Boccaccio, Cavalcanti’s Canzone “Donna me prega” and Dino’s Glosses

Boccaccio, Cavalcanti’s Canzone “Donna me prega” and Dino’s Glosses

Usher, Jonathan (University of Edinburgh)

Heliotropia 2.1 (2004)


The enigmatic, indeed disturbing figure of Guido Cavalcanti (1259–1300) exercised the imagination of his contemporaries, especially of his fellow poets. Without naming him once, Dante talks about Guido in his youthful work, the Vita nuova, telling us that Cavalcanti was the “primo de li miei amici” (VN III), and that he was one of those who replied poetically to Dante’s first sonnet. Dante also refers to Guido’s senhal, Giovanna/Primavera (VN XXIV). The whole of Dante’s treatise, as a specifically vernacular composition, is dedicated to this first friend (VN XXX). Amongst Dante’s Rime, also, there is a companionship sonnet addressed to Cavalcanti, “Guido, i’ vorrei che tu e Lapo ed io,” to which the older poet responded in verse.

The most memorable mention by Dante occurs in canto X of Inferno, where Guido is the “grand absent,” asked after by his damned father, Cavalcante de’ Cavalcanti. The accent in the exchange is on Guido’s implied “altezza d’ingegno,” shared with Dante (X.59), and his disdain for something — unspecified — which Dante by now was pursuing (poetry? theol- ogy?). The poet later resurfaces as an allusion in Purgatorio XI.97–99, where, in an object lesson in humility, literary primacy is passed through the Guidos, presumably from Guinizelli through Cavalcanti, and on to (perhaps) Dante himself.

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