Dante’s exile from Florence

Late-medieval Florence was riven by factional disputes based on support for or opposition to papal power. Dante Alighieri, for a brief time one of the city’s six governing officials, was part of the latter party. But after Charles of Valois entered the city in November 1301, Dante’s allies were overthrown; and on 27 January 1301, Dante, aged around 36, was one of a number sentenced to exile on charges of corruption. He was returning from Rome. His wife and children remained in Florence; he never saw the city again.

Although The Divine Comedy is notionally set in Easter week 1300, Dante is thought to have started writing it around 1308. The retrospective setting allows him to foretell the bitterness of exile, “how salt is the taste/Of other people’s bread, how hard the way/Going up and down other people’s stairs”. Arguably Dante experienced a double exile, since he quickly fell out with his fellow exiles and became a party of one.

Boccaccio says Dante visited Paris while in exile, and Gladstone believed he studied in Oxford, but it is unlikely he ever left Italy. He certainly lived for periods in Arezzo, Bologna and Verona, and his last last few years were spent in Ravenna, where he died in September 1321.

In the 19th century Florence built a grand tomb to house his remains in the Basilica of Santa Croce, but Ravenna resisted. The tomb in Florence remains empty.

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