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Florence hosts 're-trial' of Dante, banished in 1302

May 21, 2021

Is justice delayed justice denied, or is it a case of better late than never? The poet Dante, author of the "Divine Comedy," is being given a re-trial designed to posthumously clear his name.

Dante Alighieri
Dante Aligheri was banished from the city of his birth when he found himself on the losing side of a struggle to control FlorenceImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Jurists at a symbolic "re-trial" conference on Friday sought to revoke Florence's medieval 1302 conviction of Dante Alighieri that forced him into exile before his book "Divine Comedy" won him acclaim as Italy's "Supreme Poet."

Dante Alighieri, briefly a Florence politician, was tried in absentia in 1302. At the time, the rival political "Black" and "White" factions were feuding over control of the city.

Then-judge Cante de Gabrielli convicted Dante of corruption and patronage. It banned him from public office, resulting in Dante — and other "White" faction adherents caught in the feud — being stripped of their assets.

Dante was told never to return, under threats of being burnt to death or beheaded. Biased adjudication has since been acknowledged by experts.

Exile, human behavior, pervasive themes

Dante survived exile by roaming Italian cities. He penned his imaginary journey through various Christian afterlife stages of hell, purgatory and paradise shortly before his death in 1321 in Ravena, reputedly while suffering from malaria.

HIs analysis of human behavior, still highly regarded, inspired images  now on special display at museums.

Dante Alighieri (1465) Gemälde von Domenico di Michelino
Painting by Domenico di Michelino, dated 1465, showing Dante in the imagined afterlife his epic poem depictsImage: akg-images/picture-alliance

Friday's forum, confined to video conference format because of the coronavirus, and including historians and descendants of people involved at the time, forms part of Italian commemorations of 700 years since Dante's death in 1321.

Exile is the focus of his ultimate work "Divine Comedy," written in his Tuscan dialect shortly before he died, in which he also assigned places in hell to some of his earthly foes.

These included Pope Boniface VIII, who together with Charles of Valois, brother of King Philip IV of France, had backed the Black faction when it retook Florence.

Trial descendants present

Friday's forum via video conference, led by senior Florence-based defense lawyer Alessandro Traversi, also involved descendants of the medieval judge Cante de Gabrielli — now reportedly friends with Dante's descendants.

Friday's conference deliberations would be published, said Traversi, with Italian supreme court judge, Margherita Cassano, drafting a final report. The session was also streamed online.

Traversi recently argued for Dante's rehabilitation, saying "legally speaking" Dante was still a Florentine with a "criminal record" imposed by an "opposite faction."

Medieval historian Alessandro Barbero suggested earlier this year it was "not exactly impossible" to surmise that Dante — as one of nine city politicians, or priors — had exploited his role during a two-month elected term in 1300.

Justice delayed is justice denied?

Serego Alighieri, a present-day descendant of Dante, told the news agency AFP in March that the rehabilitation bid came late, given that Dante remained exiled from the city where he was born in 1265.

"He never returned to Florence," said Alighieri." Anything that can be done for him [today] will not change any of that."

At his tomb in Ravenna, medieval Dante's refuge on Italy's Adriatic coast, a flame burns perpetually, fueled by olive oils from the hills around the writer's native Florence.

ipj/msh (AFP, dpa)

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