After more than 700 years, a hilltop town in Umbria has formally asked forgiveness for playing a part in the persecution and exile of Dante, Italy’s most celebrated poet and the author of The Divine Comedy.
Born into a noble family that had fallen onto hard times in Florence, Dante found himself on the wrong side of the bitter feud between the rival Guelphs and Ghibellines.
He was accused of crimes that included fraud and taking bribes, and when he failed to turn up to face the charges, was sentenced to be burnt at the stake. Dante fled into exile in 1302 and never saw Florence again.
The death warrant was signed by Cante Gabrielli, a powerful magistrate who originally came from Gubbio in Umbria, and the town has now asked to be belatedly pardoned, albeit seven centuries after the event.
The motion to ask for forgiveness was put forward by the town council on Tuesday and coincided with the first day of a medieval festival devoted to celebrating Italy’s past. “We don’t intend this to be a reprisal against Cante, but rather highlight an event that changed the course of literary history,” Filippo Stirati, the mayor of Gubbio, told a local newspaper.
He said he hoped Gubbio would be able to take part in nationwide celebrations, planned for 2021, to commemorate the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death.
“We felt it was our moral responsibility to apologise because Cante Gabrielli was from Gubbio,” Anna Buoninsegni, a spokeswoman for the town council, told The Telegraph. “The initiative evolved from events last year when Italy celebrated the 750th anniversary of Dante’s birth.”
The poet’s expulsion from Florence was a bitter blow and he never saw the city again, despite repeated requests to return. He spent much of his exile in Verona and eventually died in Ravenna, on the Adriatic coast, in 1321.
There was a silver lining to his exile, however. Dante used his years of banishment to write his masterpiece, The Divine Comedy. “If Cante Gabrielli had not condemned Dante to exile, would the poet have written The Divine Comedy?” is one of the topics that will be debated at the festival, which runs until Sunday.
The story of a pilgrim’s journey through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise, Dante used the epic work to satirise his enemies and lament the vicissitudes of Florentine politics. Gubbio’s mea culpa follows a similar gesture by Florence, which in 2008 declared it was sorry for exiling the poet.
The city council’s cultural committee voted by 19 votes to five to posthumously revoke Dante’s exile. They also conferred the city’s highest honour, Il Fiorino D’Oro or the Golden Florin, on his descendants.
It was described at the time by Dario Nardella, the head of the cultural committee, as “an act of civic rehabilitation, a way to re-establish the links between the city and the poet’s family, a gesture of esteem to erase the last remnants of hostility between Dante and Florence – a symbolic act of homage.”
The Divine Comedy: Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso – Amazon