Exile as evidence of civic identity in Florence in the time of Dante: some examples

Exile as evidence of civic identity in Florence in the time of Dante: some examples

By Fabrizio Ricciardelli

Reti Medievali – Rivista, Vol, 5 (2004)

Introduction: “Now tell me, would man on earth be in a worse condition if he were not a citizen? Yes, I replied, and here I seek no proof”. Dante answers Carlo Martello in the Divina Commedia without a shadow of hesitation, revealing, by the importance that he attaches to citizenship, his view of the city as the fundamental and typical form of human association. Civic consciousness, indeed, pervaded the whole literary oeuvre of the Florentine poet, and its relevance in the most important Italian literary source of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries is no accident; it shows just how strongly rooted in the mentality of people the idea of the city was. The word città, in fact, is a keyword not only in the Divina Commedia, but in the entire period in which Central and Northern Italian cities were at their apogee, when Florence was one of the largest and most powerful ones.

In Florence, as elsewhere, the cosmopolitan outlook of merchants, ready to cross borders to reach unknown destinations, contrasted with the close feeling of municipal belonging. Being a citizen of a Central and Northern Italian city-state meant combining a strong involvement in the life of the consorteria or clan to which one belonged with an open mentality keen to investigate the world’s curiosities. A fundamental element which was at the basis of the collective identity of the Italian communes was the shared awareness of their inhabitants of belonging to the same urban reality in which reciprocal ties and interests bound the citizens together, for better or worse. In the development of this awareness an important role was played by the chroniclers, whose narratives stressed the relationship between the new civitas and the memory of the past, favouring the growth of a municipal spirit which in the course of the fourteenth century would beget the myth of Florentina libertas.

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