Thursday, June 19, 2008

Dante: shall we sign him up?

According to Peter Popham in The Independent, Dante, author of the Divine Comedy and father of literary Italian, is one of us.

The occasion for the article is the revocation of the 700 year ban on Dante from his home city of Florence (a bit late now some would say). It's caused little interest in Italy. But it's stirred up a British media bored by worries over the economy or military deaths.

Popham writes:
'The White Guelphs, among whom Dante counted himself, were the Liberal Democrats of their time. They strove to sit on the fence. They were for the pope, but not very much for him. They thought he should have power, but not too much power.'

That's bad history as well as being bad politics (if you want a sitting-on-the-fence party, look at the Tories over civil liberties, half-for, half-against, epitomised by their former MP, David Davis, with his previously inscrutable smile. As another David, Prof. Starkey, is fond of saying: 'why does the Englishman sit on the fence? Because he enjoys the sensation').

But, the question for us is: would we want the author of the Commedia, the Convivio and -- most worryingly -- De Monarchia? In that last text, you'll remember, he was a Guelf who was a Ghibelline. In the first of them, he honoured Julius Caesar and damned his killers, a judgement itself condemned by Florence's later republicans in the Renaissance.

I'm not convinced he's on our side. But I wait to hear from you the counter-arguments.

1 comment:

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