Florence (Firenze), Italy

My IWSG post is here.

Copyright bongo vongo, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Florence, called Firenze in Italian, is known as the Athens of the Middle Ages, and was the birthplace of the Renaissance. Because the Florentine dialect of Tuscan Italian was used by so many literary luminaries, it became the basis of Modern Standard Italian. The city was also the capital of the Kingdom of Italy from 1865–71.

The first Florentine settlement is believed to have been between the tenth and eighth centuries BCE. Then Etruscans moved in between the seventh and sixth centuries.

The city’s written history began in 59 BCE, upon the arrival of the Romans.

Porta San Frediano wall, Copyright Sailko

Porta Romana wall, Copyright Sailko

Firenze went from strength to strength under Roman rule. The cityscape quickly grew to include a military camp, a theatre, spas, an aqueduct, an amphitheatre, a forum, city walls, and a river port. Sadly, few of these structures have survived into the modern era. The city walls are a notable exception.

Starting in the fourth century CE, Firenze went back and forth between Ostrogothic and Byzantine hands. These two rivals were constantly fighting one another, laying siege to the city, losing power, and doing it all over again.

The Lombards took over in the sixth century, and then Charlemagne conquered Firenze in 774. Under Charlemagne’s rule, as part of the March of Tuscany, the city’s population and wealth grew exponentially.

Montalbano Castle, Copyright Joe Sapienza at WikiCommons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Copyright Sailko

Around 1000, Ugo (Hugh) the Great, Margrave of Tuscany, chose Firenze as his residence. This led to the Golden Age of the Florentine School of art, a naturalistic style which reached its heights in the 14th and 15th centuries. A lot of new construction also started.

In 1115, the people revolted against the Margrave of Tuscany. In its place arose the Republic of Firenze, officially the Florentine Republic. The city-state soon grew wealthy from trade with other countries, and the population swelled yet again. Even more new churches and palaces were built.

Ospedale di Santa Maria Nuova, Firenze’s oldest hospital still in existence, Copyright Mongolo1984

Garden of Palazzo di Gino Capponi, Copyright Sailko

The city was beset by internal strife during the 12th through 14th centuries, when rival political factions the Guelphs and Ghibellines constantly, violently fought for power. Guelphs supported the Pope, and Ghibellines supported the Holy Roman Emperor. Firenze was one of the pro-Guelph cities.

After the decisive Guelph victory at the 1289 Battle of Campaldino, the Guelphs began infighting and split into White and Black factions. The Black Guelphs seized control of the city in 1301, destroying much of it in the process. Dante, a White Guelph, was tried on false charges in absentia, ordered to pay a huge fine (which he never did), and condemned to exile.

Basilica di Santa Croce, Copyright Sailko

Dante’s empty tomb in the Basilica di Santa Croce, Copyright Sailko

In the 14th century, a groundswell of artistic, literary, architectural, musical, and scientific talent in Firenze heralded the birth of the Renaissance. All the political, moral, and social upheavals which had plagued the city on and off for the last few centuries halted under this new humanistic atmosphere. People also began rediscovering and falling in love with writers, philosophers, and scientists from Classical Antiquity.

Uffizi Gallery, Copyright Chris Wee, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Firenze became the capital of the unified Kingdom of Italy in 1865. In attempts to modernise the city, many Medieval houses and the historic Piazza del Mercato Vecchio market were razed. New houses took their place, along with a more formal street plan.

The population grew to over 230,000 during the 19th century, and was over 450,000 by the 20th century.

Grand Synagogue of Firenze, Copyright CEphoto, Uwe Aranas

Synagogue interior, Copyright Sailko

The city was occupied by Germans from 1943–44, after the Italians defected to the Allied side and refused to deport their Jewish community. Eighty percent of Italian Jews survived the Shoah, due in large part to righteous Italian Gentiles hiding them and smuggling them to safe territories.

The Nazis packed the beautiful Grand Synagogue with explosives before retreating, but brave resistance fighters diffused almost all of them. Very little damage was sustained, and the building was restored after the war. There are, however, still bayonet blows on the Ark.

Casa di Dante museum (not the original house), Copyright Photo20201 at WikiCommons

Fireworks over Ponte Vecchio, Copyright Martin Falbisoner

Firenze has more tourists than locals every year from April–October, thanks to its wealth of museums, historic architecture, churches, art galleries, theatres, bridges, monuments, gates, walls, and many other treasures.

IWSG—April odds and sods

InsecureWritersSupportGroupIt’s time for another meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. The first Wednesday of each month, we share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

Are you a risk-taker when writing? Do you try something radically different in style/POV/etc. or add controversial topics to your work?

I’ve written at length in many prior posts about how, until my early twenties, I often gut-loaded my Atlantic City books with over the top controversial content merely for its own sake, to goad my imagined future censors. In my juvenile mind, edgy and realistic=as over the top as possible.

Part of it was an extreme overreaction to my annoyance at the unrealistic, G–rated goody-goodies in books like The Babysitters’ Club series, kids who never encountered any normal junior high issues like peer pressure, serious fights with parents and siblings, skipping school, secretly drinking beer, etc.

Another reason was because I attended such an awful school from K–10. With no counterexample, I genuinely didn’t grasp how abnormal and concerning it is for preteens to have sex, smoke, drink, do drugs, have unchaperoned wild parties, get into knife fights, wear clothes suit for a nightclub, stay out past midnight, etc.

Without being consciously aware of it, I reveled in the worst of human nature. So many times, my characters came across so unsympathetically because they were so mean-spirited and cruel, above and beyond normal youthful cattiness and rebellion.

I think many times of the talking-to my buddy Bruce got from the junior high music teacher we nicknamed Busload, on account of the parody he wrote of “My Favorite Things.” Bruce tried to defend his assignment by saying, “Yeah, I was being satirical,” and Busload shot back, “This isn’t satirical. This is filth!” I feel much the same way about a lot of the things in my earlier drafts.

While I still don’t believe in treating young people like overgrown babies and glass flowers who can’t handle anything not 100% G-rated, my stance back then was basically “Expose them to everything! It’s no big deal!” I seriously had spoof magazines called Playteen and Playkid, and one of my planned soft sci-fi books had a porn channel for teens!

I really wish more people had had the guts or sense to ask, “These kids are twelve?” Or whatever age they were in any given scene or book. My Atlantic City characters don’t start to read their supposed actual age till they’re about fifteen.

One of my main themes is that real life isn’t like a Norman Rockwell painting or Andy Hardy movie for most people, and that kids are a lot sharper and smarter than many adults give them credit for. But that shouldn’t mean going as over the top as possible in depicting edgy, realistic content.

Hence why I’m leaning so strongly towards finally officially aging them up two years. As it is, they read that way already.

Though my declared project for April Camp NaNo is my radical rewrite of the book formerly known as The Very Last, I think I may also start work on the alternative history about Dante and Beatrice I’ve been wanting to do probably since 2004. For all those years, I only had the most general idea, and I needed a compelling reason for Dante to still write his magnum opus if he never lost Beatrice.

I have so many great ideas now, transforming it from a vague, romantic idea into a saga with lots of twists and turns. Now I only need to think of a good title.

Very, very, VERY unusually for me, I also feel drawn to doing it in first-person instead of my usual third-person omniscient. Since Dante wrote all his major works in first-person, and sometimes broke the fourth wall to directly address his readers, it feels like the most natural POV. I hope I live up to the great responsibility of writing in the voice of one of my literary idols.


Empyrean, the highest part of Paradise, which Dante ascends to at the very end of The Divine Comedy, has been written and speculated about since Antiquity. Its name derives from the Ancient Greek word empyrios (burning, fiery). In Medieval Catholic theology, it was believed to be the place where God’s physical presence and angels dwell.

Given the Medieval conception of the world, Empyrean was part of the geocentric universe model which was overwhelmingly accepted as factual throughout the world. Since the time of Aristotle, people had believed the Earth, not the Sun, was the centre of the Universe. In turn, Earth was surrounded by eight concentric spheres (i.e., the heavens).

The first sphere contained the Moon, and the next six contained Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn. The stars were in the last sphere. Obviously, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto hadn’t yet been discovered in the Middle Ages (and I will regard Pluto as a planet till my final breath).

In the second century CE, Ptolemy proposed a ninth sphere, Primum Mobile, the outermost corner of the Universe. Primum Mobile was conceived of as an engine providing movement to all the other spheres, powered by God. This astronomical model was believed until the Renaissance, when Copernicus proved the Universe is heliocentric.

Giusto de ‘Menabuoi fresco in the Baptistery of Padua Cathedral, featuring the nine spheres, Copyright Custeped at WikiCommons

Empyrean, then, was above all the other spheres but not a ninth sphere. Since God resided there, its size wasn’t limited, and it wasn’t even made of true physical matter. Empyrean is a place beyond time and space, similar to the Akashic Records. You can journey there in dreams, visions, meditation, and self-hypnosis, but it doesn’t exist in this dimension.

Empyrean was also believed to be motionless, though it set the eight spheres below it in motion.

Dante and Beatrice arrive in Empyrean in Canto XXX of Paradiso. The experience is so intense, Dante can no longer find words to describe Beatrice’s beauty. He’s wrapped in intense light which temporarily blinds him, followed by his sight returning stronger than ever.

A river of light flows between two banks full of flowers, and a swelling of sparks are exchanged between the flowers and river. Beatrice tells Dante to keep his eyes upon the river, which soon transmogrifies into a huge lake of light. The flowers reveal themselves as souls in petals, and the sparks are angels.

Engraving by Gustave Doré, 1868

After Dante surveys Empyrean to his great delight, he turns to ask Beatrice a question, and finds her replaced by an old man. The stranger says Beatrice asked him to lead Dante to his final goal, and points to Beatrice on the highest tier of the heavenly rose they’re in the middle of. Dante gives thanks to Beatrice for everything she’s done for him, and prays that he’ll one day return to her as pure as he is now.

The old man reveals himself as St. Bernard, and tells Dante to look at the Virgin Mary. Angel Gabriel hails her, and all the souls burst into song. St. Bernard then shows Dante all the great souls in the rose, and tells him to look at God and pray that Mary provides the necessary Grace to finish this amazing otherworldly journey.

Illustration by Giovanni di Paolo, 1440s

Dante sees the physical world bound together as one through the power of Love, followed by three rings, each a different colour, representing the Trinity. Dante’s mortal sight, even in such a heightened spiritual state, can only perceive so much, but he does see Divine light.

With his inner eyes, in a brilliant flash, Dante suddenly perceives the perfect union of all realities and the understanding of everything in this world and the next. In his final moments in Empyrean, he understands Love is the mechanism behind God, the Universe, life, and everything else in existence.

“To the high force imagination now failed,
“But like to a wheel whose circling nothing jars,
“Already on my desire and will prevailed
“The Love that moves the Sun and the other stars.”

The Divine Comedy

Dante began work on his magnum opus somewhere between 1304 and 1308, inspired by an idea he’d had for many years—immortalizing his unrequited love Beatrice for all time in a long, epic poem. Since the original manuscript isn’t known to survive, and Dante didn’t record his exact writing dates, all we have to go upon are hypotheses. Dante finished it in 1320 or 1321.

The oldest known manuscripts date from 1330, hand-copied in full by the great Giovanni Boccaccio. He didn’t copy them from the original, but from other copies.

After Dante’s death in 1321, the final section couldn’t be located, and there were no notes left behind with instructions for finding it. Then Dante appeared to his son Jacopo in a dream, showing him where the end of the manuscript was kept. Jacopo found it in that exact location!

1555 Ludovico Dolce edition, owned by Galileo

The original title was simply Commedia (Comedia in Latin, as Dante identified the work to one of his friends). About 40 years later, Boccaccio first appended the adjective “Divine” to the title. The version pictured above marked the official first time the book was titled The Divine Comedy.

Many contemporary people are confused by the title, since it’s not what we recognize as a comedy in modern times. But historically, a comedy was a genre with a difficult start for the protagonist and a happy ending, written in everyday language.

The first printed edition was published in Foligno on 11 April 1472. Fourteen of the 300 copies are known to survive. The printing press is in Foligno’s 15th century Oratorio della Nunziatella (which is kind of like a chapel).

Venice printed the next edition in 1477, followed by Florence in 1481.

The book is divided into three canticles, Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. Each contains 33 cantos (i.e., a section of a long poem), for a total of 100, including the introductory canto. Most people count the first two cantos of each canticle as prologues.

Dante wrote in terza rima, three-line stanzas (tercets) with the rhyming pattern ABA BCB CDC. This was a poetic form he created, possibly influenced by the Provençal troubadours he so admired. Because Italian is such a poetic language, it’s easy to find natural rhymes for so many lines. It’s much more difficult in English, causing some translators to employ forced rhyme schemes.

Each canticle ends with the sweet, hopeful word “stars.”

Thirty-five-year-old Dante wakes up in the Wood of Error on Maundy Thursday 1300, no idea how he got there or lost the way so badly. Taking courage by the rising sun, Dante starts climbing the Delectable Mountain and presently encounters a female wolf (avarice), a leopard (lust), and a lion (pride). Dante turns back fearfully and comes face-to-face with another terrifying being.

Dante is ecstatic when the shadowy form identifies himself as Virgil, author of The Aeneid and Dante’s idol. Virgil says he was summoned by Dante’s lost love Beatrice, who’s desperate to save him before it’s too late. Virgil guides him through Hell and Purgatory, providing support, encouragement, and protection when Dante is afraid or overcome by emotions.

Dante encounters many famous people during his journey down through the nine circles of Hell, some of whom he personally knew. Each circle holds a different type of sinner, and the lowest circles contain multiple rings.

Dante and Virgil then reach the shores of Purgatory, which is guarded by Cato. The lower slopes of the Mountain of Purgatory comprise Ante-Purgatory, for souls who need to do extra penance before gaining admission to the real Purgatory. Purgatory proper has seven terraces.

As they leave the Fifth Terrace, they encounter Roman poet Statius, who accompanies them the rest of the way. Statius ranks fourth of the poem’s recurring characters, after Dante, Virgil, and Beatrice.

Finally, on Easter Sunday, Dante reaches the Earthly Paradise (the Garden of Eden) on the summit of Mount Purgatory and meets Matilda, who prepares him for his reunion with his beloved Beatrice. Dante begins crying when he realises Virgil is gone, and Beatrice rebukes him and tells him to pull himself together. For the first and only time in the poem, Dante is addressed by name.

On Bright Monday, the day after Easter, Beatrice escorts him to Paradise, composed of nine concentric, celestial spheres around Earth. Paradise is topped by the Empyrean, home to the most important saints and Biblical figures. Mary is on the top step.

Dante is able to see the light of God, and with it the perfect union of all realities and the understanding of everything in this world and the next. In the centre of this light are three circles representing the Trinity, but, being a mere mortal, Dante can only see so much.

His soul, however, perceives the harmony of the Universe, and he understands Love is the mechanism behind God, the Universe, life, and everything else in existence.

WeWriWa—Entering Tina’s house


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’m now sharing snippets from the book formerly known as The Very Next, now entitled Movements in the Symphony of 1939. It was released in e-book format on March second, with a paperback edition to follow within a few months. The paperback edition will have a different cover.

Best friends Cinnimin and Sparky (real name Katherine) have been forced to take new houseguest Samantha to their friend Quintina’s birthday party, despite Sam’s out of place clothes and lack of a present. During the short walk there, Sam revealed her commitment to fundamentalism and her fear of her mother.

Sam fell silent as they walked the rest of the way to the Holidays’ house. Inside, they were greeted by colored streamers, balloons, and a few cut-out flower decorations. Jazz played in the background, while the Holidays’ little Bichon Frisé ran around yapping. A large pile of gifts sat off to the side, and some guests were eating soft pretzels and playing games.

“Who’s this?” Tina asked. “Is this a new girl you invited? If you’re going to change up the popularity ranks again to include another new girl, I hope you don’t demote me more than one rank.”

“Of course I ain’t demoting you,” Cinni reassured her.

The eight lines end here. A few more to complete the scene follow.

“I only had to demote Violet so much ’cause she was getting too big for her britches and had to be knocked down a couple of pegs. This is Samantha Smart. She and her parents just moved into my house ’cause of unexplained bad business in their old city. They’re from D.C., the Virginia side. Sam, this is my buddy Quintina Holiday.”

Tina looked Sam up and down. “You came without a present?”

“I didn’t know I’d be coming to anyone’s birthday party till now,” Sam said. “I can get you a present later, if you want to be friends.”

“We’ll see about that. Right now, you can have a seat and try to blend in.”