The Order To Burn Italy’s Greatest Poet Wasn’t Rescinded Until 2008

Here must all distrust be left behind; / all cowardice must be ended.”” —Dante Alighieri, The Inferno

In A Nutshell

Dante may well be the greatest poet in history. As the author of the Divine Comedy, he inspired everyone from Giovanni Boccaccio to T.S. Eliot, while also creating our modern trope of Hell’s “ironic punishments.” However, he was less well thought of in his lifetime. In 1302, he was exiled from Florence under penalty of being burned at the stake. It wasn’t until 2008 that the city finally rescinded this order.

The Whole Bushel

Medieval Italy wasn’t the easiest place to live. Across the various city-states, political machinations and brazen grabs for power made life difficult for everyone from poets to peasants. In Florence, things were particularly bad. The Black Guelphs were allied to the Papacy and locked in a war of attrition with the White Guelphs—who believed that the Pope should lead in spiritual matters only. Dante was one of these White Guelphs. After a lot of scheming and double-crossing that would put Machiavelli to shame, Pope Boniface VIII finally succeeded in crushing the White Guelphs.

For Dante, it was the beginning of the end of his political career—and the rise of his poetic one. Sentenced to death in absentia by the Black Guelph government, he was left to wander Italy, on pain of a public burning if he ever returned to Florence. During that time, he wrote the Divine Comedy and secured his place as Italy’s greatest poet. His stature grew so much that in 1315, the Florentines even relented and invited him to return home. When Dante refused they reinstated the death penalty. This time, they extended it to his children. It was a sentence that was to last nearly 700 years.

In 2008, someone in Florence realized that Dante had never been officially forgiven. Quickly, the city council passed a motion to “rehabilitate” the poet into Florentine life. Unfortunately, it turned out that modern Florence wasn’t that different from its medieval counterpart. The “pardon” became a political football, with the center-right party using it as a shameless self-promotion tool, the socialists actually voting against it, and Dante’s sole surviving descendant refusing to turn up for the ceremony.

Yet the motion was ultimately carried. Nearly seven centuries after his exile and 687 years after his death, Dante was finally allowed back to his hometown, the order to burn him at last lifted.

Show Me The Proof

The Independent: Return of Dante: the Guelphs and the Ghibellines
Italy Magazine: A Very Florentine Problem – Ending Dante’s Exile
Encyclopedia Britannica: Dante

  • Lisa 39

    So it took 687 years after he died to decide to let him back, my slow city council seems a lot better now.

  • oouchan

    How amusing that they waited so long to do this. On top of that, to almost deny it at the last moment.


  • Clyde Barrow

    Italy has 99 problems, and this wasn’t one of them. Another fine example of politicians maintaining the illusion they are getting something accomplished when they are simply using smoke and mirrors to screw people over for another 687 years.

    I guess employment, the economy, energy, pollution, clean water, potential terrorism, science and research, et cetera..were just too tough of issues to vote on for those goons.

  • Hillyard

    His sole surviving descendant refused to show up for the ceremony. Gotta love that.

  • The greatest poet of all time? I beg to differ. He has nothing on Peter Ghyssaert from Antwerp, Belgium.

  • Andy West

    The Order To Burn Italy’s Greatest Poet Wasn’t Rescinded Until 2008, but by then it was too late, he was dead.

  • Michael R