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From Villani, Giovanni, Selfe, Rose E., translator. Villani’s Chronicle being selections from the First Nine Books of the Croniche Fiorentine of Giovanni Villani. London: Archibald Constable & Co. LTD, 1906; pp. xxv-xlvi.




§ 1. The Text.

THIS book of selections is not intended as a contribution to the study of Villani, but as an aid to the study of Dante. The text of Villani is well known to be in a very unsatisfactory condition, and no attempt at a critical treatment of it has been made. The Florence edition of 1823, in eight volumes has been almost invariably followed. Here and there the Editor has silently adopted an emendation that obviously gives the sense intended, and on p. 277 has inserted in brackets an acute suggestion made by Mr. A. J. Butler. In a few cases, by far the most important of which occurs on p. 450, passages which appear in some but not in all of the MSS. and editions of Villani are inserted in square brackets.

§ 2. The References.

It is probable that many more references to Dante’s works might advantageously have been inserted in the margin had they occurred to our minds; and we shall be glad to have our attention called to any important omissions.

As a rule we have aimed at giving a reference to any passage in Dante’s works on which the text has a direct bearing, or towards the discussion of which it furnishes materials, without intending thereby necessarily to commit xxvi ourselves to any special interpretation of the passage in Dante referred to.

But in some instances such a reference would, in our opinion, distinctly tend to the perpetuation of error. In such cases we have purposely abstained from appearing to bring a passage of Villani into relation with a passage of Dante with which we believe it to have no connection. For instance, to have given a reference to the Vita Nuova § 41, 1-11, on p. 320 would have appeared to us so distinct and dangerous a suggestio falsi that we have felt compelled to abstain from it even at the risk of being charged with suppressio veri by those who do not agree with us.

§ 3. The Principle of Selection.

Our aim has been to translate all the passages from the first nine books of Villani’s Chronicles which are likely to be of direct interest and value to the student of Dante. A few chapters have been inserted not for their own sakes but because they are necessary for the understanding of other chapters that bear directly on Dante. When a chapter contains anything to our purpose, we have usually translated the whole of it. Where this is not the case the omissions are invariable indicated by stars * * * * * *. We have given the headings of all the chapters we have not translated, so that the reader may have in his hand the continuous thread of Villani’s narrative, and may have some idea of the character of the omitted portions. By these means we hope we have xxvii minimized, though we do not flatter ourselves that we have removed, the objections which are legitimately urged against volumes of selections.

The nature of the interest which the Dante student will find in these selections will vary as he goes through the volume.

The early portions, up to the end of Book III., are interesting not so much for the direct elucidation of special passages in Dante as for the assistance they give us in realizing the atmosphere through which he and his contemporaries regarded their own past; and their habitual confusion of legend and history.

From Book IV. on into Book VIII. our interest centres more and more on the specific contents of Villani’s Chronicle. Here he becomes the best of all commentators upon one phase of Dante’s many-sided genius; for he gives us the material upon which Dante’s judgments are passed, and enables us to know the men and see the events he judges as he himself know and saw them. Chapter after chapter reads like a continuous commentary on Purg. vi. 127-151; and there is hardly a sentence that does not lighten and is not lightened by some passage in the Comedy. Readers who have been accustomed to weary themselves in attempts to digest and remember historical notes (into which extracts from Villani, torn from their native haunts, have been driven up for instant slaughter, as in battue shooting) will find it a relief to have the story of the battles and revolutions of Florence, as Dante saw and felt it, continuously set before them — even though it be, for the present, in the partial and therefore mutilated form of “selections.”

When we come to the later portions of Book VIII. and xxviii the first part of Book IX. the interest again changes. To the events after 1300 Dante’s chief work contains comparatively few and scattered allusions; but as the direct connection with his writings becomes less marked the connection with his biography becomes more intimate. As we study the tangled period of Florentine politics that coincides with Dante’s active political life (about 1300 A.D.), the ill-concerted and feeble attempts of the exiles to regain a footing in their city, and later on the splendid but futile enterprise of Henry, we seem to find the very fibres of Dante’s life woven into the texture of the history. The dream of the De Monarchia was dreamed by Henry as well as by Dante; but as we read the detail of his failure it is borne in upon us that he not only did fail but must fail, for his ideal was incapable of realization. Italy was not ready for him, and had she been ready she would not have needed him.

Finally, the last pages of our volume, which cover selections from the portion of Book IX., extending from the death of Henry to the death of Dante himself, are for the most part inserted for a very special reason, as to which some little detail is necessary. Strangely enough they derive their importance not from any interest Dante may have taken in the events they record, but from the fact that he did not take enough interest in them to satisfy one of his most ardent admirers. The editions of Dante’s collected works include a correspondence in Latin hexameters between Johannes de Virgilio and Dante. Now in the poem that opens this correspondence Johannes refers to Statius and to Lethe in a manner that proves beyond all doubt that the whole of the Purgatorio as well as the Inferno was in his hands. But he alludes to the Paradiso — the xxix poem of the “super-solar” realms which is to complete the record of the “lower” ones — as not yet having appeared. It therefore becomes a matter of extreme interest to the Dante student to learn the date of this poem. Now one of the considerations that led Johannes to address Dante was the hope of inducing him to choose a contemporary subject for a Latin poem and to write something worthy of himself and of studious readers! With this object he suggests a number of subjects: —

“Dic age quo petiit Jovis armiger astra volatu:
  Dic age quos flores, quæ lilia fregit arator:
  Dic Phrygias damas laceratos dente molosso:
  Dic Ligurum montes, et classes Parthenopæas.”

“Come! tell thou of the flight by which Jove’s armour-bearer (the Imperial Eagle = Henry VII.) sought the stars. Come! tell thou of the flowers and lilies (of Florence) crushed by the ploughman (Uguccione da Faggiuola). Tell of the Phrygian does (the Paduans) torn by the mastiff’s (Can Grande’s) tooth. Tell of the Ligurian mountains (the Genoese) and the Parthenopæan fleets (of Robert of Naples).”

The correctness and security of the interpretation of this passage will not be doubted by any one accustomed to the pedantic allusiveness of the age; and it is moreover guaranteed by the annotator of the Laurentian MS., thought by many to be Boccaccio himself. It will be seen, therefore, from the study of the concluding pages of this volume, that when Johannes addressed Dante (after the appearance of the Inferno and the Purgatorio, but before that of the Paradiso) Henry VII. had died (A. D. 1313), Can Grande had defeated the Paduans (A.D. 1314 and 1317), Ugoccione had defeated the Florentines (A.D. 1315), and Robert had collected his fleet to relieve Genoa (February, 1319). It also seems highly probable that Can Grande had not yet suffered his reverses at the siege of Padua (August, 1320). This xxx is perhaps the one unassailable datum for the chronology of Dante’s works, and we have therefore included in our selections so much as we needed to establish it. Our readers will perhaps forgive us for having then left the fate of Genoa hanging in the balance, for as Villani says: “Who could write the unbroken history of the dire siege of Genoa, and the marvellous exploits achieved by the exiles and their allies? Verily, it is the opinion of the wise that the siege of Troy itself, in comparison therewith, shewed no greater and more continuous battling, both by sea and land.”


The complex and miserable history of Ugolino and Nino we have given only in its most essential portions. Even its connection with one of the most terrible and widely known passages in the Inferno cannot make it other than dreary, sordid, and unilluminating.

§ 4. The Historical Value of Villani’s Chronicle.

An adequate edition of Villani would have to examine his statements in detail, and, where necessary, to correct them. Such a task, however, would be alike beyond our powers, and foreign to our immediate purpose. These selections are intended to illustrate the text of Dante; and for that purpose it is of more consequence to know what were the “horrible crimes” of which Dante supposed Manfred to be guilty, than to enquire whether or no he was really guilty of them. To know whether Constance was fifty-two, or only thirty, when she married Henry VI., and whether he took her from a convent or a palace is of less immediate consequence to the student of Dante than to be acquainted with the Guelf tradition as to these circumstances.

At the same time, the reader may reasonably ask for some guidance as to the point at which the authentic history of Florence disengages itself from the legend, and, further, as to the general degree of reliance he is justified in placing on the details supplied by Villani.

On the first point very few words will suffice. There xxxi was probably a Fiesolan mart on the site now occupied by Florence from very remote times; but the form of the “ancient circle” carries us back to a Roman camp and a military colony as the origin of the regular city. Beyond this meagre basis the whole story of, “Troy, and of Fiesole and Rome,” in connection with Florence must be pronounced a myth. The notices of Florence before the opening of the twelfth century are few and meagre, but they suffice to prove that the story of its destruction by Totila, and rebuilding by Charlemagne, is without foundation; and of all the reported conquests of Fiesole that of 1125 is the first that we can regard as historical.

The history of Florence is almost a blank until about 1115 A. D., the date of the death of Countess Matilda.

With respect to the second point, it is impossible to give so brief or conclusive an answer. Villani is as valuable to the historian as he is delightful to the general reader. He is a keen observer, and has a quick eye for the salient and essential features of what he observes. When dealing with his own times, and with events immediately connected with Florence, he is a trustworthy witness, but minute accuracy is never his strong point; and in dealing with distant times and places he is hopelessly unreliable.

The English reader will readily detect his confusions in Book VII., § 39, where at one time Richard of Cornwall, and at another Henry III., is called King of England; and Henry of Cornwall and Edward I., are regarded indifferently as sons of Richard or sons of Henry III., but are always said to be brothers instead of cousins.

Here there is little danger of the reader being misled, but it is otherwise in such a case as that of Robert xxxii Guiscard and the house of Tancred in Book IV., § 19. By way of putting the reader on his guard, we will go into this exceptionally bad, but by no means solitary, instance of Villani’s inaccuracies.

Tancred, of the castle of Hauteville (near Coutances, in Normandy), had twelve sons, ten of whom sought their fortunes in southern Italy and Sicily. Four of these were successively Counts of Apulia, the last of the four being Robert Guiscard, He was followed by his son Roger, and his grandson William, who died childless. Another of the sons of Tancred was Roger, who became Count of Sicily. He was succeeded by his son Roger II., who possessed himself of the Apulian domains of his relative William, on the decease of the latter. Roger now had himself proclaimed King of Sicily by the anti-pope Anaclete, and united Sicily and Naples under his sway. He was followed by his son William (the Bad), and his grandson William (the Good), on whose death, without issue, Henry VI., who married Roger’s daughter Constance, claimed the succession in the right of his wife. (L’Art de Vérifier les Dates.)

The most important of these relations may be set forth thus:

family tree of Tancred of Hauteville

Tancred of Hauteville
|                                                       |
Robert Guiscard                             Roger I.
Count of Apulia                         Count of Sicily
         |                                              |
      Roger                                      Roger II.
         |                                       King of Sicily
    William                       ____________
|                                    |                                      |
                                  William                   Constance = Henry VI.   
                                  the Bad
                                 the Good


Let the reader construct the family tree from the data in Villani, and compare it with the one given above. He will find that Villani, to begin with, makes Robert Guiscard a younger son of the Duke of Normandy, then makes his younger brother, Roger I., into his son (occasionally confounding him with Roger II.); and, finally, ignores William the Bad, and makes William the Good the brother of Constance. His details as to the pretender Tancred are equally inaccurate. These must suffice as specimens; but they are specimens not only of a special class of mistake, but of a style of work against which the reader must be constantly on his guard if he intends to make use of any detailed dates or relations, or even if he wishes to make sure that the Pope or other actor named in any connection is really the right one.

So, too, even well within historical times, Villani is prone to the epic simplification of events. His account of the negotiations of Farinata with Manfred, and of the battle of Montaperti for instance, represents the Florentine legend or tradition rather than the history of the events. These events are conceived with the vividness, simplicity and picturesque preponderance of personality which make them easy to see, but impossible to reconstruct in a rationally convincing form.

To enter into further detail under this head would be to transgress the limits we have set ourselves.

§ 5. The Rationale of the Revolutions of Florence.

The settled conviction of both Villani and Dante that xxxiv a difference of race underlay the civil wars of Florence, rests upon a truth obscurely though powerfully felt by them.

We have seen that the legend of Fiesole and Florence, upon which they rest their case, is without historical foundation; but the conflict of races was there none the less. And as it is here that modern historians find the key to the history of Florence, our readers will probably be glad to have set before them a brief account of the general conceptions in the light of which modern scholars would have us read the naïve and ingenuous records of Villani.

The numerous Teutonic invasions and incursions which had swept over northern and central Italy, from Odoacer to Charlemagne, had established a powerful territorial nobility. They constituted a dominating class, military in their habits, accustomed to the exercise and the abuse of the simpler functions of government, accepting certain feudal traditions, but owing no practical allegiance to any power that was not in a position instantly to enforce it. Their effective organization was based on the clan system, and the informal family council was omnipotent within the limits of the clan. They were without capacity or desire for any large and enduring social organization. Their combinations were temporary, and for military purposes; and internecine family xxxv feuds were a permanent factor in their lives. Their laws were based on the “Barbarian” codes, but the influence of Roman law was increasingly felt by them.

In the cities it is probable that the old municipal organization had never wholly died out, though it had no formal recognition. The citizens were sometimes allowed to live “under their own law,” and sometimes not; but the tradition of the Roman law was never lost. Nominally the cities were under the jurisdiction of some territorial magnate, or a nominee of the Emperor, but practically they enjoyed various degrees of independence. Their effective organization would depend upon their special circumstances, but in such a case as that of Florence would be based on the trade guilds.

In Florence a number of the Teutonic nobles had settled in the city; but it owed its importance to its trade. The city-dwelling nobles kept up their clan life, and fortified their houses; but in other respects they had become partially assimilated in feeling, and even in habits and occupations, to the mercantile community in which they lived. They filled the posts of military and civil administration, and were conscious of a strong unity of interest with the people.

Under the vigorous and beneficent rule in Tuscany of the great Countess Matilda (1076-1115) Florence was able quietly to consolidate and extend her power without raising any thorny questions of formal jurisdiction. But on the death of Matilda, when the Church and the Empire equally claimed the succession and were equally unable efficiently to assert their claims, it was inevitable that an attempt should be made to establish the de facto supremacy of Florence over Fiesole and the whole outlying district upon a firmer and more formal basis. It xxxvi was equally inevitable that the attempt should be resisted.

Within Florence, as we have seen, there was a heterogeneous, but as yet fairly united citizenship. The germs of organization consisted on the side of the nobles in the clans and the Tower-clubs, and on the side of the people in the Trade-guilds. The Tower-clubs were associations each of which possessed a fortified tower in the city, which was maintained at the common expense of the associates, and with which their houses communicated. Of the Trade-guilds we shall speak briefly hereafter.

In the surrounding country the territorial nobility watched the growing power and prosperity of Florence with jealousy, stoutly resisted her claims to jurisdiction over them and their demesnes, and made use of their command of the great commercial highways to exact regular or irregular tolls, even when they did not frankly plunder the merchants.

Obviously two struggles must result from this situation. The city as a whole was vitally concerned in clearing the commercial routes and rendering the territorial nobility harmless; but within the city two parties, who may almost be regarded as two nations, contended for the mastery.

With respect to the collective struggle of Florence against her foes, which entered on its active phase early in the twelfth century, on the death of Matilda in 1115, it may be said in brief that it was carried on with a vigour and success, subject only to brief and few reverses, during the whole period with which we are concerned. But this very success in external enterprises emphasized and embittered the internal factions. These had been serious xxxvii from the first. The Uberti and other ruling families resisted the growing influence of the people; and the vicissitudes of the struggle may be traced at the end of the twelfth and beginning of the thirteenth centuries in the alternation of the various forms of the supreme magistracy. But it was part of the policy of the victorious Florentines to compel the nobles they had reduced to submission to live at least for a part of the year in the city; and thus while the merchant people of Florence was increasing in wealth and power, the nobles in the city were in their turn constantly recruited by rich and turbulent members of their own caste, who were ready to support them in their attempt to retain the government in their hands. Thus the more successful Florence was in her external undertakings the greater was the tension within.

The forces arrayed against each other gradually assumed a provisional organization in ever-increasing independence of each other. The old senate or council and the popular assembly of all the citizens were transformed or sank into the background, and the Podestà, or foreign magistrate appointed for a year, with his lesser and greater council of citizens, was the supreme authority from 1207 onwards. This marked a momentary triumph of the nobles. But the people asserted themselves once again, and elected a Captain of the People, also a foreigner, with a lesser and greater council of citizens, who did not dispute the formal and representative supremacy of the Podestà, but was in reality coordinate with him. On this the Podestà naturally became the head of the nobles as the Captain was head of the people; and there rose that spectacle, so strange to us but so familiar to mediæval Italy, of two bodies of xxxvii citizens, each with its own constitution and magistracy, encamped within the same walls. The Podestà was the head of the “Commonwealth,” and the Captain the head of the “People.” There was, it is true, for the most part a show of some central and coordinating power, nominally supreme over these independent and often hostile magistrates, such as the body of Ancients. But this central government had little effective power.

To understand the course of Florentine history, however, we must turn back for a moment to the informal internal organization of the two bodies thus opposed to each other. The struggle is between the military and territorial aristocracy on the one hand, and the mercantile democracy of the city on the other; and we have seen that the clan system and the Tower-clubs were the germ cells of the one order, and the Craft-guilds those of the other. Now the Craft-guilds were obviously capable of supporting a higher form of political development than could ever come out of the rival system. The officers of the Florentine Crafts were compelled to exercise all the higher functions of government. They preserved a strict discipline within their own jurisdiction — (and the aggregation of the trades in certain streets and districts made that jurisdiction roughly correspond to local divisions) — they had to coordinate their industries one with another, and regulate their complicated relations one with another, and they sent their representatives to all the great trading cities of the world, where they had to conduct such delicate and important negociations that they became the most skilful diplomatists in Italy. Indeed, the training of ambassadors may almost be considered as a Florentine industry! Add to this the vast financial concerns which they had to conduct, and it will readily xxxix be seen that as statesmen the merchants of Florence must eventually prove more than a match for their military rivals and opponents. The merchant people was the progressive and constructive element in Florentine society.

Accordingly the constitutional history of Florence resolves itself into a progressive, though chequered, advance of the people against the nobles (or, as they were afterwards called, the magnates) along two lines. In the first place, they had to make the de facto trade organization of the city into its de jure constitution — a movement which culminated in 1282 in the formal recognition of the Priors of the Crafts as the supreme magistrates of Florence. And, in the second place, they must attempt to bring the magnates effectively within the control of the laws and constitution of the mercantile community, which they systematically and recklessly defied as long as they were in a position to do so. The magnates behaved like brigands, and the people replied by practically making them outlaws. They gradually excluded them from all share of the government, they endeavoured to make the Podestà personally responsible for keeping them in order, they organized a militia of trade bands that could fly to arms and barricade the streets, or lay siege to the fortified houses of the magnates at a moment’s notice; and finally, in 1293, they passed the celebrated “Ordinances of Justice” connected with the name of Giano della Bella, by which when a magnate murdered a popolano his whole clan was held directly responsible (the presumption being that the murder had been ordered in a family council), and “public report” vouched for by two witnesses was sufficient evidence for conviction.


It is this struggle for the supremacy of the mercantile democracy and the Roman Law over the military aristocracy with its “barbarian” traditions, that lies at the back of the Guelf and Ghibelline troubles of the thirteenth century. The papal and imperial principles that are usually associated with the names enter only in a very secondary way into the conflict. In truth neither the popes nor the emperors had any sympathy with the real objects of either party, though they were ready enough to seek their advantage in alliances with them. And in their turn the magnates and merchants of Florence were equally determined to be practically independent of Pope and Emperor alike. Nevertheless the magnates could look nowhere else than to the Emperor when they wanted material support or moral sanction for their claims to power; and it was only in the magnates that the Emperor in his turn could hope to find instruments or allies in his attempt to assert his power over the cities. In like manner the Pope, naturally jealous of a strong territorial power, encouraged and fostered the cities in their resistance to imperial pretensions, while he and the merchant bankers of Florence were indispensable to each other in the way of business.

We have now some insight into the essential motives of Florentine history in the thirteenth century. But another step is needed before we can understand the form which the factions took. It would be a fatal error to suppose that the Ghibellines were soldiers and the Guelfs merchants, and that as each faction triumphed in turn Florence expelled her merchants and became a military encampment, or expelled her soldiers and became a commercial emporium. Such a course of events would be absolutely impossible. The truth is, that the xli main part of the faction fighting and banishing was done on both sides by the magnates themselves. The industrial community went on its way, sometimes under grievous exactions, sometimes under a friendly Government, always subject to the insolence and violence of the magnates, though in varying degree, but always there, and always pursuing its business occupations. It came about thus. We have seen that in the twelfth century the nobles within Florence were on the whole fairly conscious of having common cause with the merchants, but that the very success of her external undertakings brought into the city a more turbulent and hostile order of nobility. On the other side, rich and powerful merchants pushed their way up into recognition as magnates, while retaining their pecuniary interest in commerce. Thus in the thirteenth century the body of magnates itself became divided, not only into clans, but into factions. It always seemed worth while for some of them to strengthen their alliances with the territorial magnates, the open foes of the city, in order to strengthen their hold on the city itself; and it always seemed worth while for others to identify themselves more or less sincerely with the demands of the people in order to have their support in wrenching from their fellow magnates a larger share of the common spoil. It was here that the absence of any uniting principle or constructive purpose amongst the magnates told with fatal effect. Indeed their house was so divided against itself that the people would probably have had little difficulty in getting rid of them altogether, had they not been conscious of requiring a body of fighting men for service in their constant wars. The knights were at a certain disadvantage in a street fight in Florence, but the merchant xlii statesmen knew well enough that they could not do without them on a battle-field.

We can now understand the Guelf and Ghibelline struggles of the thirteenth century. The Buondelmonte incident of 1215, which both Dante and Villani regard as the cause of these conflicts, was of course only their occasion. The conclusive victory of one party could only mean the reappearance within its ranks of the old factions under new names. For if the faction opposed to the people won a temporary victory, they would be unable to hold their own permanently against the superior discipline, wealth, and constructive genius of their subjects; whereas if it was the champions of the people who had expelled their rivals and seized the plunder, they would be in no hurry to give up to the merchants the power they had won in their name. They would regard themselves as entitled to a gratitude not distinguishable from submission, and would have their own definition of the degree of influence and power which was now their due. Thus what had been the people’s party among the magnates would aspire, when victorious, to be the masters of the people, and gradually another people’s party would form itself within their ranks. The wonder is not that no reconciliations were permanent, but that Cardinal Latino’s reconciliation of 1279 lasted, at least ostensibly, so long as till 1300.

Obviously, if no new forces came upon the field, the only issue from this general situation must be in the conclusive triumph, not of the people’s faction amongst the magnates, but of the attempt to break down the opposition of all the magnates to the citizen law, and the successful absorption of them into the commercial community. In the “Ordinances of Justice” and the xliii further measures contemplated by Giano della Bella the requirements of this solution were formulated, Had they been successfully carried out, the magnates as an independent order would have been extinguished. Accordingly from 1293 onwards the fight raged round the Ordinances of Justice. No party, even among the magnates, dared openly to seek their repeal; but while some supported them in their integrity with more or less loyalty, others desired to modify them, or attempted to disembowel them by manipulating the elections and securing magistrates who would not carry them out. This was the origin of the Black and White factions. The Blacks were for circumventing the Ordinances, while the Whites were for carrying them out and extending their principles.

It will be seen at once how false an impression is given when it is said that the Whites were moderate Guelfs, inclining to Ghibellinism, and the Blacks extreme Guelfs. The truth is that the terms of Ghibelline and Guelf had by this time lost all real political meaning, but in so far as Guelfism in Florence had ever represented a principle it was the Whites and not the Blacks that were its heirs. But the magnates of Florence at the beginning of the fourteenth century administered large funds that had accrued from the confiscation of Ghibelline estates; they had fought against the Ghibellines at the Battle of Campaldino in 1289, and they made a boast of being Guelf of the Guelfs. Whatever party of them was in the supremacy, therefore, was prone to accuse those in opposition of Ghibellinism simply because they were in opposition. This was what the victorious Blacks did. Their alliance with Pope Boniface VIII., who wished to make use of them xliv for his ambitious purposes, lent some colour to their claim. Moreover, the remnants of the old Ghibelline party in the city or its territory naturally sought the alliance of the Whites as soon as they were in pronounced hostility to the ruling Guelfs. Thus arose the confusion that has perpetuated itself in the current conception of the Whites as “moderates,” or Ghibellinizing Guelfs, a conception which stands in plain contradiction with the most significant facts of the case.

During the closing period of Dante’s life the politics of Florence became more tangled than ever. Every vestige of principle seems to disappear, and personal ambitions and hatreds to become more unbridled than ever. The active interference of the Pope and the Royal house of France, followed by the withdrawal of the Papal Court to Avignon, the invasion of Italy by Henry VII., and the rise of such leaders as Can Grande, Uguccione da Faggiuola, and Castruccio, introduced new forces. We dimly perceive, too, that the mercantile democracy of Florence is becoming a mercantile aristocracy with elements of disturbance beneath it in the excluded or oppressed minor arts. In a word, just before the movement that has been steadily proceeding from 1115 to 1300 reaches its natural goal, the conditions of the problem change, the history enters upon a new phase, the far-off preparation for the Medici begins, and the problem ceases to have any direct and intimate connection with the study of Dante.


The substance of this § is entirely drawn from Prof. Villari’s recent work on Early Florentine History. “I Primi due Secoli della Storia di Firenze, Ricerche di Pasquale Villari.” 2 vols., Florence, 1893, 1894. Price 8 fr. English translation by Madame Villari. “The Two First Centuries of Florentine History.” Fisher Unwin. Price 2s. 6d. This work should be carefully studied in its entirety by all who desire to understand the constitutional history of Florence. N.B. — Some of our readers may be glad of the information that the modern scholar is Pasquale Villări (with short ă), and the mediæval chronicler Giovanni Villāni (with a long ā).

§ 6. Dante’s Politics.

Enough has been said to show the reader how very imperfect an idea is given of Dante’s politics when it is xlv said that he was at first a Guelf but became a Ghibelline.

We have seen that the political party, for his connection with which he was exiled, was heir to the best Guelf traditions. His own writings show that the maintenance of peace was his idea of the supreme function of Government. The extreme severity of his judgments upon thieving and upon false coining is characteristic of the citizen of the greatest commercial city of the world. In all this, if we must use the misleading words, he is more Guelf than Ghibelline. It is true that he constantly opposed the influence of Boniface VIII. in the affairs of Florence, but Boniface was a disturbing and reactionary force that opposed the legitimate development of the Guelf policy of the Florentine democracy. It is true that he is a passionate advocate of an ideal Empire, and that he looks to the Emperor to heal the wounds of Italy, but the more carefully his writings are studied the more clear does it become that what he seeks in the Emperor is not a champion of Teutonic feudalism and supporter of the territorial nobility, but a power that will make Roman Law run all through Italy, and will hold the turbulent nobles in check. The Empire and the Emperor mean to Dante justice and peace secured by the enforcement of Roman Law. Whatever this is, it is not the Ghibellinism of Farinata or the Ubaldini. It is true, however — and here if anywhere Dante is open to the charge of temporary desertion of his principles — that after his exile he, together with other Whites, entered into a league with the Ubaldini, the most obstinate of the traditional foes of the commercial community of Florence. This was a desperate act, which, however reprehensible or deplorable, cannot be taken as indicating the deliberxlviate adoption of a policy in contradiction to the whole tenor of his life and thought. We may well suppose that the sense of the hollow and indeed dishonourable nature of such an alliance was one of the considerations that induced him to sever himself from the exiles and “make a party for himself.”

Lastly, he was an enthusiastic admirer of Henry VII., and he even goaded him on to the attack of Florence. But Henry himself, who came to Italy with the sanction of the Pope, came with the earnest desire to heal and soothe. The Ghibellines proper felt that they had more to fear than to hope from him.

We cannot say, then, that Dante’s politics changed. Nor can we define his position by calling him a Guelf or a Ghibelline, or both. His political ideals were his own. They were the outcome of his life and thought, intensely personal, as was all else about him. They cannot be labelled, but must be studied in his life and in his works.

If we are to use the current terms at all, we shall perhaps come nearest to the truth by saying that Dante was a Guelf in his aims, but that he approximated to the traditions if not to the practices of the Ghibellines in the means by which he hoped to see them realized.


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