WeWriWa—Trouble on Via Santa Elisabetta

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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 from an alternative history with the working title A Dream of Peacocks. It starts on May Day 1274, when Dante met his great love and muse Beatrice Portinari, and will give them an eventual happy ending, with lots of Sturm und Drang.

This week’s excerpt right after last week’s, and begins the chapter’s third section. Dante is on his way to spend the florins his father recently gave him when he runs into some of his friends. Corso Donati was a real-life villain who led the enemy Black Guelphs and, before that, kidnapped his sister Piccarda from her convent to force her into a politically advantageous marriage.

Piccarda Donati fatta rapire dal convento di Santa Chiara dal fratello Corso (Piccarda Donati was kidnapped from the convent of St. Clare by brother Corso), Raffaello Sorbi

Saturday afternoon, I tucked the bag of florins into my tunic pocket, picked up a basket, and set out for Pasquini Apothecary on Via Santa Elisabetta. This was one of my favorite neighborhood stores, since they carried a lot of exotic sweets and spices from places like Persia, Spain, the Holy Land, and Byzantium. They also sold beautiful imported papers that looked like marble, with a rainbow of swirled colors. Someday I hoped to buy one of their blank bound books with a marbled cover.

Along the way, I passed a tempting array of stalls offering spices, carpets, flowers, roasted meat, dyed fabrics, fruit, silver and gold bowls, furs, honeycombs, and parrots. Had I a giant cart full of florins instead of merely a small bag, I would’ve bought something from every merchant.

Several blocks away from the apothecary, I caught sight of my friends the Donatis. Corso was eating a greasy skewer of goat meat as he walked, picking his teeth as always, while Maso and Sinibaldo carried a Persian rug with a bold pattern of black, red, and white. Ravenna, Piccarda, and their cousin Gemma wore glove puppets and were animatedly making up a story about characters with nonsense names. Only Forese wasn’t walking with them, being occupied at a honeycomb stall.

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

Before I had a chance to call out greetings to them, a herd of pigs came stampeding down the street. This was an unavoidable annoyance of city life, pigs permitted to run freely through town. Complaining about it to the authorities or farmers never accomplished anything.

Faster than anyone could react, Corso stepped forward and laughingly pushed Piccarda right into the path of the pigs, who promptly knocked her down into a filthy puddle. Piccarda began loudly crying as Corso walked off, still laughing. Without a moment’s hesitation, I rushed to help her up. Forese pulled her up on the other side.

WeWriWa—Choosing new clothes

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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 from an alternative history with the working title A Dream of Peacocks. It starts on May Day 1274, when Dante met his great love and muse Beatrice Portinari, and will give them an eventual happy ending, with lots of Sturm und Drang.

This week’s excerpt comes a bit after last week’s, when Dante came home from school to find the family tailor. His father said he earned extra money from an unexpected new source of business, and announced plans for using the rest of their windfall. He then gave Dante a bag of florins to use on sweets and a new book.

The phrases “the richness of the choice” and “[Name] agonized long and hard over the richness of the choice” are among my trademarks that crop up in just about every single book I’ve ever written. Though it comes from the 18th century French erotic novel Thérèse Philosophe, I usually don’t use it in erotic contexts!

After Ser Landolfo took all my measurements, I had the delightful task of looking at the richness of the choice contained in the many bottles. Most of the dyes and pigments were beautiful, distinctive, arresting colors, but not all of them were my favorites, and some didn’t seem as if they’d look good on me. I also needed to choose colors which weren’t too dark and thus wouldn’t absorb too much heat during the coming summer months.

All the same, I didn’t know when I’d next get the chance to have new clothes made, and it weren’t as though my existing clothes were terrible or worthy of a lowly peasant. Lightweight fabrics like linen and cotton would also keep me comfortable in heat. With all these factors considered, I finally selected light teal, Byzantine blue, and scarlet for tunics, and blue-grey, charcoal grey, and pale green for hose.

“Can you make the blue and teal tunics in linen, and the scarlet one in wool?” I asked.

“I always endeavor to please my customers,” Ser Landolfo said. “All these garments should be ready by the time you leave for Fiesole. I’ll return for a fitting a few days beforehand.”

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

“We very much appreciate your services,” Babbo said. “If my business continues improving, I may summon you again next year. Perhaps I’ll eventually be able to justify the cost of silver and gold embroidery or luxury fabrics.”

While Babbo counted out Ser Landolfo’s fee, I picked up the bag with my precious florins and went upstairs to my room. As magnificent as it was to have new clothes tailored, studying Latin grammar was even more important. Fine clothes might impress a certain type of person, but a fine mind was even more impressive, and would be there regardless of what types of garments I donned.

WeWriWa—Getting new clothes

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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 from a brand-new project, an alternative history with the working title A Dream of Peacocks. It starts on May Day 1274, when Dante met his great love and muse Beatrice Portinari at a party held by her parents.

This week’s excerpt opens the second section of Chapter II, “Answered Prayers.”

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Kharbine-Tapabor/Shutterstock (6051054bb)
Tailor’s workshop, facsimile of Italian manuscript illumination, 14th century, of Tacuinum Sanitatis, a Latin translation of an Arabic Health Manual by a doctor from Bagdad
Art (Manuscripts) – various

A week after my bliss first appeared to me, I came home from school to the sight of Babbo in the main hall with Landolfo Vernizzi, our tailor. Many fabrics were draped over benches, chairs, and tables, and one bench temptingly displayed glass bottles full of pigments and dyes in a rainbow of colors.

“God has been very good to us,” Babbo said with a smile. “Several very lucrative business opportunities arose during the last few days, and I decided to use some of that money for new clothes. Ser Landolfo is making six new outfits for me, and he’ll make three for you.” He looked back at the tailor. “Remember to use extra fabric for Durante’s clothes, so they can be let out multiple times as he grows. I’m not paying you for garments he can only wear for a short while.”

“Yes, Ser Alighiero.”

Ser Landolfo picked up a leather ruler and beckoned to me.

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

“First I’ll take your measurements, and then you can select the colors you want. This time you can use more expensive dyes than usual, except royal purple.”

What a wondrous turn of events! Now I didn’t need to think of a way to suggest having new clothes made, since God answered another of my prayers so beautifully. I wasn’t even upset by how Babbo was getting twice as many outfits as I. Only royalty needed inordinate amounts of garments, and this would bring my number of outfits to nine, God’s most perfect number.

WeWriWa—Mass at Santa Margherita

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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 from a brand-new project, an alternative history with the working title A Dream of Peacocks. It starts on May Day 1274, when Dante met his great love and muse Beatrice Portinari at a party held by her parents.

This week’s excerpt comes a bit after last week’s, which takes place the morning after the party. Dante ran across the Portinaris while both were walking to church, and was easily convinced to go to Santa Margherita with them instead of his usual San Martino.

Church of Santa Margherita, Copyright Sailko

When we passed through the doors of the church, I looked back and forth between the men’s and women’s sides. Though I was young enough to stand with the ladies and children, Babbo preferred I stand with the men and older boys to avoid developing soft habits. At the same time, it would be rude to spurn the people who’d invited me to church with them, and I couldn’t pass up the chance to be close to the youngest of God’s angels even for just an hour. Monna Cilia also possibly already thought poorly of Babbo because he let me attend Mass alone, and I didn’t want to give her more reasons to dislike him and disseminate gossip. Building a stronger friendship between our families was imperative if I wanted to marry my dream girl. I remained on the side for ladies and children.

To impress Beatrice and her mother, I followed along in perfect Latin. There were a few words and lines here and there I didn’t fully understand, even after a lifetime of hearing them, but I still knew how to pronounce them correctly. By the time I was old enough to start taking Communion in a few years, I’d be fluent in Latin.

I barely paid attention to the priest’s sermon, and immediately forgot his subject as soon as he finished speaking and began leading us in the Nicene Creed.

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

This was a prayer I often struggled with reciting perfectly, since it was so long. Today, however, all the words came out just as they should, without any stumbling. When I prayed my own prayers privately, I spoke to God, Christ, and the saints in Italian, but I was obligated to use Latin in church.

As usual, only a few people besides the priests took Communion. Ricovero nudged me when a young man in turquoise robes went up with two ladies and an elderly man.

“That’s Pietro Tonelli, and he takes Communion at least once a week,” Ricovero whispered. “A lot of people suspect he’s falling into heresy, is losing his mind, or thinks he’s so much holier than everyone else. I’d advise you to avoid him.”

With this comment, I knew Ricovero was destined to be a genuine friend, not just a convenience or surface friend. As undesirable a habit as it is, I’ve long had a weakness for listening to entertaining gossip. Besides, not all gossip is falsehood.

A Medieval-style rap battle and a stone woman

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Between about 1283–1308, according to the estimations of scholars, Dante wrote about 102 poems, called the Rime (rhymes). While there are 109 transcribed at the Princeton Dante Project, some of the ones included were written to Dante as part of a poetic correspondence. Among these are three poems by his childhood buddy Forese Donati, seen above behind the rock.

Numbering LXXIII–LXXVIII (73–78) and written between about 1293–96, these are a really fun portion of the Supreme Poet’s literary canon. So many people can only think of him as someone who was very serious all the time, with no lighthearted concerns. Yet in these playfully insulting canzone, the Medieval version of a rap battle, Dante emerges as a fun young man with a great sense of humour.

Translation: Forese sucks in bed, and doesn’t even sleep with his wife that often either.

Tana (Gaetana) and Francesco were Dante’s much-younger halfsiblings.

I love how this fun exchange of jestingly insulting one another’s shortcomings ends with Forese essentially saying, “Let’s call the whole thing off and go down to the pub for a drink.”

These are the kinds of poems which should be used to introduce young people to Dante. So many teachers immediately throw students into the deep end with the densest, most sophisticated and advanced masterworks instead of gradually easing them in with poems and stories that are more lightweight and easier to understand.

A lot of negative first impressions stay with people for years, sometimes forever, and they have no interest in trying to read a book or author again with more mature eyes, nor to check out less intense works. The damage is already done, and you get clowns who leave simplistic, childish 1-star reviews bashing a book because they were forced to read it in school and decided they hated it.

Then we have a whole other cycle of poems painting Dante in a much different light than his popular image—the Rime Petrose (Stone Rhymes), written around 1296. Scholars haven’t figured out if Petra, the woman they’re dedicated to, were an actual woman, a fictional creation, or mere symbolism.

Whomever this Petra may be, Dante’s feelings for her are the cardinal opposite of his feelings for Beatrice. This is no courtly love or tender longing for an immaculate dream denied to him by Fate. There are images and desires in these poems that are quite erotic, sadomasochistic even.

Petra is called the Stone Woman for good reason—her heart is as hard and unrelenting as stone. Indeed, the word petra is used over and over again in these poems, even when describing other things.

Rhyme CIII (103), which closes the cycle, has the most unrelenting language of all. It opens with the line “I want to be as harsh in my speech as this fair stone is in her behaviour,” and only gets stronger from there.

Check out the closing stanzas:

“Once I’d taken in my hand the fair locks
which have become my whip and lash, seizing them
before terce I’d pass through vespers with them
and the evening bell: and I’d not show pity
or courtesy, Oh no, I’d be like a bear at play.
And though Love whips me with them now, I would
take my revenge more than a thousandfold.
Still more, I’d gaze into those eyes
whence come the sparks that inflame my heart,
which is dead within me; I’d gaze into them
close and fixedly, to revenge myself on her
for fleeing from me as she does: and then
with love I would make our peace.

“Song, go straight to that
woman who has wounded my heart and robs me
of what I most hunger for, and drive an arrow
through her heart: for great honour
is gained through taking revenge.”

Obviously, this is in no way representative of Dante’s normal oeuvre or way of expressing himself, but it does show he wasn’t all high-minded philosopher, serious writer, and romantic lover. He’s essentially telling Petra, to quote the chorus of the Nine Inch Nails song “Closer,” “I want to fuck you like an animal.” Those have got to be the most violently, explicitly erotic lines he ever wrote!

You can peruse all the Rime at the Princeton Dante Project, under the Minor Works linked to on the far left. They’re all worth reading, and help to paint a fuller picture of the Supreme Poet.