Students in Dr. Chris Love’s 10th-grade Honors World Literature class spent five days in Florence furthering their studies of the illustrious Italian poet Dante Alighieri. Mariaurora Rosso ’24 chronicled the action.
BY MARIAURORA ROSSO ’24
The train for Milan arrives, and for the next few hours I stare out of the window, watching the landscape unfold before my eyes. We mindlessly play cards and sign COVID documents, waiting for the journey to begin. At the Milan train station, we move through the crowds like drops of water down a stream. Suddenly, like flying fish, three blue sporty jackets jump out of the crowd— the word ITALIA in all caps printed on them. We run, frantically chasing after three soccer players from the Italian National Team. Just as we reach the train, they disappear.
We wait. Our voices fill the train as we practice our lines from Canto 13. Before long we find ourselves waiting in the Hotel Calzaiuoli lobby.
We hurry to the Ponte Vecchio, ready to recite. Huddled along the side of the bridge, I wait for my turn. Brimming with excitement and nervousness, I say my lines. The wind in the background paints the sky with pink and yellow clouds. The Arno runs silently.
If you aren’t up on Florentine news from the 14th century, Dante was exiled from Florence after the Black Guelphs won. Dante, a White Guelph, was exiled on the grounds of barratry. A couple of years into exile, Florence asked Dante to come back, but only if he paid a fine for barratry. Dante denied that he ever committed barratry and stayed in exile. This is why Florence commissioned a Revennan sculptor and still pays Ravenna for hosting the poet when his own city had kicked him out.
An angry security guard greets us inside and keeps Dr. Love under close watch for the entirety of the visit. Dr. Love, unable to speak to us due to COVID restrictions, walks around the church like a child on the verge of being reproached every two seconds. Fortunately, there was no need for extensive explanations because the mausoleums spoke for themselves. Ugo Foscolo, a neoclassic, romantic, and Italian poet, greets us. We then encounter Michelangelo, who directs us towards Giotto and Cimabue’s works. Cimabue was the teacher of Giotto. Both artists have a strong influence on Dante. Galileo Galilei lies in his star-adorned mausoleum. As we circle the church, we come to Dante’s mausoleum. We gather around him, except we do not. We are gathered around the statue of Dante, not his body. His body lies in Ravenna, where he died. This is another instance where Florence’s guilt is brought back to the light.
We walk to a nearby chapel, where grave music echoes and images dance. Inside, the walls come to life with images from Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. Enchanted by the horrifying images, we watch the story unfold, excitedly calling out the figures we recognize. This exhibition was in honor of Dante’s 700 years of death.
Surrounded by jewelry shops and people, we discover where the Ghibelline-Guelph conflict originates in Florence. The statue of Mars, God of War, witnesses the slaying of Buondelmonte de’ Buondelmonti, a Guelph who stood up an Amedei maiden at the altar. He was killed by the girl’s family, a Ghibelline family. According to Dante, this triggered the breakdown of civil Florentine society.
We end our tour at Santa Maria Novella and eat ice cream. Thanks to the ice cream, we are able to start our first Modern Adaptation Workshop. Each of us had previously decided which Canto from the Inferno we would adapt to modern times. During these workshops we would brainstorm and Dr. Love would help us out.
We head to eat dinner at Zazà/Osteria di Giovanni, where special guests await us. The translators of Pinocchio, John Hooper and Anna Kracyzna, entertain us with a discussion on journalism, music, politics, and climate change. But most importantly, they explain how they worked through the translation of Pinocchio and the background of the story. After dinner, Anna walked us to the house of Carlo Collodi, writer of Pinocchio. We found out that in front of his childhood home, the model for the Mona Lisa was buried. Anna then told us about her most recent project: translating recently declassified documents describing how the Allied Forces in World War Two would have conducted the operation if they had landed in Sardegna instead of Sicily.
ONORATE L’ALTISSIMO POETA
The Uffizi was the visit I was most excited about. In the paintings above, Primavera (to the left) and The Birth of Venus (to the right), Sandro Botticelli focalizes the audiences’ attention on Venus, the figure at the center of both paintings. The continual references to mythology remind us of the period this was painted in: the Renaissance. The birth of Venus is almost a direct reference to the rebirth of the arts during the Renaissance. I remember being amazed by how intricate and wonderful these paintings told a story, just like Dante told his story through poetry. Our tour guide was amazing. She made every single painting interesting and provided context so that we could situate ourselves.
This statue of Antinous lies dear to those of us who took Dr. Bianchini’s art history class last year. Antinous was a slave under Emperor Hadrian and is said to be the Roman emperor’s lover. After his premature death, Antinous was worshipped as a God by some and a hero by others for his divine beauty.
AT THAT I ROSE (24.58)
As we stared at Florence from above, Dr. Love explained to us the Machiavellian nature of Brunelleschi and how he managed to build the Duomo. From up here, we could observe the diverging forces that educated and inspired Dante.
Later on, we headed up to St. Miniato. Sadly it was closed, but we got the opportunity to revisit it during our treasure hunt a couple of hours later. Under the Abbazia is the grave of Franco Zeffirelli, an Italian director for opera and television who directed the 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet.
E QUINDI USCIMMO A RIVEDER LE STELLE
After breakfast on our final day, we headed back to Ponte Vecchio, ending our trip where we started it. Dr. Love reminded us of the location where the Ghibelline and Guelph rivalry originally broke out, tearing Florence into continual feuding and internal fighting. Not far from there, further feuding between the Black and White Guelphs came to life.
Florence is a living piece of art, molded by time and people. I believe that Dante is the heart of Florence. His words beat through the streets of the city just like his Divine Comedy stands tall leading us toward the Good.