Dante: The First Renaissance Man
Len Bloch

I am a huge fan of The Divine Comedy, and have been meaning to read a biography of Dante for some years. Although I probably won't re-read the entire Comedy for this project, I will look more closely at Paradiso than I have in the past, because it is the most challenging and most important section of the poem.

I expect that I will discuss this particular image in depth, as it is one of the most mind-blowing images of the entire poem. Beatrice stands at his side, but she can guide him no further, and the mystic St. Bernard will guide him towards to his final encounter with G-d.

In forma dunque di candida rosa
mi si mostrava la milizia santa

Then garbed in the form of a snow-white rose
The saintly host displayed itself to me

Preliminary Outline

Dante's Life
Dante's Creative Process
Interdisciplinary Aspects of his work
Note: For life: Have a page on:


Dante's Triple Nature
As befits a work inspired by the Trinity, Dante presents three faces in The Divine Comedy. Accordingly, I will use three titles when referring to him.

The Pilgrim: Dante as the Poem's protagonist.
The Narrator: Dante as the fictional narrator of the poem. The Narrator has been to Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory.
The Poet: The man who actually wrote The Divine Comedy. The Poet had never seen Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory.

The distinction may seem subtle, but it helps to be clear. An example from Inferno will illustrate.

Until the 8th Canto of Inferno, the Pilgrim has felt pity for the damned.

In this Canto, he encounters the souls of the angry, who suffer together in a river of slime. Each soul struggles to lift his or her head above the slime, and each struggles with the other angry souls as they fight for a breath of Hell's foul air.

The Pilgrim and Virgil are crossing the river, they encounter Filippo Argenti, a Florentine who Dante personally hated. The Pilgrim's sense of pity disappears.


E io a lui: "Con piangere e con lutto,
spirito maladetto, ti rimani;
ch’i’ ti conosco, ancor sie lordo tutto"
Allor distese al legno ambo le mani;
per che ’l maestro accorto lo sospinse,
dicendo: "Via costï con li altri cani!".

And then I said to him: "May you weep and wail,
stuck here in this place forever, you damned soul,
for filthy as you are, I recognize you."

With that he stretched both hands out toward the boat
but, on his guard, my teacher pushed him back:
"Away, get down there with the other curs!"

This is often seen as a great turning point for the Pilgrim is learning to embrace divine justice. In fact, Virgil kisses the Pilgrim's face, saying, "Blessed is the womb that bore thee."

Soon the Filippo's soul is mangled and dragged into the slop by a gang of the angry damned.
The Narrator would seem to agree with Virgil's assessment that we should feel no pity for the damned, for he says, "to this day/ I thank my lord and praise Him for that sight".

But the Poet may feel otherwise. After all, the Pilgrim was not motivated by justice. He had a personal vendetta against Filippo, and the Pilgrim's joy was little more than an expression of wrath. Moreover, Virgil's praise is literally the praise of the damned.

The Poet may want us to understand the context of Virgil's comment, "Blessed is the womb that bore thee." It refers to Luke 11:27, in which a woman offers these exact words to Jesus.
Jesus answers her in the next verse, "No, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it."

While the Pilgrim may not have recognized the quote, and the Narrator may have forgotten the context, I have little doubt that the Poet knew that the first word Jesus uttered upon hearing the words that the Poet himself put in Virgil's mouth was, "No".

The Murder of Buonodelmonte
The beauty of the Ponte Vecchio belies its bloody history.

You cannot understand Dante's life without understanding Florence, the city of his birth. In particular, a murder that took place on Easter morning 1216 set in motion events that led to Dante's exile from Florence 85 years later.

In the Divine Comedy, Dante meets his great great grandfather, Cacciaguida, in Paradise.

The Pilgrim meets his Great Great Grandfather in Heaven.

Cacciaguida tells the Pilgrim about the murder.

In February 1216, a young Nobleman named Buondelmonte was seated next to a higher ranking Nobleman named Uberto at a formal dinner. Uberto was insulted, and a fight ensued. Amidei, who was of even lower rank than Buonodelmonte, defended Uberto, and Buonodelmonte slashed Amedei with a knife, injuring him severely.

Later that night, the nobles of the town gathered, and decided that a peace should be arranged. Buonodelmonte would marry Amedei's niece to seal the arrangement. The date for their public bethrothal was set.

The day before the betrothal, the matron of the richer Donati clan enouraged Buonodelmonte to shun Amedia in favor of her own beautiful daughter. Without consulting with his family, Buonodelmonte agreed to marry the young beauty.

The next day, Buonodelmonte arrived at the ceremony, walked past the his young fiancee, and offered his hand to Donati's daughter.

Amedia standing at the church door after being shunned by Buonodelmonte.

Buonodelmonte's marriage to Donati was set for Easter morning 1216. On his way to the wedding, the Amedei and the Uberti, accosted Buondelmonte as he crossed the Ponte Vecchio, and cut his bodies to pieces.

As Cacciaguida tells his great great grandson in words that are now carved into the bridge:


... it behoved the mutilated stone
Which guards the bridge, that Florence should provideA victim in her last hour of peace.