How To Win Friends and Influence People
by S. M.
The Collegiate School, 1997
The 13th Century was one of the most politically distraught times in
history, marked by a remarkable gap between Church and State, and constant
family feuds. This time was also marked "by nearly continual civil strife
in Italy,"  where conflicts
arose between the Emperor and the Pope. Each had their supporting political
parties: the Pope had the allegiance of the Guelphs, and the Emperor was
followed by the Ghibellines. Moreover,
the Ghibellines supported the concept of a powerful emperor, although there
were never many strong, effective emperors for them to support. The conflict
between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines arose as a family feud, but eventually
escalated into political warfare, each party competing for control of Florence
and political domination.
The political "baton" changed hands several times over the course
of the next decade in various military confrontations. At the battle of
Montaperti in 1260, Farinata degli Uberti led the Ghibellines to a victory
in which the Guelphs lost 20,000 men, approximately 1/4 the population
of Florence. Approximately
five years later, in 1266, the Guelph party "began its successful recuperation,"
and gained a minor victory over the Ghibellines at the battle of Benevento,
in the process killing Manfred, former King of Sicily.
The biggest blow was made at the battle of Colle Val d'Elsa, where the
Guelphs defeated the Sienese Ghibellines.
Over the next few years, the Guelph party managed to drive out the remaining
Ghibellines, so that by 1270, Florence was entirely in the hands of the
The next major division took place within the Guelph party. In 1300,
the Guelphs split into the Blacks and Whites.
The conflict, however, was more between "leagues of allied families than
between opposing political philosophies."
The altercation began as a family feud, similar to the Guelphs-Ghibelline
division, over the matter of... a snowball fight. The conflict continued
merely "along family lines, not political ones,"
but soon, the controversy took on a different slant. More and more, the
White Guelphs found that they were allying themselves with the Ghibellines,
and as a result, they tended to follow their political philosophy. Naturally,
the Blacks took the other side. So, in the end, the Whites stood by the
Emperor, and the Blacks by the Pope.
Just like the conflict between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, the
altercation between the Whites and Blacks escalated to warfare. In 1300,
Corso Donati, head of the Blacks and distant relative of Dante's wife,
Gemma, was banished from Florence. 
However, a year later, he made his forceful re-entry into Florence and
slaughtered the Whites.
Thus, the conflict between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines was replaced
by the conflict between the Blacks and the Whites.
During the latter part of his life, and at the height of his political
career, Dante was vehemently opposed to the actions of Pope Boniface VIII,
"so much so that he became the center of antagonism to the pope within
the White faction."
Dante came to the realization that the church, and Boniface in particular,
was becoming more and more corrupt, especially with the simoniacal actions
of the clergy. As one of six priors (the highest political position held
by a commoner), Dante "Was drawn into a conspicuous role in attempting
to thwart the ambitions of Pope Boniface VIII."
In 1302, Dante was exiled from Florence for two years.
Later, for failure to appear in court, he was condemned to be burned at
the stake if he ever re-centered Florence. 
Despite his constant efforts to reverse and expose the corrupt actions
of Boniface, Dante's claims were generally disregarded by the rest of his
party, and thus, his political involvement ended without him reaching his
ultimate goal and conveying his message to Italy. Instead, he made his
point through literature.
Throughout The Inferno, Dante makes references to the political
struggle taking place in Florence at that time, namely that between the
Guelphs and Ghibellines. Dante, as a Guelph, makes many statements about
the Ghibellines in the Inferno, primarily in Canto X.
The most obvious statement that Dante makes about the Ghibellines
is the fact that they are in hell. It is rare, and almost never, that Dante
puts a Guelph in hell. If so, it is someone he had a personal problem with,
or who was a Black Guelph, or someone he considered a traitor to the Guelphs.
Canto X of the Inferno is sprinkled with references to the Ghibellines.
It makes sense that Canto X contained the 6th circle, the Heretic circle.
As a Guelph, Dante stood strongly by the church, but as a White Guelph
he was against Boniface, as is illustrated later.
The two most important characters that Dante mentions are Farinata
degli Uberti and Cavalcante dei Cavalcanti. Dante expresses much anger
towards Farinata, for Farinata, as leader of the Ghibellines, caused one
of the most crushing defeats for the Guelphs, in which 20,000 of their
men were killed. Dante confronts Farinata, and their conversation is a
much heated one. Farinata says:
They were ferocious enemies
of mine and of my parents and my party,
so that I had to scatter them twice over. (X, 46-48)
Dante then, in return, says:
If they were driven out,
they still returned, both times, from every quarter;
but yours were never quick to learn that art. (X, 49-51 )
Basically, Farinata is recognizing that Dante is a member of a Guelph party,
and insults Dante by saying that Farinata's party, the Ghibellines, crushed
the Guelphs both times. Dante then responds by saying that despite their
setbacks (two exiles), the Guelphs managed to return. The Ghibellines,
however, once exiled, never managed to regain control of Florence, and
remained exiled for good.
The next character that Dante encounters, Cavalcante, is in fact
the father of one of Dante's good friends, Guido Cavalcanti. Although Guido
himself was a Guelph, his father was a Ghibelline, "so that there are Guelf
and Ghibelline buried in the same tomb."
Guido was married to Beatrice (not the same one that Dante admired), daughter
of Farinata, as part of a political move to ensure peace between the Blacks
and Whites. Cavalcante
show great concern for his son, who was alive at this time, but died of
malaria soon thereafter. Cavalcante inquires:
If it is your high intellect
that lets you journey here, through this blind prison,
where is my son? Why is he not with you? (X, 58-60)
Dante, despite Cavalcante's worries, replies bitterly and coldly towards
him. Dante says:
My own powers have not brought me;
he who awaits me there, leads me through here
perhaps to one your Guido did disdain. (X, 61-64)
In spite of Dante's friendship with Guido, and Cavalcante's concern for
the welfare of his son, Dante still lets his political quarrels come first.
Dante still refers to Cavalcante as a "fallen man (X, 110)." Dante makes
it clear in this Canto that politics come first.
The most notable thing about Dante's confrontation of the Ghibellines
in chapter X is the manner in which Dante converses with them. Up until
that point in the story, Dante had been shy and almost cowardly, relying
greatly on the support of Virgil, his guide. However, at this point in
the story, once confronted by his lifelong enemies, the very ones who forced
him into the permanent exile which inspired this book, Dante sheds his
meek skin and dons his battle armor to challenge various Ghibellines to
a match of wits and a war of words. After this chapter, and until much
later when Dante is confronted by even greater enemies, Dante returns to
his former meek and sheepish "defenseless poet" character. The only times
in the story that Dante comes out of his shell is when he really needs
to make a statement about the political turmoil of his time, which he did
not have much of an opportunity to get involved in.
Dante's greatest opposition to Pope Boniface VIII takes place
in the Divine Comedy. In two separate cantos, Dante attacks both the character
and actions of the incumbent pope. First, in Canto XIX (19), Dante addresses
the issue of simony in relation to Boniface, and the Church in general.
Dante indirectly attacks Boniface through the words of another character:
Pope Nicholas III. Although Dante himself does not speak out against Boniface
in his narration, Pope Nicholas does.
At first, Nicholas mistakes Dante (and Virgil, his guide) for
the "newly-arriving" Boniface. Boniface was actually still alive at the
time this story was set (in 1300), and did not die till 1303, but Nicholas
is not aware of his animation, and assumes that his visitors are actually
Boniface arriving to serve his eternal sentence. Nicholas begins, "Are
you already standing,/ already standing there, o Boniface?" (XIX, 52-53).
Then, Nicholas (or Dante, as we know) continues with an attack against
Are you so quickly sated with the riches
for which you did not fear to take by guile
the Lovely Lady, then to violate her? (XIX, 55-57)
Nicholas, or Dante, is referring to the alleged simony that Boniface took
part in. Simony is the action of either "buying" your way into Heaven,
or taking bribes to allow someone into Heaven. Dante claims that Boniface,
as the pope, accepted contributions, and then deceived the church, "the
Lovely Lady," by selling people the entrance into Heaven.
Dante's opposition to Boniface escalates into an attack against
the whole church. First, by putting Nicholas III in the 8th circle, soon
to be followed by Boniface, Dante illustrates a pattern of corruption in
the Church. Dante's placement of these key religious figures makes a statement
about the clergy in general; then, Dante the character voices his indignation
at the actions of the clergy. To Nicholas, he says:
Then tell me now, how much gold did our Lord
ask that Saint Peter give to him before
he placed the keys within his care? (XIX, 90-92)
Dante attacks one of the very first and most important church members when
he asserts that Saint Peter, too, was corrupt. Alternatively, this passage
could be a metaphor for the church being corrupt, where Saint Peter represents
the Church, and the "keys" are the passage to Heaven. Regardless, Dante's
claim says that the Church as a body is corrupt.
The next attack against Boniface was more in light of Boniface
as a political figure, not merely a religious one. The attack against Boniface
is again through the eyes of another. This time it is through the eyes
of one of Boniface's counsellors. This takes place in Canto XXVII. The
advisor is Guido da Montefeltro. Guido was once a Ghibelline, and later
he became a monk. However, after a little while, he was called on by Boniface
to advise him on the matter of the Colonna family. Guido hesitated, fearing
that his actions would impair his chances at entering Heaven. Guido says:
I made amends...
and surely what I thought would have been true
had not the Highest Priest- may he be damned!-
made me fall back into my former ways. (XXVII, 68, 69-71)
Guido was lured by one thing: the promise of "papal absolution." As the
notes in the back of the Inferno pointed out, Boniface's promise was "unholy
and invalid." This promise is, in fact, an example of simony. As Guido
says, Boniface had told him:
Your heart must not mistrust;
I now absolve you in advance- teach me
to batter Penestrino to the ground.
You surely know that I possess the power
to lock and unlock Heaven; for the keys
my predecessor did not prize are two. (XXVII, 100-105)
Boniface promise Guido the way into Heaven, for he holds "two keys:" condemnation
and absolution. Trusting Boniface, Guido advised Boniface on the matter
of dealing with the Colonnas, and Boniface in turn, lied to his enemies,
and once he had their trust, he slaughtered them.
Dante's attack at this time, sheds light on the political actions and philosophies
of Pope Boniface Vlil. Again, we see Boniface practicing simony, but we
also see him as a liar and deceiver. Boniface lies to both Guido and the
Colonna family, both of whom face horrible ends: Guido spends eternity
in Hell, and the Colonnas are massacred by Boniface. Although he later
became one of the greatest poets of all time, during the earlier part of
his life, Dante had a highly active political career. He was part of several
committees, and was elected one of six priors. As a high-ranking politician,
Dante took several steps to battle the actions of both the Ghibellines,
and his other enemy, Pope Boniface Vlil. However, his political career
did not last very long. Just as he was beginning to make progress, the
Ghibellines rallied together and exiled Dante. His exile, initially temporary,
turned permanent when he failed to pay his fine. At that moment, his political
However, Dante still found a way to get his point across: literature.
Dante's poems attack several of the important political characters in Florence
at that time. His poems especially express his anger towards Pope Boniface
Vlil. As seen throughout The Inferno, Dante harbored much anger towards
Boniface, and his supporting party, and on frequent occasions, Dante attacks
the Pope, the Ghibellines, and in some cases, the Church as a whole. So,
despite the political setbacks that Dante faced during his life, through
his poetry he still managed to have a great influence on politics and the
thinking of people for centuries to come.