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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Dante and the Florentine Chronicles

  • Author(s): Prina, Marco
  • Advisor(s): Ascoli, Albert
  • Botterill, Steven
  • et al.

My research examines Dante's engagement with the traditions regarding collective memory in medieval Florence. In particular, it investigates the ways in which Dante responds to public and private attempts at forging both individual and collective identity in Florence. Selecting key chronicles, inscriptions and visual sources alluded to in the Commedia, the implications of Dante's representation in terms of his ideological response are then extensively discussed.

After introducing the central passages from the Commedia relevant to my project and a review of selected secondary literature on Dante and history, the dissertation introduces the Medieval Latin Chronica de origine civitatis florentiae as Dante's most important source regarding his city's foundation. In so doing, the textual readings are informed by the formation and control of memory, history and identity in historical context. Building on Dante's reliance on the Chronica, the dissertation reveals the continuity of civic historiography up to Dante's time and argues that Dante's engagement with the medieval Florentine collective memory tradition can be better understood through a close look at the shifting account of Florence's foundation from the Chronica to Brunetto Latini's Tesoro to the Commedia. In such a way, there is a development of the multifaceted problem of engagement with the ideologically charged materials that built collective memory in medieval Florence.

The agents responsible for producing publicly displayed visual representations to legitimize their own perspective are then discussed. Building on the complex relationships between the Chronica, the Tesoro and the Commedia, the dissertation discusses the integration of two well-known visual productions with this textually mediated tradition: the statue of Mars and the primo popolo inscription on the Palazzo del Podestà. Thus, Dante's critical response to the politically charged construction of collective memory is further analyzed through the lens of the chronicle tradition in the Cacciaguida episode. An internal tension emerges between the allusions to the ethical perversion of the self-justifying political purpose of the chronicles' role, and the direct reference to the chronicle tradition in Cacciaguida's episode which is constructed over the exaltation of Florentine's moral virtues before the city's commercial and political expansion. In so doing, Dante seems to disconnect the foundational myths fabricated by the early chroniclers from any justification of an expansionist project, proposing instead a conservative political and social vision shaped by the traumas of the experience, both of the factionalized city and of his own exile.

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