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The Cult of Dante in Sacchetti 14/02/2011

Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
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A story (122) of Franco Sacchetti, c. 1390 relating not to Florence as such but to Dante and his ‘cult’.

Master Antonio da Ferrara was a most able man, and a poet as well, and something of a courtier; but he was a man of vice and a sinner. Being in Ravenna at the time when Bernardino da Polenta held the signory, it happened that the said Antonio, who was a great gamester, having played one day and lost about all that he possessed, in desperate mood entered the church of the Minorites, where stands the tomb of the Florentine poet, Dante; and having noticed an antique crucifix, half burned and black with smoke, on account of the great quantity of lights which had been placed before it; seeing, moreover, that many candles stood there lighted, he suddenly ran to the place, and seizing all the candles and tapers that were burning there turned to the tomb of Dante and placed them before it, saying: ‘Take them, for you are indeed more worthy of them than He.’ The people seeing this were full of amazement, and said, ‘What does he mean to say?’ and they gazed one at another. A steward of the signory, who happened to be in the church at that hour and witnessed what transpired, when he had returned to the palace, told the Signore what he had seen master Antonio do. The Signore, like all the others favourably impressed with the deed, communicated to the Archbishop of Ravenna what master Antonio had done, suggesting that he should summon him, and make a show of instituting a process against him as a heretic, on the ground of heretical depravity. The Archbishop immediately did as he was requested; Antonio appeared, and when the complaint against him was read in order that he might refute it, he denied nothing but confessed all, saying to the Archbishop: ‘Even if you should be compelled to burn me, I should say nothing else; for I have always commended myself to the crucifix, and it has never done me anything but ill, and when I saw them place so many candles before it, half burned as it was (would it were wholly so!), I took away a few lights and placed them at the tomb of Dante, who seemed to me to merit them more than the crucifix; and if you do not believe me, look at the writings of one and the other. You will conclude that those of Dante are a wonder of nature and of the human intellect; and that the gospels are stupid; and indeed, if they contain anything high and wonderful, it is not surprising, that he who sees everything and has everything, should so express himself. But that which is remarkable is, that a mere man, like Dante, who not only has not everything, but no part of everything, has nevertheless seen all and has written all. And, indeed, it seems to me that he is more worthy of the illumination than the other; and henceforward I am going to recommend myself to him; as for the rest of you, you perform your functions and look well to your comfort, and for love of it you flee all discomfort and live like poltroons. And when you wish to understand me more nearly, I will tell you about it again, for I have not yet played my last coin.’ The archbishop appeared to be perplexed and said: ‘Then you have played and you have lost? You shall return another time.’ Said master Antonio: ‘If you too had lost, you and all your kind, all that you have, I should be very glad of it. As for returning to you, that will be my affair; but whether I return or not, you will find me always so disposed or worse.’ The archbishop said: ‘Go hence with God, or if you please with the Devil, and unless I send for you we shall not see each other again. At least go and give of these fruits to the Signore which you have given to me.’ And so they parted. The Signore, informed of what had taken place and amused with the reasoning of Master Antonio, made him a present, that he might be able to go on gaming; and as for the candles placed before Dante, he took great pleasure in them for several days; and then he went away to Ferrara, perhaps better disposed than Master Antonio. At the time when Pope Urban the Fifth died and his portrait was placed in a noble church in a certain great city, he saw placed in front of it a lighted wax candle of two pounds weight, while before the crucifix, which was not very large, was a poor little penny dip. He took the wax candle, and placing it in front of the crucifix, said: ‘It is an evil hour when we wish to shift and change the rulership of the skies, as we change everywhere the powers of earth.’ And with this he turned homeward. Such a fine and notable speech was this as seldom might happen upon a like occasion.

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