Dante Alighieri was born in May 1265 in Florence. His father, Alighiero, was the scion of a noble (but not particularly wealthy) Guelph family. Dante studied in Florence and Bologna, learning the art of rhetoric, and taught himself the art of “saying words in rhyme” (poetry), to which he dedicated himself with passion and genius from his earliest years.
Dante was a friend of many famous poets, and especially of Guido Cavalcanti, Lapo Gianni and Cino da Pistoia, with whom – as was fashionable in those times – he corresponded in verse. At 18 he fell in love with Beatrice, the daughter of Folco Portinari. Although Beatrice married Simone dei Bardi, Dante wrote for her numerous poems in the “dolce stil novo”. After his death in 1290, Dante devoted more and more time to his studies of classical works and modern Italian, French and Provençal literature, as well as theology, politics, philosophy, rhetoric, art and language.
CANTO XVI 169
Che averle dentro, e sostener lo puzzo
Del villan d’ Aguglion, di quel da Signa,
Che già per barattare ha l’ occhio aguzzo! 57
Se la gente ch’ al mondo più traligna,
Non fosse stata a Cesare noverea,
Ma come madre a suo figliuol benigna, 60
Tal fatto è Fiorentino, e cambia e merca,
Che si sarebbe voltoa Simifonti,
Là dove andava l’ avolo alla cerca. 63
Sariesi Montemurlo ancor de’ Conti;
Sarieno i Cerchi nel pivier d’ Acone,
E forse in Valdigrieve i Buondelmonti. 66
Sempre la confusion delle persone
In order to participate in the political life of Florence, Dante became a member of the Guild of Physicians and Apothecaries. At that time, having banished the Ghibellines from the city, the Guelphs of Florence were divided into two factions: the White Guelphs, led by the Cerchi family, and the Black Guelphs, led by the Donati family. Dante sided with the former, who more jealously guarded the independence of the city, even though he himself had married a member of the Donati family, Gemma, who gave him three children – Iacopo, Pietro and Antonia – before becoming a nun and taking the name Beatrice. Between 1295 and 1296, Dante was a member of the Special Council of the Captain of the People and the Council of the Hundred. From June 15 to August 15, 1300 he was one of the Priors of Florence. In 1301, the Black Guelphs, with the support of Charles of Valois (sent by Pope Boniface VIII), came to power and banished the White Guelphs. Dante, who had visited the Pope to convince him to desist from his intention to interfere in the political life of the municipality of Florence, was forbidden to return to the city, as he had been sentenced to two years of exile under false accusation of corruption. From then on he lived in exile, continuing to refuse the Florentines’ invitation to return to the city on the condition that he plead guilty to the crimes of which he had been falsely accused.
The Cerchi family moved to Florence, but maintained their residence in Acone – this explains why Dante was able to attend them at Villa de’ Cherchi. The Cerchi house and the country parish of Acone are mentioned by Dante in the Divine Comedy (Paradiso, Canto XVI, 65).
Florence: a place of love and sadness for Dante, a recurring image in the Divine Comedy, a place of dramatic passions in the Inferno, a historical symbol and source of indignant oratorical fervor against the evils that afflicted Italy in the Purgatory, an elegiac marker of the good old days in the Paradiso, where the capacity for forgiveness and just moral values are emphasized.