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May/June c.1265 - September 14, 1321
Part 6 of 13: Old Age and Death
After the death of the emperor Henry (Bruni tells us) Dante passed the rest of his life as an exile, sojourning in various places throughout Lombardy, Tuscany and the Romagna, under the protection of various lords, until at length he retired to Ravenna, where he ended his life. Very little can be added to this meagre story. There is reason for supposing that he stayed at Gubbio with Bosone dei Rafaelli, and tradition assigns him a cell in the monastery of Sta Croce di Fonte Avellana in the same district, situated on the slopes of Catria, one of the highest peaks of the Apennines in that region. After the death of the French pope, Clement V., he addressed a letter, dated the 14th of July 1314, to the cardinals in conclave, urging them to elect an Italian pope. About this time he came to Lucca, then lately conquered by his friend Uguccione. Here he completed the last cantos of the Purgatory, which he dedicated to Uguccione, and here he must have become acquainted with Gentucca, whose name had been whispered to him by her countryman on the slopes of the Mountain of Purification (Purg. xxiv. 37). That the intimacy between the "world-worn" poet and the young married lady (who is thought to be identifiable with Gentucca Morla, wife of one Cosciorino Fondora) was other than blameless, is quite incredible. In August 1315 was fought the battle of Monte Catini, a day of humiliation and mourning for the Guelphs. Uguccione made but little use of his victory; and the Florentines marked their vengeance on his adviser by condemning Dante yet once again to death if he ever should come into their power. In the beginning of the following year Uguccione lost both his cities of Pisa and Lucca. At this time Dante was offered an opportunity of returning to Florence. The conditions given to the exiles were that they should pay a fine and walk in the dress of humiliation to the church of St John, and there do penance for their offences. Dante refused to tolerate this shame; and the letter is still extant in which he declines to enter Florence except with honour, secure that the means of life will not fail him, and that in any corner of the world he will be able to gaze at the sun and the stars, and meditate on the sweetest truths of philosophy. He preferred to take refuge with his most illustrious protector Can Grande della Scala of Verona, then a young man of twenty-five, rich, liberal and the favoured head of the Ghibelline party. His name has been immortalized by an eloquent panegyric in the seventeenth canto of the Paradiso. Whilst on a visit at the court of Verona he maintained, on the 20th of January 1320, the philosophical thesis De aqua et terra, on the levels of land and water, which is included in his minor works. The last three years of his life were spent at Ravenna, under the protection of Guido da Polenta. In his service Dante undertook an embassy to the Venetians. He failed in the object of his mission, and, returning disheartened and broken in spirit through the unhealthy lagoons, caught a fever and died in Ravenna on the 14th of September 1321. His bones still repose there. His doom of exile has been reversed by the union of Italy, which has made the city of his birth and the various cities of his wanderings component members of a common country. His son Piero, who wrote a commentary on the Divina Commedia, settled as a lawyer in Verona, and died in 1364. His daughter Beatrice lived as a nun in Ravenna, dying at some time between 1350 (when Boccaccio brought her a present of ten gold crowns from a Florentine gild) and 1370. His direct line became extinct in 1509.
Part 7: Divina Commedia
This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
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