As she has each evening for the past eight months, Giuliana Turati opened her well-worn copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy as the last of 13 peals of a church bell reverberated around the tomb of the great Italian poet. Italy is honouring Dante Alighieri—who died in exile from Florence on September 13, 1321—in myriad ways on the 700th anniversary of his death. Those include new musical scores and gala concerts, exhibits and dramatic readings against stunning backgrounds in every corner of the country, reports the Associated Press. But nowhere is the tribute more intimate than before his tomb, which was restored for the anniversary, as dusk falls each day in the city of Ravenna, a former Byzantine capital. Turati, a life-long Ravenna resident, comes to listen as volunteer Dante-lovers read a single canto, following along in the copy of the Divine Comedy inscribed with the year she studied the poet’s masterwork in school: 1967. “Even if you have read and reread it, Dante always has something new to tell us,” Turati says. The daily reading, part of a yearlong celebration of Dante that started in September, is intended to connect ordinary people—residents and tourists, scholars and the uninitiated—with the Divine Comedy as an appreciation by the city he adopted while in exile. Copies of the Divine Comedy in 60 languages are housed nearby, and organisers envision they also will be read by foreign tourists as soon as post-pandemic travel resumes.
Dante spent years composing Divine Comedy during his banishment from his native Florence, the home of the vernacular he elevated to a literary language through his poetry. While Dante was embraced as a symbol of Italy’s unification in 1861, Florence and Ravenna continue to battle for Dante’s legacy. Disputes over who has the right to claim his remains still erupt in newspapers seven centuries after his death. Florence, so it seems, would have given up its claim by sentencing Dante to exile, his return punishable by death. The sentence is written in a 14th-century court ledger on display through August 8 as part of an exhibition on Dante’s relationship with Florence at the Bargello National Museum. The museum also holds a fresco of Dante, painted by his contemporary Giotto after the poet’s death. He died of malaria.