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This report is taken from PN Review 247, Volume 45 Number 5, May - June 2019.

Vintages Patrick Worsnip
Castel del Piano, Italy – all is forgiven now. Well, more or less. A mere seven centuries after the city of Florence, birthplace of the poet Dante Alighieri, drove him into permanent exile, things are much more relaxed these days between the descendants of the man who wrote The Divine Comedy and those of his fourteenth-century enemies.

We may think divisions over Europe have got nasty again in recent years. But anyone who’s read the Comedy will know that feelings ran even higher in medieval Italy, especially in Tuscany between the Guelph and Ghibelline factions, who (to summarise crudely) respectively favoured the Pope and the Germany-based Holy Roman Emperor in the struggle for control of the continent. In Florence, the Guelphs were dominant, but they themselves were split into the Whites (to whom Dante belonged and who tended towards the Ghibelline position) and the Blacks. In late 1301, while the poet was on a mission to the Holy See in Rome, the Blacks seized power and persecuted prominent Whites. Dante was accused of corruption during a brief stint as a city official, a crime known at the time as ‘barratry’, meaning the sale of Church or state favours. This is punished in the poet’s Inferno by the offender being dunked in boiling pitch, but the punishment Dante himself received on the doubtless trumped-up charge was two years’ exile and a large fine. When he refused to pay up, the exile became permanent and he was threatened with death if he ever went back to his ...

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