Examinations of a letter dating from 1312 at Verona University have shown that the great poet, known as the father of the Italian language, may have been living in Verona for much longer than previously thought.
Academics are convinced that the letter, previously thought to have been written by the Lord of Verona Cangrande della Scala to Emperor Henry VII in 1312, is in fact “very likely” to have been written by Dante himself.
Analysis of the writing and the phrasing used in the letter has revealed similarities with Dante’s work. This may have huge biographical importance, according to Paolo Pellegrini, Professor of Philology and Linguistics at the University of Verona.
The letter, which has been published before as part of a body of "good writing" from the period, was a particularly sensitive one, Pellegrini explained. Its careful drafting “could not have been entrusted to just anyone.”
The letter spoke of serious disagreements and near calamities in the region, explaining Cangrande's concerns to the Emperor and imploring him to restore peace and harmony before things worsened.
"It was therefore a very delicate missive,” Pellegrini told Repubblica. “It was logical that he’d want to use the best pen available. This could be Dante's.”
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Photo: Meryddian - CC BY 2.5, Wikimedia
He said more tests will need to be done on the letter to confirm the theory. But if correct, it would make Verona Dante's second home - the city where he spent the most time after Florence.
"The hypotheses that between 1312 and 1316 Dante went to Pisa or Lunigiana may have been made too hastily,” he said.
It also means Cangrande’s role in Dante’s life and work was far more important than historians had previously thought.
“In the summer of 1312 Dante was already in Verona, and if The Monarchy was written at this time, it was written there under the watchful eye of Cangrande,” he says, “the cultural profile of Cangrande himself must be re-examined.”
The new theory matches up with the writing of Leonardo Bruni, the last person to have handled Dante's letters.
“Bruni clearly stated that Dante was not in Tuscany in September 1312, when Henry VII prepared the siege of Florence,” said Pellegrini. Bruni also spoke of letters Dante had sent from Verona at the time.
“We now wonder if the stay didn’t last from 1312 to 1320, which would explain the high praise reserved for Cangrande in Paradisio - the highest commendation dedicated by the poet to any living being.”
If so, he says “a whole chapter of Dante's biography will need a robust rewrite.”
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Photo: Kosala Bandara/Flickr