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LIFE OF DANTE.
DANTE', a name abbreviated, as was the custom in those days, from Durante or Durando, was of a very ancient Florentine family. The first of his ancestors’, concerning whom any thing certain is known, was Cacciaguidas, a Florentine knight, who died fighting in the holy war, under the Emperor Conrad III. Cacciaguida had two brothers, Moronto and Eliseo, the former of whom is not recorded to have left any posterity; the latter is the head of the family of the Elisei, or perhaps (for it is doubtful which is the case) only transmitted to his descendants a name which he had himself inherited. From Cacciaguida himself were sprung the Alighieri, so called from one of his sons, who bore the appellation from his mother's family 4, as is affirmed by the Poet himself, under the person of Caccia
1 A note by Salvini, on Muratori della Perf. Poes. Ital. lib. iii. cap. 8.
2 Leonardo Aretino, Vita di Dante. 3 Par. xv.
He was born, as most have supposed, in 1106, and died about 1147. But Lombardi computes his birth to have happened about 1090. See note to Par. xvi. 31. For what is known of his descendants till the birth of Dante, see note to Par. xv. 86.
+ Vellutello, Vita di Dante. There is reason to suppose that she was the daughter of Aldigerio, who was a lawyer of Verona, and brother of one of the same name, bishop of that city, and author of an epistle addressed to his mother, a religious recluse, with the title of Tractatus Adalgeri Episc. ad Rosuvidam reclansam (or, ad Orismundam matrem inclusam) de Rebus moralibus. See Cancellieri Osservazioni, &c. Roma, 1818. p.119.
guida, in the fifteenth canto of the Paradise. This name, Alighieri, is derived from the coat of arms", a wing or, on a field azure, still borne by the descendants of our Poet at Verona, in the days of Leonardo Aretino.
Dante was born at Florence in May, 1265. His mother's name was Bella, but of what family is no longer known. His father? he had the misfortune to lose in his childhood ; but by the advice of his surviving relations, and with the assistance of an able preceptor, Brunetto Latini, he applied himself closely to polite literature and other liberal studies, at the same time that he omitted no pursuit necessary for the accomplishment of a manly character, and mixed with the youth of his age in all honourable and noble exercises.
In the twenty-fourth year of his age, he was present at the memorable battle of Campaldino 3, where he served in the foremost troop of cavalry, and was exposed to imminent danger. Leonardo Aretino refers to a letter of Dante, in which he described the order of that battle, and mentioned his having been engaged in it. The cavalry of the Aretini at the first onset gained so great an advantage over the Florentine horse, as to compel them to retreat to their body of infantry. This circumstance in the event proved highly fortunate to the Florentines; for their own cavalry being thus joined to their foot, while that of their enemies was led by the pursuit to a considerable distance from theirs, they were by these means enabled to defeat with ease their separate forces. In this battle, the Uberti, Lamberti, and Abati, with all the other ex-citizens of Florence who adhered to
1,Pelli describes the arms differently. Memorie per la Vita di Dante. _Opere di Dante. Ediz. Zatta, 1758, tom. iv. part. ii. p. 16. The male line ended in Pietro, the sixth in descent from our Poet, and father of Ginevra, married in 1519 to the Conte Marcantonio Sarego, of Verona. Pelli, p. 19.
2 His father Alighiero had been before married to Lapa, daughter of Chiarissimo Cialuffi; and by her had a son named Francesco, who left two daughters, and a son, whom he named Durante after his brother. Francesco appears to have been mistaken for a son of our Poet's. Boccaccio mentions also a sister of Dante, who was married to Poggi, and was the mother of Andrea Poggi, Boccaccio's intimate. Pelli, p. 267.
3 G. Villani describes this engagement, lib. vii. cap. 130.
the Ghibelline' interest, were with the Aretini ; while those inhabitants of Arezzo, who, owing to their attachment to the Guelph party had been banished from their own city, were ranged on the side of the Florentines. In the following year, Dante took part in another engagement between his countrymen and the citizens of Pisa, from whom they took the castle of Caprona?, situated not far from that city.
From what the Poet has told us in his Treatise, entitled the Vita Nuova, we learn that he was a lover long before he was a soldier, and that his passion for the Beatrice whom he has immortalized, commenced” when she was at the beginning and he near the end of his ninth year. Their first meeting was at a banquet in the house of Folco Portinari 4 her father ; and the impression, then made on the susceptible and constant heart of Dante, was not obliterated by her death, which happened after an interval of sixteen years.
But neither war, nor love, prevented Dante from gratifying the earnest desire which he had of knowledge and mental improvement. By Benvenuto da Imola, one of the earliest of his commentators, it is related, that he studied in his youth at the universities of Bologna and Padua, as well as in that of his native city, and devoted himself to the pursuit of natural and moral philosophy. There is reason to believe that his eagerness for the acquisition of learning, at some time of his life, led him as far as Paris, and even Oxfords; in
I For the supposed origin of these denominations, see note to Par. vi. 107.
2 Hell. xxi. 92.
4 Folco di Ricovero Portinari was the founder of the hospital of S. Maria Nuova, in 1280, and of other charitable institutions, and died in 1829, as appeared from his epitaplı. Pelli, p. 55.
5 Giovanni Villani, who was his contemporary, and, as Villani himself says, his neighbour in Florence, informs us, that “he went to study at Bologna, and then to Paris, and tó many parts of the world” (an expression that may well include England) “subsequently to his banishment.' Hist. lib. ix. cap. 135. Indeed, as we shall see, it is uncertain whether he might not have been more than once a student at Paris.
But the fact of his having visited England rests on a passage alluding to it in the Latin poems of Boccaccio, and on
the former of which universities he is said to have taken the degree of a Bachelor, and distinguished himself in the theological disputations; but to have been hindered from commencing Master, by a failure in his pecuniary resources. Francesco da Buti, another of his commentators in the fourteenth century, asserts that he entered the order of the Frati Minori, but laid aside the habit before he was professed.
In his own city, domestic troubles, and yet more severe public calamities, awaited him. In 1291, he was induced, by the solicitation of his friends, to console himself for the loss of Beatrice by a matrimonial connexion with Gemma, a lady of
the authority of Giovanni da Serravalle, Bishop of Fermo, who, as Tiraboschi observes, though he lived at the distance of a century from Dante, might have known those who were contemporaries with him. This writer, in an inedited commentary on the Commedia, written while he was attending the council of Constance, says of our Poet: Anagorice dilexit theologiam sacram, in quâ diu studuit tam in Oxoniis in regno Angliæ, quam Parisiis in regno Franciæ," &c. And again : “ Dantes se in juventute dedit omnibus artibus liberalibus, studens eas Paduæ, Bononiæ, demum Oxoniis et Parisiis, ubi fecit multos actus mirabiles, intantum quod ab aliquibus dicebatur magnus philosophus, ab aliquibus magnus Theologus, ab aliquibus magnus poeta.” Tiraboschi Stor. della Poes. Ital. vol. ii. cap. iv. p. 14. as extracted from Tiraboschi's great work by Mathias, and edited by that gentleman. Lond. 1803.
The bishop translated the poem itself into Latin prose, at the instance of Cardinal Amedeo di Saluzzo, and of two English bishops, Nicholas Bubwith, of Bath, and Robert Halam, of Salisbury, who attended the same council. One copy only of the version and commentary is known to be preserved, and that is in the Vatican. I would suggest the probability of others existing in this country. Stillingfieet, in the Origines Sacræ, twice quotes passages from the Paradiso, “rendered into Latin,” (and it is Latin prose) as that learned bishop says, “by F. S.” Orig. Sacr. b. ii. chap. ix. sect. xviii. $ 4. and chap. x. sect. v. Edit. Cambridge, 1701. See notes to Part. xxiv. 86. and 104. This work was begun in February 1416, and finished in the same month of the following year.
The word “ anagorice" (into which the Italians altered " anagogice") which occurs in the former of the above extracts, is explained by Dante in the Convito. Opere di Dante, tom. i. p. 43. Ediz. Venez. 1793. and more briefly by Field. Of the Church, b. iii. cap. 26. “ The Anagogicall” sense is, “ when the things literally expressed unto us do signifie something in the state of heaven's happiness.” It was used by the Greek Fathers to signify merely a more recondite sense in a text of Scripture than that which the plain words offered. See Origen in Routh's Reliquia Sacræ, vol. iv.
the noble family of the Donati, by whom he had a numerous offspring. But the violence of her temper proved a source of the bitterest suffering to him ; and in that passage of the Inferno, where one of the characters says, La fiera moglie più ch'altro, mi nuoce.
me, my wife
Of savage temper, more than aught beside,
Hath to this evil brought, his own conjugal unhappiness must have recurred forcibly and painfully to his mind'. It is not improbable that political animosity might have had some share in these dissensions; for his wife was a kiriswoman of Corso Donati, one of the most formidable, as he was one of the most inveterate of his opponents.
In 1300 he was chosen chief of the Priors, who at that time possessed the supreme authority in the state ; his colleagues being Palmieri degli Altoviti and Neri di Jacopo degli Alberti. From this exaltation our Poet dated the cause of all his subsequent misfortunes in life?.
In order to show the occasion of Dante's exile, it may be necessary to enter more particularly into the state of parties at Florence. The city, which had been disturbed by many divisions between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, at length remained in the power of the former ; but after some time these were again split into two factions. This perverse occurrence originated with the inhabitants of Pistoia, who, from an unhappy quarrel between two powerful families in that city, were all separated into parties known by those denominations. With the intention of composing their differences, the principals on each side were sum
1 Yet M. Artaud, in his “ Histoire de Dante" (8vo. Paris, 1841, p. 85), represents Gemma as a tender, faithful, and affectionate wife. I certainly do not find any mention of her unhappy temper in the early biographers. Regard for her or for her children might have restrained them. But in the next century, Landino, though commending her good qualities, does not scruple to assert that in this respect she was more than a Xanthippe.
2 Leonardo Aretino. A late biographer, on the authority of Marchionne Stefani, assigns different colleagues to Dante in his office of Prior. See Balbo. Vita di Dante, vol. i. p. 219. Ediz. Torin. 1839.