Italian Poet Dante Alighieri Given Symbolic Retrial Centuries After Exile

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In 1302, the prolific Italian poet Dante Alighieri was exiled from his home in Florence as a direct result of his political views. As a part of ongoing initiatives to remember the life and legacy of the man who is seen as the father of the modern Italian language, lawyers have suggested symbolically reopening Alighieri’s case and giving him a ceremonial retrial.

Sperello di Serego Alighieri, a direct descendant of the storied poet, told reporters that “Florence always felt a bit guilty for what it did to one of its most famous citizens.” Sperello was directly involved with the ceremonial retrial, which took place Friday in Florence.

Dante Alighieri’s Exile

Dante’s exile in 1302 is believed to have been politically motivated. While he was living in Florence, a group called the Black Guelphs took control of the city. Contemporary accounts record that the Black Guelphs, led by Charles of Valois, ran amok in the city, putting enemies to the sword and destroying many buildings. At this time, Dante was accused of corruption and misconduct by the Black Guelphs, who were backed by Pope Boniface.

Dante himself was aligned to a different political party, the White Guelphs, which contemporary scholars believe led to his exile. In 1302, while Dante was in Rome, the Black Guelphs accused him of absconding from his official position in Florence and ordered him to pay a large fine. However, all of his assets were in Florence and had been seized by the Black Guelphs, thus making him unable to pay the fine even if he’d wanted to.

Over the years, Dante would attempt to retake power from the Black Guelphs but grew disenchanted with the White Guelph party due to their infighting and ineffectiveness. He attempted to strike out on his own, using his political clout to take up residence in various Italian courts for the remaining twenty years of his life.

Dante’s Death and Legacy

Dante Alighieri passed away in 1321 in the city of Ravenna, having never been able to return to his home in Florence. He was buried in what is now called the Basilica di San Francesco, despite some calls for his remains to be returned to his home city.

When Sperello Alighieri was asked what he thought his ancestor would think about the retrial, he laughed and told reporters that he felt Dante would find the entire endeavor amusing. “It can’t have any practical effect, although it is interesting to examine the historical and juridical reasons that led to his exile.”