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6. Divided City, Slavish Italy, Universal Empire1

© Claire E. Honess, CC BY 4.0 http://dx.doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0066.07

Claire E. Honess

In medias res

It is an oft-repeated commonplace that Dante’s Commedia starts in medias res: ‘[n]el mezzo del cammin di nostra vita’ [[i]n the middle of the journey of our life]. This ‘vertical’ reading of the poem’s sixth cantos will emulate this technique, by taking as its starting-point the exclamation which marks the precise centre of the central canto of the three under consideration: ‘Ahi serva Italia…’ [Ah, slavish Italy…].2 This outburst opens a unique window onto the cantos here under discussion, not only for the way in which it seems to encompass, in its anger, frustration and despair, the poet’s vision of a world gone drastically astray, but also and more importantly for the voice in which it is pronounced, which distinguishes it both from the text that surrounds it and from the narrative of the other cantos under consideration in this chapter, giving it a peculiar breadth of significance.

Wandering on the lower slopes of Mount Purgatory, Dante’s pilgrim and Virgil have encountered a lone soul, Sordello, who has ignored their request for directions and has instead questioned them about their provenance. No sooner does Virgil name his home-town, ‘Mantua’ (Purg., vi. 72), than the soul leaps to his feet and embraces him, exclaiming ‘O Mantoano, io son Sordello / de la tua terra’ [O Mantuan, I am Sordello from your city] (Purg., vi. 74-75), and it is at this point that the invective beginning ‘Ahi serva Italia’ breaks into the narrative of Dante’s story with the same sudden and unexpected burst of energy as that which propels Sordello out of his solitude and into the arms of Virgil.

The way in which this invective breaks into and cuts across Dante’s narrative is clearly reflected in the fact that the embrace which occasions it is still ongoing and being reiterated in the opening lines of the following canto.3 The second half of Purgatorio vi constitutes, in fact, a ‘freeze-frame’ moment; time here stands still and restarts only with the transition to the next canto. These lines, then, do not form part of the story of Dante-character’s journey through Purgatory, but run parallel with it, like a marginal gloss, not only on the embrace of the two Mantuans, but on the whole journey, seen in relation to the world that its protagonist has left behind.

With this insight in mind, the present chapter will consider the ways in which a consideration of Dante’s invective against Italy may open up his reader’s understanding not only of the passage’s immediate context in Purgatorio vi, but also of the corresponding cantos of Inferno and Paradiso. Taking the invective as the fulcrum around which the themes of the three cantos turn and turn about, my chapter will yield a reading which is not so much vertical as circular: an appropriate enough metaphor, then, as we shall see, for Dante’s political thought and its expression in these cantos, in the Commedia as a whole, and beyond.

Serva Italia

‘Ahi, serva Italia’: to the reader newly-emerged from the pages of the Inferno, this invective is surprising not only for the way in which it breaks into the narrative of the poem, but also for its very scope and scale. During the course of the Inferno contemporary Italy has been criticised on many occasions, but always – as it is in Inferno vi – at the level of the individual city-state, whether the degenerate Florence evoked by Ciacco, but also by Farinata, Brunetto, and others, the corrupt Lucca, the treacherous Pisa, the foolish Siena, or the wicked Genoa. Here, however, the object of the attack is the whole war-torn Italian peninsula. This should not, of course, be taken to mean that Dante conceives of the Italian peninsula as a single political entity. However he may have been read during the Risorgimento,4 it is clear that, for the poet, ‘Italy’ is a geographical reality, but not a political one. In the De vulgari eloquentia, this leads him to the view that the illustrious vernacular is ‘homeless’, and must therefore be created, drawing on the many and varied languages of the peninsula.5 In Purgatorio vi, Dante’s argument is a political, rather than a linguistic, one; but in an analogous way the term ‘serva Italia’, as it is used here, becomes a collective noun, referring to a geographically contiguous set of communes, republics and kingdoms, united only by their egregious lack of unity.

The dividedness of contemporary Italy is evoked in the invective through the striking image of citizens of the same city literally at one another’s throats: ‘l’un l’altro si rode / di quei ch’un muro e una fossa serra’ [of those whom one wall and one moat lock in, each gnaws at the other!] (Purg., vi. 83-84), a turn of phrase which cannot but evoke Ugolino and Ruggieri, two citizens of the same earthly city, locked together eternally at the very bottom of the City of Dis, the former gnawing on the brains of the latter.6 Even more significantly for this ‘vertical’ reading, the image also recalls the way in which, in the parallel canto of Inferno, Dante’s own city of Florence is described as a ‘città partita’ – a divided city (Inf., vi. 61) – against the backdrop of the triple-jawed chewing and slavering of Cerberus, like a dog which ‘abbaiando agogna / e si raqueta poi che ’l pasto morde’ [baying hungers and is silent once he bites his food] (Inf., vi. 28-29). The sin of gluttony is not, of course, specifically a political one; and yet the parallel between the glutton’s disordered relationship with food and the disordered political situation of contemporary Florence is made clear in Ciacco’s comparison of the city to an overfilled stomach: ‘piena / d’invidia sì che già trabocca il sacco’ [so full of envy that the sack overflows] (Inf., vi. 49-50).

This image strongly recalls the way in which Dante had described the political order – and its inevitable tendency to descend into corruption – in Convivio IV. iv,7 where human acquisitiveness is shown to bring discord and conflict into the world, and thereby to impede the achievement of the Aristotelian ideal of human communities as a means to the realisation of human happiness:

la umana civilitade […] a uno fine è ordinato, cioè a vita felice; a la quale nullo per sé è sufficiente a venire sanza l’aiutorio d’alcuno […]. E però dice lo Filosofo che l’uomo naturalmente è compagnevole animale. […] Onde, con ciò sia cosa che l’animo umano in terminata possessione di terra non si queti, ma sempre desideri gloria d’acquistare, sì come per esperienza vedemo, discordie e guerre conviene surgere […]; e così s’impedisce la felicitade. (Conv., iv. iv. 1-3)

[society […] is directed to one end, a life of happiness. No individual is capable of attaining this by himself, without the help of others […]. Hence the Philosopher’s dictum that man is by nature a social animal. […] Since the human psyche cannot be content with possessing a limited amount of land, but, as experience tells us, always desires the glory of making further acquisitions, quarrels and wars inevitably spring up […]. The result is that it is impossible to attain happiness.]

This darker conception of the human political order owes more to St Augustine than to Aristotle, taking up the Augustinian view of post-lapsarian humanity as being inevitably characterised by cupiditas (not just greed for possessions, but any kind of immoderate desire or ambition) and by the lust for power and desire for domination over others or libido dominandi. For Augustine, this desire to dominate others has its roots in the sin of pride, which lies at the basis of the sin of Lucifer and that of Adam and Eve, a perverted reflection of God (‘superbia perverse imitator Deum’);8 it is the desire to work for the good of the individual at the expense of the common good of the many, and in this it strikes at the heart of all that is ‘naturally political’ in human nature. For Augustine, then, political structures do not develop in order to help support the common human search for happiness, the Convivio’s ‘vita felice’, but only in order to uphold an uneasy truce between warring parties and to keep conflict and anarchy at bay.9

The echoes of this negative view of human political nature in Convivio IV. iv. 3 are evident; but a similar pessimism also seems to emerge in the pilgrim’s exchange with Ciacco in Inferno vi. Cupiditas and the libido dominandi (even if they are not given those precise names) also reign in contemporary Florence, according to Ciacco, who explains that ‘superbia, invidia e avarizia sono / le tre faville c’hanno i cuori accesi’ [pride, envy and greed are the three sparks that have set hearts ablaze] (Inf., vi. 74-75). As we have seen in Augustine, it is pride which is the foundation of the human desire to dominate others, while greed and envy lie at the root of that human inability to be content with what we have – that fundamental cupiditas – which Dante describes in the Convivio and which afflicts not only the Florence described by Ciacco, but also the whole of that ‘serva Italia’ addressed in the invective of Purgatorio vi, and beyond.

Sola soletta

If the effect of the besetting political sins of pride, envy and avarice is to undermine the communal spirit and to set the good of the individual over and above the good of the community, then Dante’s depiction of the character of Sordello in Purgatorio vi comes to take on a particular significance in its political context. Almost uniquely in the Commedia, Sordello is ‘un’anima […] / sola soletta’ [a soul […] all alone] (Purg., vi. 58-59); that is, he appears not to be associated with any group or community of fellow-souls. Critics have variously attempted to associate Sordello both with the souls who died a violent death (described in canto v) and with the negligent rulers (to whom Sordello himself will introduce us in canto vii),10 but the Mantuan cannot plausibly be assimilated with the Princes in the Valley, since he was certainly not a ruler, nor even a politician,11 and nor do we possess any information to suggest that he may have died a violent death.12 We are left, then, to draw the conclusion that Sordello really is that most unusual thing in Dante’s text: a soul in the singular, one with no crowd behind him.

All the more surprising, then, is the rapturous welcome that this lonely and somewhat stand-offish (‘altera e disdegnosa’ [proud and disdainful] (Purg., vi. 62)) soul gives to Virgil, without knowing his identity, but ‘sol per lo dolce suon de la sua terra’ [merely for the sweet sound of his city] (Purg., vi. 80).13 His sudden breaking out of his self-absorption as he rises up to embrace Virgil, however, is anticipated in Inferno vi at the moment when Ciacco recognises the passing pilgrim. Here Ciacco leaves the customary position of the sinners in this circle, face-down in the stinking mud, in order to greet the pilgrim, suddenly sitting up and crying out in recognition, as Sordello does when he hears the name of his home town:

[…] a seder si levò, ratto
ch’ella ci vide passarsi davante.

‘O tu che se’ per questo ’nferno tratto’,
mi disse, ‘riconoscimi, se sai:
tu fosti, prima ch’io disfatto, fatto.’ (Inf., vi. 37-42)

[[he] raised himself to sit as soon as he saw us passing before him. ‘O you who are led through this Hell’, he said to me, ‘recognize me if you can: you were made before I was unmade.’]

But whereas Virgil enthusiastically returns the embrace of this unknown Mantuan, Dante’s pilgrim keeps Ciacco somewhat at arm’s length, failing to recognise him, either as a fellow-citizen or as an individual (‘non par ch’i’ ti vedessi mai’ [it does not seem I have ever seen you] (Inf., vi. 45)), almost as if to protect himself from the taint of those sins which pit Florentine against Florentine to create the antithesis of community.

No such qualms restrain the souls in Purgatory, who – not only in this canto, but throughout the cantica – embrace and support one another, praying, singing and working together towards salvation. This general rule, though, only renders Sordello’s solitude all the more problematic and casts his embrace of Virgil in a slightly different light. We have seen that Sordello is, unusually, a soul without a community. It is also significant that, like Dante himself, Sordello was an exile. However, unlike Dante, who identifies himself in his letters as ‘Florentinus, et exul inmeritus’ [a Florentine undeservedly in exile],14 Sordello’s exile is self-imposed: a consequence of his less-than-courtly habit of seducing the wives and sisters of his hosts and patrons, which forces him to keep moving for his own safety. And where Dante continues, even in exile, to define himself as a ‘Florentine’, albeit an untypical one,15 Sordello’s rejection of his city is absolute, for the De vulgari eloquentia also tells us that Sordello, in his flight from Mantua, abandoned not only the city but also the local language in favour of his adoptive vernacular of Occitan: ‘non solum in poetando sed quomodocunque loquendo patrium vulgare deseruit’ [[he] abandoned the vernacular of his home town not only when writing poetry but on every other occasion] (DVE., I. xi. 2).16

In life, then, Sordello was far from being an example of perfect Mantuan citizenship, and there is, therefore, a significant disconnect between the earthly Sordello and the Sordello who, in Ante-Purgatory, has become ‘an emblem of political unity’.17 Seen from this perspective, there appears to be a ‘purgatorial’ element to Sordello’s embrace of Virgil. If the purpose of Purgatory is to right those wrongs committed on earth, washing away the stain of earthly sins, then the enthusiastic welcome that Sordello extends to Virgil, at the mere sound of his city’s name, almost reads like an act of penance, an attempted reversal of his earthly abandonment of Mantua.18 Even though, in Sordello’s case, the insatiable ‘gloria d’acquistare’ which had afflicted him had been more about sexual encounters than land or other possessions, his life nonetheless illustrates that same lesson with which Dante presents us in the Convivio, where human weakness undermines community and makes of every individual an ‘anima sola soletta’.

Uno prencipe

The Convivio does not, however, draw the Augustinian conclusion towards which it appears to be moving in IV. iv. 3, that, given the sinful nature of humanity, political states are little better than bands of robbers.19 Rather, it proposes a solution to the discord that cupiditas and the libido dominandi inevitably bring, which is diametrically opposed to Augustine’s fundamental distrust of the political order within the City of Man. According to Dante’s treatise, the only possible remedy for the destructive power of the ‘gloria d’acquistare’ is to place all possessions and all power in the hands of a single individual – ‘uno prencipe’ – who is immune to cupiditas, since he could not possibly want more than what he already has, and is thus able to hold all the smaller political entities under him – kingdoms and cities and factions and families – in the peace and harmony that will allow them to fulfil their Aristotelian longing for ‘la vita felice’.20

That no such prince exists to bring happiness to the Italy of 1300 should be evident from the opening lines of the invective of Purgatorio vi, where, as we have seen, the political peace which the Convivio imagines being achieved under the rule of a universal emperor is shown to be entirely lacking. But in case the absence of peace were not proof enough of Italy’s failure to realise Dante’s political blueprint, the poet goes on to state explicitly that Italy lacks the guidance that could, and should, be provided by such a ruler; that, to use the invective’s metaphor, Italy’s horse is riderless and out-of-control. And this is all the more shameful, in the poet’s eyes, because the horse is already, as it were, fully tacked-up and waiting to be set on the right path towards political harmony: ‘Che val perché ti racconciasse il freno / Iustiniano, se la sella è vota?’ [What does it profit that Justinian fitted you with the bridle, if the saddle is empty?] (Purg., vi. 88-89). And these lines also establish a strong connection between the invective and the sixth canto of Paradiso, where the protagonist and sole speaker is the same Justinian named here. In the Heaven of Mercury, Justinian glosses Dante’s statement that he had been responsible for putting the bit and bridle onto the Italian horse, when he introduces himself, explaining that ‘d’entro le leggi trassi il troppo e ’l vano’ [[I] cast out the excess and the useless from within the laws] (Par., vi. 12).21

Justinian may have carried out this important work of revision and simplification, but the central lament of Purgatorio’s invective makes it clear that its impact has been severely limited by the dearth of political leaders capable of ensuring its application. The narrow horizons and paltry ambitions of the so-called Emperor of 1300 are indicated by the poet in his scathing reference to Albert of Hapsburg as ‘Alberto tedesco’ [German Albert] (Purg., vi. 97), an epithet which needs to be read in the context of the rationale for the very concept of empire outlined in Convivio IV. iv. 4.22 The Empire can only fulfil the role for which it was ordained if it is truly universal and absolute, for only then can it overcome the power of cupiditas. Albert’s ‘Germanness’ is evidence, then, of his signal failure to grasp the importance of his role’s purpose, not only for his own people, but for all people, everywhere; and it is no coincidence that Dante accuses both Albert and his father Rudolph of ‘cupidigia’ (Purg., vi. 104), for their narrowness of focus can only be a product of their cupiditas – their self-interest – and the very opposite of the disinterested world-rule which the earlier work envisions.

Which is not to say, of course, that Albert and Rudolph are unique among emperors in not having embodied the kind of universal remit that the Convivio posits as essential for world peace. Not even the great Justinian, in fact, had ruled over such an Empire, as the opening lines of Paradiso vi make clear:

Poscia che Constantin l’aquila volse
contr’al corso del ciel, ch’ella seguio
dietro a l’antico che Lavinia tolse,

cento e cent’anni e più l’uccel di Dio
ne lo stremo d’Europa si ritenne,
vicino a’ monti de’ quai prima uscìo,

e sotto l’ombra de le sacre penne
governò ’l mondo lì di mano in mano,
e, sì cangiando, in su la mia pervenne.
(Par., vi. 1-9)

[After Constantine turned the eagle back against the course of the heavens, which it had followed with that ancient one who took Lavinia, twice a hundred years and more God’s bird remained at the edge of Europe, near the mountains from which it first came forth, and under the shadow of its sacred wings it governed the world there from hand to hand, and, transferred thus, it came to rest on mine.]

Justinian had ruled the Empire not from what, for Dante, was its rightful place and divinely-predestined seat in Rome,23 but from Constantinople, where the Empire’s capital had been transferred in 330 CE by Constantine, who, significantly, is portrayed here as having moved it in the ‘wrong’ direction, against the movement of the sun from East to West, and against that in which Aeneas had originally travelled from Troy to Rome in order first to found the city. For all the character’s talk of having governed ‘il mondo’ [the world], then, and without undermining his exceptional importance and influence, Dante immediately makes it clear that Justinian had ruled from a far-flung corner of the Empire, rather than from its rightful centre in Rome. Yet while his Empire may not have been perfect, in stark contrast to the parochial ambitions of ‘German Albert’, Justinian strove to make it so, battling to reconquer the lands in the Western half of the Empire recently lost to the Ostrogoths.

Due soli

The reference to Constantine in the very first line of Paradiso vi cannot but remind the reader of Dante’s impassioned invective against the Donation of Constantine in Inferno xix:

Ahi, Constantin, di quanto mal fu matre,
non la tua conversion, ma quella dote
che da te prese il primo ricco patre!
(Inf., xix. 115-17)

[Ah, Constantine, not your conversion, but that dowry which the first rich father took from you, has been the mother of so much evil!]

With the Papacy’s acquisition of wealth and power, as we have seen, inevitably comes the desire for more wealth and more power – the corrupting influence of cupiditas and the libido dominandi – tainting the Church with the same political ills that afflict the secular world. This much is clear in the invective of Purgatorio vi where the Church is portrayed as defying the will of God by occupying what should be the rightful seat of the emperor, while the horse of Italy runs amok:

Ahi gente che dovresti esser devota
e lasciar seder Cesare in la sella,
se bene intendi ciò che Dio ti nota,

guarda come esta fiera è fatta fella
per non esser corretta da li sproni,
poi che ponesti mano a la predella.
(Purg., vi. 91-96)

[Ah, people who should be devoted and permit Caesar to sit in the saddle, if you attend to God’s words to you, see how this beast has become davage, not being governed by the spurs, ever since you seized the reins.]

By referring to these churchmen as those who ought to be devout (but, it is implied, are not), Dante underlines the deleterious effects of religious interference in secular affairs and introduces a new element into the political dynamic traced by the invective. At the root of the parlous political condition of contemporary Italy lies not merely a power vacuum, but a misappropriation of power by an institution whose focus should have been entirely elsewhere: in Augustinian terms, on the City of God, rather than the City of Man.

Dante will reinforce this point just ten cantos further on in Purgatorio, when he has Marco Lombardo present the Church and the Empire as Rome’s two suns – two lights of equal brilliance but entirely separate remits – in direct opposition to the view which made the latter dependent for its authority on the former, as the moon depends for its light on the light of the sun.24 The polemical stance which the poet here takes against the views of the contemporary Papacy, most famously expressed in Boniface viii’s Bull, ‘Unam Sanctam’,25 will later be elaborated in much greater detail in the Monarchia,26 whose third book carefully refutes, point by point, each of the arguments used by the Papacy to justify its supremacy in the temporal realm. And, even more strikingly, the conclusion of the later work again echoes in both imagery and intent Purgatorio vi’s invective. Human beings have two goals – happiness in this life and happiness in the next –, and require two guides in order to attain these – the Emperor in the case of the former and the Pope in the case of the latter – for ‘humana cupiditas postergaret nisi homines, tanquam equi, sua bestialitate vagantes “in camo et freno” compescerentur in via’ [human greed would cast these ends and means aside if men, like horses, prompted to wander by their animal natures, were not held in check ‘with bit and bridle’ on their journey] (Mon., III. xv. 9).27 Here, too, it is the Augustinian vice of cupiditas that needs to be held in check by the bit and bridle of secular and religious guidance, lest it cause humanity to stray from the ‘diritta via’.

If, as I have suggested,28 the Monarchia was written at approximately the same time as Paradiso, it is perhaps unsurprising that Justinian too should draw attention to the way in which Church and Empire can work together for the good of both a single individual and a whole community. Justinian tells the pilgrim that he had originally been a follower of the monophysite heresy, which denied the dual nature of Christ (‘una natura in Cristo, non piùe / credea’ [I believed there was one nature in Christ, no more] (Par., vi. 14-15)),29 and that it was only once his thinking had been corrected by the ‘sommo pastore’ [highest shepherd], Pope Agapetus i, that he was able to set to work on the great legal project that would be the new bridle on the horse of state. This account, however, is not entirely historically accurate, for Agapetus is known to have visited Constantinople only in 536 CE, some seven years after Justinian’s reordering of Roman law was promulgated. Dante appears to play with chronology here in order to show how the Emperor submits to the authority of the Pope in matters of faith alone; Justinian, that is, accepts Agapetus’ direction on the attainment of happiness in the next life, as a necessary prerequisite for his own project – a project in which Agapetus plays no further part – to provide guidance for his subjects on their journey towards the happiness of this life.

It is significant, too, that it is not only Agapetus who is presented here as doing God’s work; for – talking of his project to revise the laws – Justinian states very clearly that ‘a Dio per grazia piacque di spirarmi / l’alto lavoro’ [it pleased God, in his grace, to inspire me to the high work] (Par., vi. 23-24). The two goals of human life are not, then, one ‘merely’ human, the other divine, but are both, as the Monarchia says, ordained by divine providence;30 and this example of perfect collaboration between Church and Empire shows up all the more sharply the failure of those Churchmen described in Purgatorio’s invective, who muddle the two ways and lead the whole of Italy astray. Their failure to recognise the dual ends of human life in the political order is as misguided as was Justinian’s failure to recognise the dual nature of Christ, and their refusal to be guided, in temporal matters, by the authority of the emperor is in stark contrast to the way in which Justinian allows himself to be guided to true faith by Agapetus.

Plenitudo temporis

Dante’s conviction that both Pope and Emperor have a divinely-ordained mission to fulfil on earth also emerges very clearly from Justinian’s account of the history of Rome which takes up much of Paradiso vi. Indeed, it seems to be precisely in order to make this point that Justinian tells this story, even though its details are well-known, certainly to Dante-character and to Dante’s first readers, as is signalled by the way in which Justinian keeps repeating ‘as you know’ (‘Tu sai […] E sai […] Sai’ (Par., vi. 37, 40, 43)).

The story of Rome is told here as the story of the eagle, Rome’s sign and standard, as it moves from place to place (from East to West and then back from West to East) and from one individual or group to another, from the city’s earliest history to the time of writing. But this eagle is precisely a ‘sacrosanto segno’ [sacrosanct emblem] (Par., vi. 32), and Justinian’s is not so much a lesson in history as in salvation history, for this story is not merely a chronological account of a sequence of historical events, but builds to (and falls away from) a climactic moment, the moment when providential and temporal plans come together, when the divine Christ becomes also human.

Thus, the passing of the imperial emblem from the hands of the city’s founders to the early kings, and on to the heroes of the Republican period is all presented as mere preparation for the time when it would reach the hands of the emperors, under whom, finally (and uniquely), the world would attain perfect peace – a peace willed both by God (‘’l ciel’) and by Rome:

Poi, presso al tempo che tutto ’l ciel volle
redur lo mondo a suo modo sereno,
Cesare per voler di Roma il tolle. […]

Con costui [Augustus] corse infino al lito rubro
con costui puose il mondo in tanta pace
che fu serrato a Giano il suo delubro.
(Par., vi. 55-57, 79-81)

[Then, near to the time when all the heavens wished to reduce the world to their own serene measure, Caesar took it by the will of Rome. […] With him [Augustus] it coursed as far as the Red shore, with him it brought such peace to the world that Janus’ temple was barred up.]

The word ‘pace’ [peace] at the end of line 80, marks the climax, not only of this canto, but of history itself, for – although Justinian does not make this explicit here – it is the peace achieved by Augustus which creates the conditions necessary for the birth of Christ, as Dante explains in the Monarchia:

[N]on inveniemus nisi sub divo Augusto monarcha, existente Monarchia perfecta, mundum undique fuisse quietum. Et quod tunc humanum genus fuerit felix in pacis universalis tranquillitate hoc ystoriographi omnes […] dignatus est; et […] Paulus ‘plenitudinem temporis’ statum illum felicissimum appellavit. (Mon. i. xvi. 1-2)

[[W]e shall not find that there ever was peace throughout the world except under the immortal Augustus, when a perfect monarchy existed. That mankind was then happy in the calm of universal peace is attested by all historians […] and […] Paul called that most happy state ‘the fullness of time’.]

The universal peace achieved under Augustus in the plenitudo temporis clearly opposes that universal lack of peace exemplified in contemporary Italy in the parallel passage of Purgatorio vi; but Dante also makes clear, through Justinian’s account, that this is a unique occurrence – that there never has been universal peace in all the world under a perfect world monarch except at this moment under Augustus. Everything that happens before this moment is just a preparation for it, and all that happens after it is a mere historical falling-away.

Moreover, Dante does not stop here, for Christ’s mission on earth necessitated not only his birth, but also his death. For this reason, although, as an earthly emperor, Tiberius was a much less obviously positive character than Augustus, Dante gives him particular prominence here for his role in effecting the Crucifixion, through which sins are forgiven and the way to Heaven, closed by the Fall, is reopened:

Ma ciò che ’l segno che parlar mi face
fatto avea prima e poi era fatturo
per lo regno mortal ch’a lui soggiace,

diventa poi in apparenza poco e scuro,
se in mano al terzo Cesare si mira
con occhio chiaro e con affetto puro:

ché la viva Giustizia che mi spira
li concedette, in mano a quel ch’i’ dico,
gloria di far vendetta a la sua ira.
(Par., vi. 82-90)

[But what the emblem that makes me speak had done earlier, and was to do later for the mortal realm that is subject to it, seems little and obscure if it is watched in the hand of third Caesar [Tiberius] with clear eye and pure affect: for the living Justice that inspires me granted it, in the hands of the one of whom I speak, the glory of taking vengeance for his anger.]

Dante’s praise of Tiberius may seem hyperbolic, but, seen sub specie aeternitatis, the importance of the judgement which he passes on Christ can scarcely be overstated;31 for if Christ is to take upon himself the sins of the whole world, then he must be punished ‘justly’, that is, by a legally constituted authority – one with authority over that whole world whose sins are being punished. Where the Convivio had given a more pragmatic reason for the Empire to be universal in the here-and-now – that is, in order to eliminate cupiditas –, Paradiso vi presents a more theological justification for the universal nature of Empire, at least at its inception – that is, in order that the birth and death of Christ in that human form which Justinian had initially denied, but whose necessity he here enthusiastically embraces, carry out its ordained function in salvation history.32

Returning to Purgatorio, then, it is a sign of Dante’s increasing lack of hope for any possible solution to the crisis of Italy’s corruption that, in his despair, even the effectiveness of the Crucifixion comes to be called into question. With a typically bold syncretist flourish, Dante turns to Christ directly, addressing him as the Roman god, Jupiter, and asking: ‘O sommo Giove / che fosti in terra per noi crucifisso, / son li giusti occhi tuoi rivolti altrove?’ [O highest Jove, who were crucified on earth for us, are your just eyes turned elsewhere?] (Purg., vi. 118-20). Has God, who so loved the world that he sent his own son to be crucified for its sake, Dante asks, now abandoned it entirely? This is surely a rhetorical question, and one to which the poet provides the answer in the next lines, reminding his readers of their human limitations: those same limitations, indeed, which make it so difficult for them to live in peace with one another, especially when proper guidance and leadership is lacking.

O è preparazion che ne l’abisso
del tuo consiglio fai per alcun bene
in tutto de l’accorger nostro scisso?
(Purg., vi. 121-23)

[Or is it a preparation that in the abyss of your counsel you are making, for some good utterly severed from our perception?]

Christ’s victory over death and sin cannot have been in vain; rather, the divine purpose behind Italy’s political difficulties must simply be incomprehensible to those immediately caught up in it. Perhaps, indeed, the poet consoles himself, God has a remedy for Italy’s slavishness already in hand.

Divus et Augustus et Cesar

In 1300, the fictional date of the pilgrim’s journey through the afterlife, no such potential solution immediately presents itself. ‘German Albert’ is clearly no Augustus, and the poet here appears to hold out no greater hope for whoever may succeed him, wishing vindictive justice on the whole dynasty:

giusto giudicio da le stelle caggia
sovra ’l tuo sangue, e sia novo e aperto,
tal che ’l tuo successor temenza n’aggia!
(Purg., vi. 100-02)

[may just judgment fall from the stars onto your blood, and let it be strange and public, so that your successor may fear it!]

But nothing could be further from the way in which Dante had come to feel about Albert’s successor by the time that he was completing Purgatorio.33 This much is evidenced by the series of impassioned letters which Dante composed at this time on themes which echo those of the cantos under consideration in the present chapter: Florence and Italy, Church and Empire.

The letters numbered v, vi, and vii in most editions of Dante’s works were written between Autumn 1310 and the end of April 1311, and all relate directly to the Italian campaign of the successor of ‘German Albert’, Henry vii, Duke of Luxembourg. Henry had been chosen as Emperor-elect in November 1308 and crowned by the Archbishop of Cologne in January 1309. Only a coronation in Rome, however, could confirm his imperial authority, and so, in Autumn 1310, he set out for Italy, crossing the Alps on 23 October. At this time, Dante wrote to the princes and peoples of Italy, announcing Henry’s arrival in Italy with undisguised joy and hope. This hope was to be short-lived, however. After an enthusiastic reception in Milan, Henry failed to proceed swiftly to a coronation in Rome, and by the spring of 1311, when Dante wrote his letters addressed to the Florentines and to Henry himself, his journey had stalled in the face of strong opposition from Florence and her allies and of delaying tactics on the part of Pope Clement v. Henry died of malaria in 1313, without ever having conquered Florence or established his Empire in Rome.34 These letters express, with almost painful intensity, Dante’s hopes for a restoration of the great Roman Empire of the past in the figure of Henry, who is consistently portrayed as a political saviour, who will bring an end to the wars and factionalism which plague the Italian peninsula, and against which Dante inveighs so vehemently in Purgatorio vi, and bring about a peace which will be like that only previously achieved under Augustus.

Here, then, far from imagining a Christ who turns his face away from an Italy in turmoil, Dante envisions an imperial Messiah, a bringer of peace, as can be seen from just one example,35 taken from the opening paragraphs of the first of these missives:

‘Ecce nunc tempus acceptabile’ quo signa surgunt consolationis et pacis. […] Saturabuntur omnes qui esuriunt et sitiunt iustitiam in lumine radiorum eius, et confundentur qui diligunt iniquitatem a facie coruscantis. Arrexit namque aures misericordes Leo fortis de tribu Iuda; atque […] Moysen alium suscitavit, qui de gravaminibus Egiptiorum populum suum eripiet, ad terram lacte ac melle manantem perducens. Letare iam nunc miseranda Ytalia […] quia sponsus tuus, mundi solatium et gloria plebis tue, clementissimus Henricus, divus et Augustus et Cesar, ad nuptias properat. (Epist., v. 1-2)

[‘Now is the favourable time’, when signs of solace and of peace are emerging. […] All those who hunger and thirst for justice will then be satisfied in the light of his radiance, while those who love injustice will be confounded by his dazzling face. For the great Lion of the tribe of Judah has pricked up his merciful ears, and […] has called up a new Moses, who will deliver his people from their Egyptian oppression and lead them to a land flowing with milk and honey. Now is the time for you to rejoice, Italy […], because your bridegroom, the world’s comforter and glory of your people, that most merciful Henry, holy Augustus and Caesar, is hurrying to his wedding.]

Here, the biblical references in support of Henry’s messianic status come thick and fast. Dante announces the ‘favourable time’, as Paul had done in his second letter to the church at Corinth, immediately associating Henry’s mission in Italy with that of Christ and his first followers on earth;36 there are echoes of both the Beatitudes and the Nunc dimittis;37 Henry is a second Moses, who will transform Italy into a new Promised Land; he is the Lion of Judah,38 and the bridegroom of the Song of Songs;39 Henry is, in short, both a new Augustus and a second Christ.

Dante is here making utterly exceptional claims for Henry. And the more he exalts Henry in this way, the more severely he appears to judge those who – out of petty self-interest – would resist his divinely-willed arrival on Italian soil. The language that Dante uses in the letter to the Florentines, for example, follows very closely that of the invective of Purgatorio vi:

solio augustali vacante, totus orbis exorbitat, quod nauclerus et remiges in navicula Petri dormitant, et quod Ytalia misera, sola, privatis arbitriis derelicta omnique publico moderamine destituta, quanta ventorum fluentorumve concussione feratura verba non caperent. (Epist., vi. 1)

[When the throne of Augustus is vacant, the whole world goes awry, the captain and the oarsmen of the ship of St Peter fall asleep, and wretched Italy, left alone, at the mercy of private decisions and devoid of any public control, is so battered and buffeted by gales and floods that words cannot describe it.]

Not only does the imagery of the storm-tossed ship here echo the reference to Italy as a ‘nave sanza nocchiere in gran tempesta’ [ship without a pilot in a great storm] (Purg., vi. 77), but the same adjective ‘misera’ [wretched] (Purg., vi. 85) is used in both passages, and in both cases the impact of the lack of imperial direction is far reaching: not a single part of Italy enjoys peace, just as the whole world is seen to go awry without its Emperor.

In these letters, as in the three cantos presently under consideration, however, the poet’s strongest rebukes are reserved for Florence, which is described in the letter to Henry – in a passage of invective that surpasses, for sheer bile, anything in the Commedia – through a series of images which evoke the city’s cunning, violence and moral turpitude, piling one image on top of another in a relentless verbal onslaught:

Hec est vipera versa in viscera genetricis; hec est languida pecus gregem domini sui sua contagione commaculans; hec Myrrha scelestis et impia […]; hec Amata illa impatiens […]. Vere matrem viperea feritate dilaniare contendit dum contra Romam cornua rebellionis exacuit […]. Vere fumos, evaporante sanie, vitiantes exhalat […]. (Epist., vii. 7)

[She is the viper who turns against the vitals of her own mother; she is the sick sheep which infects her master’s flock with her disease; she is Myrrha, wicked and ungodly […]; she is the wrathful Amata […]. With all the ferocity of a viper she strives to tear her mother to pieces, as she sharpens the horns of her rebellion against Rome. […] She gives off fetid fumes, dripping with gore […].]

This passage, with its accumulation of animal images, recalls Dante’s description of the monstrous Cerberus in Inferno vi, ruling over a circle of sinners reduced by their greed to all that is most primitive and bestial in human nature, and of the pig-like glutton,40 Ciacco. In Purgatorio too the image of the wild beast recurs when the horse that Justinian had once tamed is seen to have become fierce and cruel, untamed and wild, as it rampages, riderless and out of control; while in Paradiso Justinian warns the Florentine Guelphs that to try to appropriate the imperial ensign for themselves risks reprisals from ‘li artigli / ch’a più alto leon trasser lo vello’ [the claws that flayed a greater lion] (Par., vi. 107-08).

Vedova e sola

Moreover, just as in the letter Florence is compared to wicked women – the incestuous Myrrha,41 and Amata,42 who in the Aeneid resists the divinely ordained foundation of Rome by opposing the marriage of Aeneas and Lavinia – so too in Purgatorio vi both Italy and Florence are described through female parallels: Italy is ‘non donna di province, ma bordello’ [not a ruler of provinces, but a whore] (Purg., vi. 78), and Florence, in her restlessness – the restlessness of relentless cupiditas –, is like a sick crone, tossing and turning, unable to get comfortable on her bed; that is, never satisfied with what she has, but seeking more power, more land, greater independence, and ever greater wealth, at the prompting of that ‘gloria d’acquistare’ described in the Convivio:

E se ben ti ricordi e vedi lume,
vedrai te somigliante a quella inferma
che non può trovar posa in su le piume,

ma con dar volta suo dolore scherma. (Purg., vi. 148-151)

[And if you take stock of yourself and can see the light, you will see that you resemble that sick woman who cannot find rest on her mattress, but shields her pain by tossing and turning.]

Likewise, Rome is described in female terms in the invective as ‘vedova e sola’ [widowed and alone] crying out for the emperor who has abandoned her, in a phrase which recalls the opening verse of the Book of Lamentations: ‘Quomodo sedet sola civitas plena populo! Facta est quasi vidua domina gentium!’ [How doth the city sit solitary that was full of people! how is the mistress of the Gentiles become as a widow!]. Rome – the city which should be the heart and the head of the Empire, as it had been under Augustus – is portrayed as a second Jerusalem, but a Jerusalem which is not a Promised Land, but like the city of Lamentations, a Jerusalem in ruins with its Temple destroyed.43

Here too the tone echoes that of Dante’s letters, for this same passage from the Book of Lamentations is quoted directly by Dante at the beginning of the letter which he wrote in 1314 following the death of Pope Clement v, and addressed to the Italian cardinals in conclave at Carpentras,44 where he claims Clement’s death, following close on the death of Henry in the previous year, has left Rome destitute and widowed, deprived of both the Church (which has been in ‘exile’ in Avignon since 1309) and the Empire. And the passage also evokes a letter now lost to us (or perhaps entirely fictional): that which Dante claims to have written to the ‘principi de la terra’ to mark the death of Beatrice.45 Through the simple but emblematic phrase, ‘vedova e sola’, then, Dante is able here to set up a complex series of cross references which look both forwards and backwards in time. The Rome of 1300 (the time of the journey through Purgatory) is widowed and alone because her Emperor – ‘German Albert’ – ignores and abandons her. But this Rome of 1300 also looks forward to the Rome of the second decade of the fourteenth century (the time of writing of Paradiso), which has waited so long for its ‘Cesare’ to arrive – in the form now of Henry, rather than Albert – only for him to prove ineffectual in standing up to the Papacy and unable to conquer Florence, and for his imperial mission to be cut short by his death only fourteen months after his eventual coronation in Rome; it has, in the meantime, also lost the Papacy. And both these widowed Romes look back to the widowed city of Florence, deprived not of her political guides, but of her guide to Heaven: Beatrice.

Dolce armonia

And it is to Heaven, appropriately enough, that we must turn by way of a conclusion. In the introduction to this reading, I suggested that the ‘Ahi serva Italia’ passage in Purgatorio vi could be read as a gloss on the relationship between Dante-pilgrim’s otherworldly journey and the poet’s political journey through the ‘selva oscura’ [dark wood] of our life on earth. It is clear that the pessimism of the invective is anticipated in Inferno vi – though with a much narrower focus – by Ciacco’s account of the wickedness of Florence, a city where even the noblest and best citizens are consigned to deepest Hell:

‘Farinata e ’l Tegghiaio, che fuor sì degni,
Iacopo Rusticucci, Arrigo e ’l Mosca,
e li altri ch’a ben far puoser li ’ngegni,

dimmi ove sono e fa ch’io li conosca;
ché gran disio mi stringe di savere
se ’l ciel li addolcia o lo ’nferno li attosca.’

E quelli: ‘Ei sono tra l’anime più nere;
diverse colpe giù li grava al fondo.’ (Inf., vi. 79-86)

[Farinata and Tegghiaio, who were so worthy, Iacopo Rusticucci, Arrigo and Mosca, and the others who turned their wits to doing well, tell me where they are and cause me to know them; for great desire urges me to understand if Heaven sweetens or Hell poisons them.’ And he: ‘They are among the blacker souls; various sins weigh them toward the bottom.’]

As Dante’s protagonist proceeds on his journey through the afterlife his focus widens and his understanding deepens, just as, in the political world outside the text, events move on, and the historical Dante breaks away from the White Guelphs exiled with him in 1301 and begins to embrace – in his behaviour and in his writing – the concept of that ‘parte per [se] stesso’ [party unto [him]self] (Par., xvii. 69) that his ancestor, Cacciaguida will tell him to form when they meet in the Heaven of Mars. Henry succeeds Albert, and Dante embraces the aims of his Italian campaign with an enthusiasm that puts Sordello’s patriotic fervour in Purgatorio vi to shame. Until, that is, Henry fails, leaving Rome widowed once more, and the prophetic tone of Dante’s letters ringing like so much empty rhetoric.

It is my contention that, in the wake of Henry’s death, Dante dramatically reassesses his conception of the political order, and specifically his belief in the possibility of the establishment of a universal Roman Empire on earth. How, if his letters are taken at face value, could it be otherwise? In Paradiso, then – and most notably in Justinian’s thoroughly providential, Christ-centred, account of Roman history – we are presented, I believe, with a story with a beginning (Aeneas’s flight from Troy), a middle (the Incarnation and Crucifixion: the providential moments on which the whole story hangs), and an end: Dante’s here-and-now, a time when no new Emperor could make of ‘serva Italia’ a land of milk and honey, and no new Messiah could bring about Italy’s (political) redemption. Just as I believe that the Monarchia is not a practical political manual, a blueprint for world domination, but a utopian meditation on what might have been, and a reflection on what – between 1310 and 1313 – had gone so badly wrong,46 so too, it seems to me, in Paradiso vi we find a description of that perfect Empire of which Dante dreams, but devoid of any sense that it can now ever be reconstructed on earth. It is in this sense that the pessimism of the invective against Italy of Purgatorio vi, notwithstanding the fact that a good portion of the pilgrim’s otherworldly – and the poet’s worldly – journey remains to be undertaken when it is pronounced, comes ultimately to stand as Dante’s definitive statement on human political affairs.

And yet it must not be forgotten that in the three cantos which this chapter explores – as in the Commedia as a whole – the poet traces a trajectory ‘di Fiorenza in popol giusto e sano’ [from Florence to a people just and whole] (Par., xxxi. 39). If ‘Ahi serva Italia’ is the fulcrum about which these cantos turn, this does not mean that a more conventionally ‘vertical’ reading is impossible. Indeed, on one level a vertical reading is what the Commedia insists upon, as it strains ever upwards towards that ‘vera città’ of which the souls in Purgatory are already citizens.47 And this is important, because, while I believe that Henry’s death occasioned in Dante a deep political pessimism with regard to the here-and-now, this does not necessarily mean that he gave up altogether on the notion of community, but only that he shifted his ‘political’ ideal upwards, heavenwards, to that realm where all the souls want only what God wills for them, not only accepting, but actively rejoicing in his justice and his rule, and where, therefore, cupiditas and the libido dominandi are replaced, as Justinian explains, by the sweet harmony of the perfect community:

Quindi addolcisce la viva Giustizia
in noi l’affetto sì che non si puote
torcer già mai ad alcuna nequizia.

Diverse voci fanno dolci note:
così diversi scanni in nostra vita
rendon dolce armonia tra queste rote.
(Par., vi. 121-26)

[Thus the living Justice sweetens our love so that it can never be turned aside to any iniquity. Different voices make sweet notes: thus different thrones in this our life produce a sweet harmony among these wheels.]


1 The video of this lecture is available at the Cambridge Vertical Readings in Dante’s Comedy website, https://sms.cam.ac.uk/media/1460178

I should like to thank George Corbett and Heather Webb for having invited me to take part in this exciting and innovative project. The lecture on which the present chapter is based took place in Cambridge on 28 February 2013.

2 Dante’s invective against Italy opens in line 76 of the 152 that make up Purgatorio vi.

3 See Purgatorio vii. 1-3.

4 See Charles T. Davis, ‘Dante and Italian Nationalism’, in A Dante Symposium, ed. by William De Sua and Gino Rizzo (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1965), pp. 199-213.

5 See De vulgari eloquentia I. xviii. 2-3. All references to this work are to the edition by Pier Vincenzo Mengaldo, in Dante Alighieri, Opere minori, 2 vols (Milan and Naples: Ricciardi, 1979-88), II, 1-237.

6 The same verb, rodere [to gnaw], is used in both passages. Compare Inferno xxxiii. 8.

7 All references to the Convivio are to the edition by Cesare Vasoli and Domenico De Robertis, in Opere minori, i. ii.

8 St Augustine, De civitate Dei, in Patrologia cursus completus: Series latina, ed. by Jacques-Paul Migne, 221 vols (Paris: Migne, 1844-64), xli, 13-804; English translation by Henry Bettenson, Concerning the City of God against the Pagans (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984); xix. 12. See also Herbert A. Deane, The Political and Social Ideas of St Augustine (New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1963), p. 49.

9 See The Political Writings of St Augustine, ed. by Henry Paolucci (Chicago, IL: Henry Regnery, 1962), p. xvi.

10 See, for the former point of view, Cecil M. Bowra, ‘Dante and Sordello’, Comparative Literature 5 (1953), 1-15 (pp. 3-4); for the latter, Thomas G. Bergin, ‘Dante’s Provençal Gallery’, in A Diversity of Dante (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1969), pp. 87-111 (p. 105).

11 On Sordello’s life, see Cesare De Lollis, Vita e poesie di Sordello di Goito (Bologna: Forni, 1896), pp. 1-67.

12 There is nothing to suggest this in the two extant Provençal vidas of Sordello, and there is, significantly, no other information contained in Dante’s presentation of Sordello that cannot be gleaned either from his poems or from the vidas. The vidas can be found in De Lollis, Vita e poesie, pp. 147-48.

13 Virgil’s identity is not revealed until Purgatorio vii. 7.

14 See, for example, the incipits of letters v, vi, and vii. All references to Dante’s letters are to the edition edited by Arsenio Frugoni and Giorgio Brugnoli, in Opere minori, ii, 505-643.

15 In the famous designation of the letter to Can Grande, he is ‘florentinus natione non moribus’ [a Florentine by birth, not by behaviour] (Epist., xiii. 1).

16 On Sordello’s rejection of Mantuan, see my ‘Dante and Political Poetry in the Vernacular’, in Dante and his Literary Precursors: Twelve Essays, ed. by John C. Barnes and Jennifer Petrie (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2007), pp. 117-51 (pp. 120-22); Zygmunt G. Barański, ‘“Sordellus … qui … patrium vulgare deseruit”: A Note on De vulgari eloquentia i. xv, sections 2-6’, in The Cultural Heritage of the Italian Renaissance: Essays in Honour of T. G. Griffith, ed. by Clive E. J. Griffiths and Robert Hastings (Lewiston, Queenston and Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press, 1993), pp. 19-45; John A. Scott, Dante’s Political Purgatory (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996), pp. 114-19.

17 Teodolinda Barolini, Dante’s Poets: Textuality and Truth in the ‘Comedy’ (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), p. 163.

18 Sordello, fails to recognise that all the souls in Purgatory are citizens of one true city, the city of God (Purg., xiii. 94-96). His patriotism has been defined as ‘partisan’ (Stewart Farnell, The Political Ideas of the ‘Divine Comedy’: An Introduction (Lanham, New York and London: University Press of America, 1985), p. 57) and even as ‘campanilistic’ (Zygmunt G. Barański, ‘Purgatorio vi’, in Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’: Introductory Readings, ii. Purgatorio, ed. by Tibor Wlassics (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1993), pp. 80-97 (p. 90).

19 De civitate Dei, iv. 4.

20 See Convivio IV. iv. 4.

21 Emperor from 527-565 CE, Justinian’s greatest achievement was his codification of Roman law, which gave the Middle Ages a legal framework that was relevant and workable in its new Christian context. See John Moorhead, Justinian (London and New York: Longman, 1994).

22 This is also the view outlined in Book i of the Monarchia. All references to this work are to the edition by Bruno Nardi in Opere minori, ii, 239-503.

23 This is the question debated in the second book of the Monarchia and is also the conclusion arrived at in Convivio IV. v: ‘spezial nascimento e spezial processo, da Dio pensato e ordinato, fosse quello de la santa cittade’ [the birth and growth of the holy city were unique, according to God’s plan and providence] (Conv., IV. v. 20).

24 Purgatorio xvi. 106-08, and compare Monarchia III. iv. 2-3.

25 ‘Unam Sanctam’ asserts categorically, and on biblical authority, that ‘temporalem auctoritatem spirituali subjici potestati’ [the temporal authority is to be subject to the spiritual authority]. Latin text and English translation by Ronald L. Conte are cited from http://www.catholicplanet.com/TSM/Unam-Sanctam-index.htm

26 The issue of the date of composition of the Monarchia is a complex one. Suffice to say here that I take as genuine the reference to Paradiso v in Monarchia I. xii. 6, and would thus date the work to close to the end of Dante’s life. For a summary of the debate, see Shaw, ‘Introduction’, in Monarchy, pp. xiii-xli (pp. xxxviii-xli), and, for an alternative view, Alberto Casadei, ‘Sicut in Paradiso Comedie iam dixi’, Studi Danteschi 76 (2011), 179-97.

27 In Shaw’s translation, this appears as chapter xvi.

28 See note 27, above.

29 See John Chapman, ‘Monophysites and Monophysitism’, in The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 10 (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911); http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10489b.htm

30 ‘Duos igitur fines providentia illa inenarrabilis homini proposuit intendendos: beatitudinem scilicet huius vite […] et beatitudinem vite ecterne’ [Ineffable providence has thus set before us two goals to aim at: i.e. happiness in this life […] and happiness in the eternal life] (Mon., III. xv [xvi]. 7).

31 ‘The qualifications of Tiberius for inclusion here are uniquely theological’ (Robert Hollander and Albert Rossi, ‘Dante’s Republican Treasury’, Dante Studies 104 (1986), 59-82 (p. 62)).

32 See also Monarchia II. xi. 5.

33 It is not possible to date the writing of the Purgatorio with any certainty, but it seems likely that Purgatorio vi was written earlier than 1311, and that Henry’s Italian campaign corresponds roughly with the composition of the second half of the cantica.

34 See William M. Bowsky, Henry VII in Italy: The Conflict of Empire and City-State, 1310-1313 (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1960).

35 For a brief survey of the many Christological references in these letters, see my ‘“Ritornerò poeta…”: Florence, Exile, and Hope’, in ‘Se mai continga…’: Exile, Politics, and Theology in Dante, ed. by Claire E. Honess and Matthew Treherne (Ravenna: Longo, 2013), pp. 85-103 (pp. 94-98).

36 The reference is to ii Corinthians 6.2, which in turn cites Isaiah 49.8. Both passages express the certainty of God’s imminent intervention to restore order to human affairs.

37 See Matthew 5.6; Luke 2.32.

38 This term is used throughout the Bible (from Genesis 49.9 to Revelation 5.5) to designate the Messiah.

39 Biblical exegesis traditionally associated the Bridegroom of the Song of Songs with Christ and the Bride with the Church. See E. Ann Matter, ‘The Voice of My Beloved’: The Song of Songs in Medieval Christianity (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990).

40 Ciacco’s name means ‘hog’.

41 Ovid, Metamorphoses x. 298-518; and compare Inferno xxx. 37-39.

42 Aeneid vii. 341-72 and xii. 593-603; and compare Purgatorio xvii. 35-39.

43 On the presence of the Lamentations and other biblical passages regarding the destruction of Jerusalem in Dante’s works, see Ronald Martinez, ‘Dante’s Jeremiads: The Fall of Jerusalem and the Burden of the New Pharisees, the Capetians and Florence’, in Dante for the New Millennium, ed. by Teodolinda Barolini and H. Wayne Storey (New York: Fordham University Press, 2003), pp. 301-19.

44 Letter xi in modern editions.

45 ‘[S]crissi a li principi de la terra alquanto de la sua [di Firenze] condizione, pigliando quello cominciamento di Geremia profeta che dice: Quomodo sedet sola civitas’ [I […] wrote to the princes of the land describing its [Florence’s] condition, taking my opening words from the prophet Jeremiah where he says: Quomodo sedet sola civitas] (Vita Nuova, xxx. 1). References to this work are taken from the edition by Domenico De Robertis, in Opere minori, ii. i, 1-247. The translation is by Mark Musa (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992). There is no evidence, beyond this statement in the Vita Nuova itself, that this letter was actually written.

46 See my ‘“Ecce nunc tempus acceptabile”: Henry vii and Dante’s Ideal of Peace’, The Italianist 33 (2013), 484-504 (pp. 496-97). Cassell notes that the Monarchia is ‘a text disincarnate’ (Anthony K. Cassell, ‘Monarchia’, in The Dante Encyclopedia, ed. by Richard Lansing (New York: Garland, 2000), pp. 616-23 (p. 617)), while Shaw affirms that there is nothing implausible about the suggestion ‘that Dante would compose a treatise demonstrating the need for an emperor when his hopes in practical terms of ever seeing this come about in his own lifetime had been definitively dashed’ (Shaw, ‘Introduction’, p. xl).

47 Purgatorio xiii. 95; and compare Paradiso xxx. 130.