Good Reading : May 2008
26 good reading ı MAY 2008 There is so much art and architecture in Florence that you could easily overlook the fact that this was Dante’s hometown. He grew up here, studied here and worked here. This is where he met his mystic muse Beatrice. Florence also for ms part of the background to The Divine Comedy, so the city gives many insights into Dante and his landmark poem. In many ways Dante is a paradox. He is widely recognized as one of the greatest poets of all time.T S Eliot famously asserted that, ‘Dante and Shakespeare divide the modern world between them.There is no third’. However, these days Dante seems to be more revered than read. Poetry is rather out of fashion, and many readers shudder at the thought of ploughing through a 3-volume poem. However, there are still plenty of Dante fans who have been captivated by his depiction of an epic journey through hell and purgatory to paradise.The poem is like an escapist mix of Greek mythology, Tolkein and Gormenghast – plus a touch of The Mikado, since in Dante’s world the punishment always fits the crime. Dante was born in Florence in 1265 and died in Ravenna 57 years later in 1321. At that time, Florence was a wealthy city–state, but was torn by political rivalries.The party that Dante supported lost power in 1301 and he was subsequently exiled from Florence, never to return. During his exile, Dante wrote La Commedia (The Divine Comedy). Despite being rejected by Florence, Dante was still passionately in love with the city, describing it in his epic poem as ‘the dearest place’ and ‘the sweet sheepfold’. However, he was understandably critical of many of its citizens, describing them collectively as ‘wolves’. There are still many buildings in Florence that were very familiar to Dante. He was born and raised in a Florentine tower house near the cathedral.Today this house is open to the public and contains the Dante Museum. If you are lucky, you will find a street performer in the square outside acting out scenes from The Divine Comedy. Florence Cathedral is the city’s focal point, since it is photogenic and located at the very heart of the city, but it was not a prime part of Dante’s world. Construction started in 1296 and the site was a huge building lot in Dante’s time. Brunelleschi’s iconic dome wasn’t completed until a century after Dante’s death. However, the cathedral is still interesting for Dante fans. Inside there is a large fresco of Dante by Domenico di Michelino. Painted in 1465, this picture shows Dante outside the city walls of Florence holding a copy of The Divine Comedy. It also shows the journey through the different circles of hell, purgatory and paradise. The octagonal Baptistery building next to the cathedral takes us closer to Dante’s Florence. It was the city’s main church when Dante lived there, and was called San Giovanni. It appears in The Divine Comedy as ‘my beautiful San Giovanni’.The ornate doors on the Baptistery deserve some attention, especially since one of them is called ‘the Door of Paradise’. However, the door was constructed after Dante’s time. journey to paradise writer’s city 1 2 3 Seven centuries ago Dante Alighieri left his native Florence and travelled through hell and purgatory, finally reaching paradise. KEITH HALL explores Dante’s Florence, discovering that the city still has many sites connected with Dante and his writings.