Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

citizen of Florence, of Porta San Piero, and our neighbour," but this need not imply that he belonged to the class of nobles, a supposition which other passages of the chronicle seem expressly to exclude. One ancestor of Dante appears to have attained distinction—namely, a certain Cacciaguida whom he lauds in the Paradiso. This old Florentine, it seems, had been a valiant soldier of the Cross, and the Emperor Conrad had knighted him, but the honours thus acquired had not been handed down. "Verily," says the poet, apostrophising Nobility, "thou art a coat that quickly shortens"; and, as Cacciaguida warns his descendant against inquiring too closely into their antecedents, we are perhaps justified in assuming that the family had never, except in the case of this glorified quartermaster, exceeded the rank of the better sort of citizens. There are other arguments tending to the same conclusion, but on these it is not necessary that I should enter.

Dante's father is stated to have been a lawyer, and, singularly enough, a person of little mark and likelihood. Indeed his insignificance was a by

I'arcntage.

word. When Dante was young, he appears to have bandied "unparliamentary" sonnets with his friend and destined brother-in-law, Forese Donati, whom he describes as a son of "I know not whom," while Donati retorts, "As for you, your vileness and cowardice shows only too plainly that you are the son of Alighiero." As these expressions are rather strong, we must suppose them to have been used during some period of misunderstanding; but the taunt, brutal at

M

the best, would have been entirely pointless if the conduct of Dante's father had not provided some occasion for it. Whatever his fault may have been, and it is difficult to think that lukewarmness as a Guelf was not part thereof, it did not operate as a bar to matrimonial alliances. Alighiero married, first a lady of whom all that is known is her name, Donna Bella, and secondly, Lapa di Chiarissimo Cialuffi. By the former he had a son, Dante, while Lapa was mother of Francesco Alighieri and a daughter. All this is now clearly ascertained, but until quite recently the names were given in the reverse order, and it was Lapa, not Donna Bella, who was believed to have died, perhaps in childbirth. Alighiero died at some date between 1270 and 1279, whence it is possible, and indeed probable, that Dante tasted something of the tender mercies of an autocratic step-mother. Anyhow, it is a notable fact that nowhere in his writings does he make mention of his father, his mother, his brother, his sister, or any relation whatsoever.

It makes this strange circumstance yet stranger

that Dante does allude to the " dear and good paternal

image" of Brunetto Latini. To be sure.

Education. °'

his warm regard does not preclude his assigning him to one of the circles of Hell and blackening his memory with an atrocious charge, but this he does not willingly. Dante is supreme Gonfalonier of Justice! As we know, in a general way this Latini, "the worldly man," is very far from obscure; his precise relations with Dante are somewhat of a mystery. Was he his tutor in the common acceptation of the term? Or was he merely a friend of the family, whose shining talents variously displayed aroused the wonder and admiration of the growing boy? The latter alternative is more probable, but, frankly, we cannot say.

That he had other instructors is certain. It woidd be easy to make too much of the interview with

"His Casella whom he woo'd to sing, Met in the milder shades of Purgatory."

Such evidence points to taste rather than to positive acquirements, though the inference that Dante's songs were set to music at Florence is no doubt sufficiently interesting. With regard to drawing, we have it on the best authority—his own—that he had some practice therein. The story of his absorption on his lady's death-day, when he was found by persons of distinction designing angels, was certainly not recorded with any intention of vaunting his accomplishments.1 Whether he could paint also, I shall not attempt to decide. His profound delight in portrait and miniature is manifest in his writings, and it might be just to credit him with at least the rudiments of the art. These studies, perhaps, as well as the help derived from Ser Brunetto, belong to that secret process by which men of genius form themselves; but it is scarcely a question that Dante, in addition to this, received the best education the age could afford.

With parentage and education it is natural to associate another sort of influence—that of early companionships. Each step hitherto has been for us a

1 Vita Niiova, § xxxv.

surprise. The laws of heredity and environment have both in turn been defied, and the poet's

Friendships. "" .

development has proceeded in accordance with a principle that eludes us, unless we figure it as the law of repulsion and rebound. Alighiero as father, Latini as godfather (in the realm of fame), and now, to cap all, Cavalcanti as friend—it is certainly perplexing. Not indeed that there was anything strange in the youthful and ambitious Dante paying court to a poet of Guido's genius and renown. That was the most probable thing in the world. Cavalcanti was full ten years older than Dante, and so by comparison a mature man; but he may have been flattered by the lad's attentions, and, without much thought or concern, extended to him his patronage. Here, however, is the amazing thing—Cavalcanti was by all accounts an atheist, an odd acquaintance, truly, for one who was to chant the splendours of the Glory Infinite, the Light Eterne.

Returning for a moment to those quarrelsome sonnets, the genuineness of which, amidst so much that has become apocryphal, is comparatively secure, Forese was a huge gormandiser, so that Dante must needs reckon among his friends a "cook's oracle," a mediaeval Heliogabalus. Yet, withal, the greeting between these erstwhile revilers in Purgatory, where Forese, lean and gaunt, is expiating his folly, is one of the most touching episodes in the whole of the cantica

"That face of thine, which dead I once bewept,
Gives me for weeping now no lesser grief."

Besides Guido Cavalcanti and Forese Donati, Dante, as we know, was acquainted with Ciuo Sinibuldi and Lapo Gianni. Three out of the four he associates in terms of generous approval — possibly all; if the "unum alium," whom for some reason he declines to name, can be his friend and enemy, Donati.

I am seeking to trace the exterior life of Dante,

otherwise from the topic of his friendships it would be

inevitable that I should pass to that of his

In.Ou.Jidd. .i.i

nrst love. But apart from the fact that this first love pertains to the inmost core of his being, and was perhaps solely an ideal phase of his existence, the theme has, for good and sufficient reasons, been already disposed of elsewhere. Suffice it to say that the departure of Beatrice — that is Dante's style; "partita da questo secolo "—occurred on the 19th of June 1290, when she was twenty-three, and he just a year older. This love-affair, or what is symbolised by it, occupied a considerable time, during which the poet was called upon, more than once, to prove his valour in action. From his mode of speaking it might be inferred that opportunities of the sort were rather frequent. Certainly, at this epoch, the condition of Florence was far from peaceful, and there were streetbrawls innumerable. On two occasions the city arrayed her forces against external foes, and Dante in the flush of youthful vigour could not be spared from the ranks. At Campaldino (or Certomondo), on the 11th of June 1289, a battle was fought between the Florentine Guelfs and the Ghibellines of Arezzo, which in its changes and chances antedated Naseby. The squad

« AnteriorContinuar »