Seven hundred years on, the question of where Dante’s remains should be kept remains divisive and one more cause for polemica (controversy).
The dispute started after La Repubblica, Italy’s major daily, published an article hinting at ongoing negotiations, happening ‘behind the scenes,’ between the city administrations of Ravenna and Florence, to temporarily move Dante’s remains to Florence for the 700th anniversary of his death in 2021.
The ‘father of Italian language,’ Dante was exiled from Florence, his hometown, in 1302 for political reasons; the sentence stated that he would be executed (by burning) if he was ever to step foot in the city again. After much wandering, Dante eventually settled in Ravenna, where he died in 1321. He is buried in the Basilica di San Francesco, where some 400,000 visitors pay him homage every year.
Which is why critics have spoken of “a tourist marketing move with a questionable national and international echo.”
Ravenna’s mayor, Michele De Pascale, did not comment on the possible move, although he spoke of being open to collaborating with Florence and Verona for a major national event to celebrate the anniversary; he added that what he was most concerned about was a current lack of attention toward the 700th anniversary of the poet’s death.
Florence eventually came to regret Dante's exile, and the city made repeated requests for the return of his remains. When, in 1519, Pope Leo X, a member of the Medici family, ordered his remains be sent back to Florence, the monks who guarded Dante’s tomb refused, going so far as to conceal the bones in a false wall of the monastery.
It was during exile that Dante composed his greatest work, The Divine Comedy, Dante’s vision of the afterlife where continuous references to myth, history and scripture serve to comment on the politics and political figures of his day.
Dante never overcame the pain caused by his exile. In Paradiso’s Canto 25, he opens expressing the hope that he may one day return home to Florence and be crowned with laurel.
“If it should happen . . . If this sacred poem—
this work so shared by heaven and by earth
that it has made me lean through these long years—
can ever overcome the cruelty
that bars me from the fair fold where I slept,
a lamb opposed to wolves that war on it,
by then with other voice, with other fleece,
I shall return as poet and put on,
at my baptismal font, the laurel crown…”
Should his wish be listened to?