A new discovery at Verona University could change the story of Dante’s life

An academic study has thrown the life story of Italy's national poet, Dante Alighieri, into question.

A new discovery at Verona University could change the story of Dante's life
A statue of Dante in Verona, Italy. File photo.

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


Italian archaeologists uncover slave room at Pompeii in ‘rare’ find

Pompeii archaeologists said Saturday they have unearthed the remains of a "slave room" in an exceptionally rare find at a Roman villa destroyed by Mount Vesuvius' eruption nearly 2,000 years ago.

Archaeologists in Pompeii who discovered a room which likely housed slaves. 
Archaeologists said the newly-discovered room in Pompeii likely housed slaves charged with maintaining chariots.  Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii press office.

The little room with three beds, a ceramic pot and a wooden chest was discovered during a dig at the Villa of Civita Giuliana, a suburban villa just a few hundred metres from the rest of the ancient city.

An almost intact ornate Roman chariot was discovered here at the start of this year, and archaeologists said Saturday that the room likely housed slaves charged with maintaining and prepping the chariot.

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“This is a window into the precarious reality of people who rarely appear in historical sources, written almost exclusively by men belonging to the elite,” said Pompeii’s director general Gabriel Zuchtriegel.

Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii press office.

The “unique testimony” into how “the weakest in the ancient society lived… is certainly one of the most exciting discoveries in my life as an archaeologist,” he said in a press release.

Pompeii was buried in ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, killing those who hadn’t managed to leave the city in time. They were either crushed by collapsing buildings or killed by thermal shock.

The 16-square metre (170-square feet) room was a cross between a bedroom and a storeroom: as well as three beds – one of which was child sized – there were eight amphorae, stashed in a corner.

Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii press office.

The wooden chest held metal and fabric objects that seem to be part of the harnesses of the chariot horses, and a chariot shaft was found resting on one of the beds.

The remains of three horses were found in a stable in a dig earlier this year.

“The room grants us a rare insight into the daily reality of slaves, thanks to the exceptional state of preservation of the room,” the Pompeii archaeological park said.

READ ALSO: Four civilizations in Italy that pre-date the Roman Empire

Image: Archaeological Park of Pompeii press office.

Experts had been able to make plaster casts of the beds and other objects in perishable materials which left their imprint in the cinerite — the rock made of volcanic ash — that covered them, it said.

The beds were made of several roughly worked wooden planks, which could be adjusted according to the height of the person who used them.

The webbed bases of the beds were made of ropes, covered by blankets.

While two were around 1.7 metres long, one measured just 1.4 metres, and may therefore have belonged to a child.

The archaeological park said the three slaves may have been a family.

Archaeologists found several personal objects under the beds, including amphorae for private things, ceramic jugs and what might be a chamber pot.

The room was lit by a small upper window, and there are no traces or wall decorations, just a mark believed to have been left by a lantern hung on a wall.

“This incredible new discovery at Pompeii demonstrates that today the archaeological site has become not only one of the most desirable visitor destinations in the world, but also a place where research is carried out and new and experimental technologies are employed,” said Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini.

“Thanks to this important new discovery, our knowledge of the daily life of ancient Pompeians has been enriched, particularly of that element of society about which little is known even today. Pompeii is a model of study that is unique in the world.”

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The excavation is part of a programme launched in 2017 aimed at fighting illegal activity in the area, including tunnel digging to reach artefacts that can be sold on illicit markets.

The Villa of Civita Giuliana had been the target of systematic looting for years. There was evidence some of the “archaeological heritage” in this so-called Slave Room had also been lost to looters, the park said.

Damage by grave robbers in the villa had been estimated so far at almost two million euros ($2.3 million), it added.