante and philosophy (Vrin)
– Étienne Gilson, Dante and Beatrice (Vrin)
– Romano Guardini, Dante, visionary of eternity (Threshold)
– Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory (Gallimard)
– Ossip Mandelstam, Interview on Dante, translated from Russian by Jean-Claude Schneider (La Dogana)
– Victoria Ocampo, From Francesca to Béatrice (Rue d’Ulm editions)
– Carlo Ossola, Introduction to the Divine Comedy, translated from Italian by Nadine Le Lirzin and Pierre Musitelli (Le Félin)
– Didier Ottaviani, Dante, the pilgrim spirit (Wisdom Points)
– Jacqueline Risset, Dante writer or the Intelletto d’amore (Threshold)
– Jean-Baptiste Sèbe, Christ, the writer and the world – Theology and literary works in Hans Urs von Balthasar (Deer)
– Philippe Sollers, Towards Paradise (DDB / Collège des Bernardins)
– Philippe Sollers, Scripture and the Limit Experience (Threshold)
– Frances A. Yates, The art of memory, translated from English by Daniel Arasse (Gallimard)