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," [1] 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. [2]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.[3] 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.[4] The biggest blow was made at the battle of Colle Val d'Elsa, where the Guelphs defeated the Sienese Ghibellines.[5] 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 Guelphs.[6]

The next major division took place within the Guelph party. In 1300, the Guelphs split into the Blacks and Whites.[7] The conflict, however, was more between "leagues of allied families than between opposing political philosophies."[8] 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,"[9] 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.[10]

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. [11] However, a year later, he made his forceful re-entry into Florence and slaughtered the Whites.[12] 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."[13] 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."[14] In 1302, Dante was exiled from Florence for two years.[15] Later, for failure to appear in court, he was condemned to be burned at the stake if he ever re-centered Florence. [16] 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."[17] 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.[18] 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 Boniface:

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.[19] 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 career ended.

 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.