Welcome back to the Festival

On September 28 the State Library of Victoria presented a public zoom talk as part of their Windows on the Collection series in which I had the pleasure of introducing Dr Paolo Baracchi, Dante in Music’s Italian Dante, to give a reading. Then Panellists led by Dr Anna Welch talked about the Dante 700 Collection. You can read about the event at "Windows on the Collection Dante 700". Today’s newsletter provides you with the context about our stream Episode 3: Farinata and the unwelcome companion. Dante pilgrim meets Farinata and another great Florentine, both known to him, and in spite of Virgil’s warning for him to be circumspect in what he says they all end up being annoyed with each other. This was meant to parallel the extremely fractious political dealings in Florence in the 13th and 14th centuries. You might be surprised to learn that Florentine factions at that time often had foreign allies like Charles de Valois from France, for example, in order for them to win factional disputes against their own fellow Florentines. It is to be remembered that Italian cities were all city states, either Republican, or under the Holy Roman Empire. As city States, Florence would make diplomatic missions to the Pope or to its traditional enemies like Siena in the same way that Australia would send our diplomats to other countries today. That is how Dante’s sworn enemy, Corso dei Donati, from the Black faction of Dante’s own Guelf party, returned to Florence after his own short exile (voted for by Dante). Dante’s biographer RWB Lewis says “Charles de Valois entered Florence with a retinue of two thousand horsemen.” He promised the White Priory (Dante’s faction ostensibly still in power although Dante was on his mission to Boniface the 8th in Rome) to preserve the peace “but turned the town into an armed camp”. Not only in Afghanistan is it difficult to leave.

Many thanks to Liz O’Keefe, fellow 3MBS presenter who sent me information about what was said locally in her village in Le Marche about how Corso was visited while in exile by Charles de Valois in the nearby Castelle della Pieve. When Dante’s ancestor, Cacciaguida, prophesies Dante’s exile from Heaven, Dante’s text speaks about “the plot” in this castle and the “the decision” made later in Florence that combined to decree Dante’s exile.

The Unwelcome Guest in this newsletter’s stream is Cavalcante dei Cavalcanti. His son, Guido Cavalcante, was a famous poet and at one time Dante considered him a mentor although not by the time his father mentions him in Canto 10. This relationship began with Guido interpreting Dante’s dream of a near naked Beatrice eating his heart. Guido suggested, among other things, that perhaps Dante’s heart was eaten as a prophylactic against death. Here is a link to Edward Elgar’s setting of “Go, Song of Mine”, a translation by Dante Gabriel Rossetti of a stanza from Guido Cavalcante’s “Dispute with Death”

Lovely Links Two lovely links for today.

Florence as a stone city

Florence was a Roman City in its building techniques. All the palaces, many of the towers and public buildings, like a Roman city, were made of stone. In 1260 after Farinata and his foreign allies won the battle of Monteperti, the Guelf palaces, houses and towers were reduced to rubble. There was an ancient practice from the Romans called spoglio, that is stone from unused and decaying temples was reused to build temples for more fashionable Gods.

It could be asked, therefore, when the factions routinely reduced their opponent’s property to rubble, did they in fact recycle the stone? Would have been sensible. Stone is expensive to quarry, expensive and heavy to move to location via ox cart. Why not follow the ancient practice? This link below provides evidence the buildings that replaced those obliterated were made of new stone taken from the quarries around Florence. Visitors to Florence, reported that when visiting around 1300 that “there was rubble everywhere”. I guess each successive winner when they retook the city wanted the rubble to be a reminder to their opponents.

Farinata as a pancake.

In Dante’s system of judgement and his consequent arrangement of Hell we, unsurprisingly, meet one of his political opponents among the Heretics. Farinata degli Uberti was a Ghibelline, languishing in Hell for his Epicurean beliefs. Central to that philosophy is the pursuit of earthly pleasure, but far from being about unrestrained gorging, it required discipline and precise doses of pleasure for true happiness to be attained. For example, Epicurus would fast so as to better enjoy his food when he had it. According to Bocaccio, reflecting on La Commedia, Farinata was “… fond of good and delicate viands and ate them without waiting to be hungry; and for this sin he is damned as a Heretic in this place.” Cavalcante dei Cavalcanti, a fellow Epicurean but from the opposing Guelph faction, is Farinata’s unwelcome companion in Hell. If we consider the Contrapasso – that the soul’s torment is a mirror of its greatest sin, then Dante has doomed these two together, perhaps not for denying the immortality of the soul as Epicureans, but for putting political rivalry above all else.

And on lighter note, there must be some truth in Farinata enjoying the pleasures of the table. Farinata is also the name for that delicious Italian chickpea flat bread!

Here is a recipe:

Palazzo Vecchio made with newly quarried stone

Dante Detective: Episode 3: Farinata and the unwelcome companion. From Canto 10 of Hell.

Dante and Virgil meet two Florentine nobles, Farinata Degli Uberti and Cavalcante dei Cavalcanti. They cause Dante to become disputatious with them and with each other.

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