WeWriWa—Dante’s empty tomb

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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 excerpts which, as you’ll see in a few weeks, are related to a new project I’m researching, an alternative history set in Medieval Italy. This comes from my hiatused WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, which follows a group of young Shoah survivors from Hungary, France, Czechoslovakia, and Italy as they readjust to the land of the living and decide where they ultimately want to settle.

It’s December 1945, and the friends have gone to the Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence before departing for Paris. This was where young doctor Caterina was apprehended by the Nazis in November 1943, after attempting to hide by Dante’s empty tomb, a place she always felt safe.

They proceeded inside the basilica, and Caterina led the way to the tombs it was famous for. She had to explain who most of these Florentine luminaries were. The others were familiar with Galileo, Michelangelo, and Machiavelli, but not people like Ugo Foscolo, Leonardo Bruni, Eugenio Barsanti, and Vittorio Alfieri. Finally, they came face-to-face with Dante’s empty tomb, waiting for his bones for over a century.

On the left was a figure representing Italy, holding a scepter in her right hand and pointing up at Dante with her left arm. On the right was a figure representing Poetry, holding a crown of laurels in her right hand and prostrated, grief-stricken, over the sarcophagus. Dante himself sat atop the monument, his chin resting on his right hand.

“What does the inscription on top say?” Eszter asked. “I assume the Roman numeral on the bottom refers to either the year this was created or Dante’s lifespan.”

The nine lines end here. A few more follow to finish the scene.

“That Roman numeral is 1829, the year this tomb was built.  The words on top are a quote from The Divine Comedy, Canto Four of Inferno, ‘Onorate l’altissimo poeta,’ ‘Honor the most exalted poet.’” Caterina traced the engraved words. “Perhaps when Dante’s bones return from Ravenna, they’ll add the following line, ‘L’ombra sua torna, ch’era dipartite,’ ‘His spirit, which had left us, returns.’ No matter where his bones are, I believe this is where his spirit resides. Souls aren’t bound by the location of their physical remains.”

***************

Eszter only asks about one Roman numeral because the ones on the left and right sides weren’t engraved there in 1945. They were only added in 1965, to mark Dante’s 700th birthday. Though I’m in no hurry to get old, I have every intention to be in Italy for his 800th birthday in 2065, when I’ll be 85.

WeWriWa—Approaching the Basilica di Santa Croce

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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.

While I’m doing preliminary research for a new project, an alternative history set in Medieval Italy, I’d like to switch to excerpts which are kind of related to its subject. This comes from my hiatused WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, which follows a group of young Shoah survivors from Hungary, France, Czechoslovakia, and Italy as they readjust to the land of the living and decide where they ultimately want to settle.

It’s now December 1945, and the friends have gone to the Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence before departing for Paris. This was where young doctor Caterina was apprehended by the Nazis in November 1943, after attempting to hide in a place she always felt safe.

Copyright Sailko

Júlia stopped in her tracks when the old stone building came into view. “Is that actually a Magen David on top? I’d expect to find a cross or angel on a church, particularly in such a Catholic country.”

“That’s from the nineteenth century, not the original design,” Caterina explained. “A Jewish architect designed the façade. He’s buried under the porch, since non-Christians can’t be buried inside. I like how there’s both a star and cross. It’s a symbol of how nicely we lived together in Italy for so many hundreds of years. We generally had good interfaith relations, unlike many other countries.”

Caterina approached the stone statue of Dante on the left side, atop a pillar flanked by lions and an eagle.

The ten lines end here. A few more to finish the scene follow.

The great poet’s likeness stared straight ahead and to his left, a very intent, serious expression on his face. He was cloaked in a cape, a crown of laurels on his head, with a book in his right hand, just as he was often depicted in artwork.

“Are you able to go inside?” Marie asked. “I don’t want you to relive bad memories if you’re not ready to revisit this place.”

“No, I wanted to come here before we left. It seems only right to return to the place where my exile began, and to leave voluntarily this time.”

A to Z Reflections 2021

This was my tenth year doing the A to Z Challenge, and my eighth with two blogs. For the third year running, I didn’t begin writing my posts till March. In years past, I researched, wrote, and edited my posts many months in advance.

I did the posts on my main blog first, since I knew they’d take more time and effort than the short and to the point posts for my names blog.

I began putting my list of topics for this theme together in March 2016, knowing I had five more years to prepare for it. Fittingly, in March 2016 I was finishing up writing and editing A to Z posts about names from The Divine Comedy for my secondary blog. I suppose I could’ve saved that theme for Dante’s 700th Jahrzeit (death anniversary) year, so both my blogs’ themes in 2021 would directly relate to him, but it is what it is. My names blog featured Medieval Tuscan and Italian names this year, which is relation enough.

Topics I considered but opted against included Purgatory, Quaestio de Aqua et Terra, Riccardo Zandonai, the Dante Society of America (which I’m a member of), and Eclogues. My choice of topics was somewhat more limited, since my theme was so specific, and Italian doesn’t have certain letters.

Luckily, I found art, music, and concepts related to Dante for some of the trickier letters.

For whatever reason, I’ve tended to have bad luck when clicking on links in the master A to Z list the last few years. Many bloggers gave up early or never started, and I even found one without a link. The theme sounded great, but there was no way to check it out from a hyperlink!

Also annoying are blogs without the option to comment or where we have to sign up with a unique-to-the-blogger commenting service, or a really uncommon commenting interface.

As other people have been noticing, participation does seem down in recent years. Then again, the medium of blogging itself has undergone a lot of changes over the past decade. Many of the bloggers I knew 5–10 years ago have entirely stopped blogging or moved to a much more infrequent schedule.

Post recap:

Dante Alighieri
Beatrice Portinari
The Battle of Campaldino
The Divine Comedy
Empyrean
Florence (Firenze), Italy
The Guelphs and the Ghibellines
Hell
Italian language
Jacopo Alighieri
Auguste Rodin’s The Kiss
Brunetto Latini
De Monarchia
Prince Guido Novello II da Polenta
Ovid
Pietro Alighieri
Quartan fever
Ravenna, Italy
A Symphony to Dante’s Divine Comedy
Terza rima
Count Ugolino della Gherardesca
Virgil
The Wood of the Self-Murderers
Xenia
Yesterdays
Zealotry

Since this is Dante’s 700th Jahrzeit year, I’ve got a bunch more thematic posts on tap for the upcoming months. I’m also working very hard on memorizing all 136 lines of Canto I of Inferno (up to the first 43 lines as of 11 May), in both Italian and English, and if I master them in time, I’m going to make a video of myself reciting them on Dante’s Jahrzeit.

I have at least seven more future A to Z themes on tap for my main blog, and I hope I can eventually resume more research-heavy themes on my names blog.

Count Ugolino della Gherardesca

Ugolino della Gherardesca and his Sons in the Tower of His Starvation, Bartolomeo Pinelli, 1830

Ugolino della Gherardesca, Count of Donoratico, was born circa 1220 in Pisa. His prominent noble family were of Lombard origin, dating back at least to the 11th century, and sided with the Ghibellines during the violent Guelph–Ghibelline conflict wracking Medieval Italy. Ghibellines backed the Holy Roman Emperor, and Guelphs supported the Pope.

From 1256–58, Ugolino fought in the war against the Judicate of Cagliari in Sardinia. His riches increased when he won Cixerri, the southwestern portion of Cagliari, full of overflowing silver mines. Ugolino used his money from the mines to found a new city, Villa di Chiesa (now Iglesias). Under his rule, many new buildings were built, and many old buildings were restored.

The della Gherardescas also built the Castle of Salvaterra, a hospital, defensive walls, and an aqueduct.

Copyright Sailko

Trouble began when Ugolino, in the hopes of securing his power against hostile neighbours, arranged the marriage of his daughter Giovanna and Giovanni Visconti, Judge of Gallura. The Viscontis were Guelphs, and in becoming Visconti’s father-in-law, Ugolino thus became allied by association with the Guelphs. Many Ghibellines now looked at him with hostility and suspicion.

The city was beset by riots against the podestà from 1271–74, riots in which both Ugolino and Visconti took part. They were arrested in 1274 and accused of plotting to overthrow the Pisan government and then rule themselves. Ugolino was put in prison, and Visconti was exiled.

In 1275, Visconti passed away. With the younger of the two enemies gone, the older Ugolino was no longer seen as a real threat. His captors released him from prison and sent him into exile.

Ruins of Acquafredda Castle, Copyright Giancarlo Dessì

During his exile, mostly spent in the Acquafredda Castle in Siliqua, Sardinia, Ugolino set to work on getting revenge. Ugolino carried out intrigues against Lucca and Florence, then attacked Pisa with the help of Charles I of Anjou, King of Sicily. The peace which was negotiated was humiliating for Pisa, and included pardoning Ugolino and all other Guelph exiles.

Upon his return to the city, Ugolino continued quietly working behind the scenes to get revenge. He also commanded the maritime fleet and won several minor victories against Genoa in 1284. In that year’s Battle of Meloria, Pisa was crushed in defeat. The city lost a lot of influence and territory.

Florence and Lucca, Guelph strongholds, took advantage of Pisa’s weakened state to attack next. Ugolino, who had fled during the battle against Genoa, was elected podestà and managed to pacify Florence and Lucca by giving them a few castles.

In 1286, Ugolino became Capitano del Popolo (Captain of the People), a position he was soon forced to share with his grandson Ugolino Visconti (Nino). The two didn’t see eye to eye, and began quarreling. Nino, with his eyes on the position of podestà, started negotiating with Archbishop Ruggieri degli Ubaldini of Pisa in 1287, as well as the Ghibellines.

Ugolino wasn’t exactly happy to learn about this, and destroyed the palaces of Nino and several Ghibelline families, expelled them from Pisa, occupied the town hall, and had himself proclaimed lord of the city. Pisan fleets also began attacking Genoese ships.

Then, to try to prevent Nino from becoming a threat again, Ugolino brought back some of the exiled Ghibelline families. Their military alliance with his family earned a partial truce with Ruggieri.

Engraving by Raimbach after Sir Joshua Reynolds

The Pisan cost of living shot way up in 1288, leading to food shortages and riots. Ugolino killed one of Ruggieri’s nephews during a riot, which earned him Ruggieri’s eternal wrath. Not long afterwards, Ugolino and his followers were attacked by Ghibellines.

Ugolino managed to escape into the town hall and repel the attacks, but it wasn’t to last. Ruggieri set the people against Ugolino, and the town hall was set on fire. Ugolino surrendered rather than burn to death.

One of Ugolino’s sons was killed, and Ugolino, two of his other sons, and two grandsons were thrown into the Muda Tower. In March 1289, Ruggieri ordered the keys thrown into the Arno River. Ugolino and his family starved to death.

Ugolino and His Sons, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, 1865–67

The sole reason Ugolino is so infamous today, let alone remembered at all by anyone but Medieval Italian historians, is because of his appearance in The Divine Comedy. He and Ruggieri appear in the Second Ring of the Ninth Circle of Hell, Antenora, for those who betrayed their country or city.

Ugolino is trapped in ice up to his neck, constantly gnawing at Ruggieri’s skull. His statements have been interpreted to mean he ate his sons and grandsons after they starved to death, but modern forensic evidence has disproven this legend.

Terza rima

Terza rima (third rhyme), also known as terzina Dantesca, is a style of poetry Dante created to write The Divine Comedy. No earlier examples are known. It’s believed he was influenced by the Provençal troubadours he so admired. They used a form of lyric poetry called sirventes or serventes (service song).

These songs were written from the POV of a sirvent (serviceman), and were usually parodies. They borrowed the metrical structure, melody, and many times even the actual rhymes of famous songs to take on controversial subjects (often current events). A sirventes more often than not was quite vitriolic.

Terza rima, then, is a three-line stanza with the rhyming pattern of ABA BCB CDC DED; i.e., the first and third lines rhyme, and the second line rhymes with the first and third lines of the next triplet. Each section of the poem concludes with a couplet or single line repeating the final tercet’s middle line’s rhyme. E.g., DED E, DED EE.

It’s known as chained rhyme because the second verse hooks each triplet onto the next like a chain. This style makes it easier to memorise than poems and songs with only two rhyming lines. (Though nowadays, many singers and rappers can’t even be bothered to rhyme anything, rhyme words with themselves, or just repeat lines.)

Dante’s one exception is Christ only rhyming with itself in Paradiso. He felt it would be unholy and blasphemous to associate any other words with that name.

This style of rhyming also makes it more difficult for copyists to steal the work, delete some lines, and embellish it with their own lines. The rhyme sequence would be interrupted if anything were taken away or added, and coming up with new rhymes to fit with the overall story and not look like piracy would be a really difficult task,

Terza rima employs the hendecasyllable (endecasillabo) structure, a verse of eleven syllables where the last accent falls on the tenth syllable. This too was influenced by the Provençal troubadours, corresponding to their décasyllabe.

Because of Dante’s acclaim, other Italian poets began using terza rima too. To this day, it remains the most popular metric structure of Italian poetry and song.

Terza rima is very difficult to naturally achieve in English due to the language’s more complex phonology and relative dearth of words to easily rhyme with one another. Even a lot of singers, poets, and rappers just using standard rhyming often employ forced rhyme schemes because the words at the end of those two consecutive lines sound nothing alike, and there were no other words they could think of.

English writers brave enough to use terza rima include Geoffrey Chaucer, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Milton, Thomas Hardy, Lord Byron, W.H. Auden, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, and William Carlos Williams. Several translators of The Divine Comedy have also used this metric, among them Laurence Binyon, who did the version I first read. (And yes, it does often employ forced rhyme schemes.)

Translators using terza rima necessarily also take some liberties with the source text. To ensure the English lines all follow that style, there are frequent insertions of words and phrases that appear nowhere in the actual Italian. As pretty as they make it sound, it’s linguistically misleading.

…Tu lascerai ogne cosa diletta
più caramente; e questo è quello strale
che l’arco de lo essilio pria saetta.
Tu proverai sì come sa di sale
lo pane altrui, e come è duro calle
lo scendere e ‘l salir per l’altrui scale…

…You shall leave everything you love most:
this is the arrow that the bow of exile
shoots first.  You are to know the bitter taste
of others’ bread, how salty it is, and know
how hard a path it is for one who goes
ascending and descending others’ stairs…

(Paradiso, Canto XVII, 55–60)