Updated: Jun 22, 2021
Today in 1302, we remember how the Italian poet Dante Alighieri was exiled from Florence. In exile Date wrote the celebrated work The Divine Comedy widely considered the most important poem of the Middle Ages and the greatest literary work in the Italian language. His representations of Heaven, Purgatory and Hell have had a massive influence on western culture, In todays pod we look at the history, politics and theology behind this work, and todays blog reflection below explores the pain of Exile and the creativity it can inspire.......
Dante, was an Italian poet, writer and philosopher and author of the celebrated work The Divine Comedy widely considered the most important poem of the Middle Ages and the greatest literary work in the Italian language. At a time when almost all poetry was in Latin Dante established the use of the vernacular in literature making it more widely accessible. So revolutionary was this he even wrote a defence called on Eloquence in the Vernacular, and is described as the "father" of the Italian language and instrumental in establishing the literature of Italy. The cultural ripples of his Divine Comedy have spread all over the work, his depictions of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven provided inspiration for many including in the English language Geoffrey Chaucer, John Milton and Alfred Tennyson, among many others.
Dante's family was loyal to the Guelphs, who supported the Papacy and opposed to the Ghibellines, who were backed by the Holy Roman Emperor. Dante fought with the Guelph cavalry who defeated the Ghibellines, but then divided into two factions: the White Guelphs (Guelfi Bianchi) Dante's party, and the Black Guelphs (Guelfi Neri). Although the split was along family lines at first, ideological differences arose. The Blacks supported the Pope and the Whites wanting more freedom from Rome. With the whites in power first, rumours spread that the Pope planned a military occupation of Florence and the council sent a delegation that included Dante to Rome to find out what was going on. Pope Boniface quickly dismissed the other delegates and asked Dante alone to remain in Rome. Whilst he was in Rome a new Black Guelph government was installed, and in his absence, Dante was accused of corruption considered to be an absconder. If he returned to Florence without paying a large fine, he could be burned at the stake. Today he was formally exiled. During his exile he is supposed to have visited Paris which historians consider unlikely, and then Oxford which is considered even more unlikely but probably inspired by readers who were impressed with the poet's wide learning and erudition. There is no real evidence that he ever left Italy and he settled down near Tuscany
At some point during his exile, he conceived of the Divine Comedy. Or just ‘The Comedy’ as he called it. The adjective Divina was added by Boccaccio in 1360, due to its subject matter. In three parts it describes Dante's travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, an allegory of the soul's journey towards God. Beginning with the recognition and rejection of sin (Inferno), followed by the penitent Christian life (Purgatorio), finally the soul ascends to God (Paradiso). Influenced by Aquinas, Dante is accompanied by three guides: Virgil (who represents human reason), Beatrice (who was his first love and represents divine revelation, theology, faith, and grace), and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (who represents contemplative mysticism and devotion to Mary). These guides represented a radical shift from mythology to historical figures, and has been suggested as inaugurating modern fiction.
Although he still hoped late in life that he might be invited back to Florence on honourable terms, Dantes final days were spent in Ravenna. Florence eventually came to regret Dante's exile, and the city made repeated requests for the return of his remains. The custodians of the body in Ravenna refused, at one point going so far as to conceal the bones in a false wall of the monastery. Nonetheless, a tomb was built for him in Florence in 1829, in the Basilica of Santa Croce. That tomb has been empty ever since, with Dante's body remaining in Ravenna. In June 2008, nearly seven centuries after his death, the city council of Florence passed a motion rescinding Dante's sentence
Reflection (Not in Podcast)
The experience of exile for many people is visceral, whether voluntary or forced as in the case of Dante. The Swiss doctor Johannes Hofer coined the term 'nostalgia' in 1688 in his dissertation to describe the anxieties displayed by mercenaries fighting away from home. One translation of the Greek 'Nostos Algos' is 'home-coming anxiety'. That dreaming of an idealised place or past can become a very powerful creative force. The Russian cultural academic Svetlana Boym calls this reflective nostalgia,. In her fascinating work 'The Future of Nostalgia' she distinguishes this from restorative nostalgia, where these powerful longings are 'ideologised' and harnessed by populist leaders who promise a new future based on a false understanding of the past.
Many of the earliest books in the Bible were written in exile in Babylon. The ideal projection of prophets, Kings, God, as expressed in psalms were formed in this climate of nostalgia and longing to return.